Techniques such as electroencephalography and functional magnetic resonance are used to get a good understanding of what’s going on in the brain, and show the changing of connections that come with the benefit of meditation. EEG records electrical activity produced by the brain neuron’s, done by putting electrodes around the head. EEG’s can tell if a person is awake, asleep because the brains patterns change in each state. During a meditation in Norway, participants were told to rest with eyes closed for twenty minutes, then meditate for twenty minutes. EEG results picked up, relaxed attention in the theta, which indicates deep relaxation. There were silent experiences in the alpha, which helps with putting things into perspective in day-day life. The EEG picked up delta waves that were different to being asleep, proving that meditation is not sleep.
Functional magnetic resonance is a type of brain scan that uses a magnetic field to create images of brain activity in each area of the brain. The person lies on a bed in a large cylindrical structure which has a large magnet. The FMRI detects the amount of blood flow in each region and can pick up neurons firing around the brain. During a love and kindness mediation, an FMRI picked up activation in the left medial cortex extending to the anterior cingulate gyrus. Activation was also picked up in the left midbrain close to the hypothalamus. These finds all benefit feelings of empathy and being genuinely happy.
Buddhist techniques such as love and kindness meditation, show encouraging growth in the left hemisphere of the brain, and significantly larger Gray matter volumes in the right orbito-frontal cortex. Both orbital-frontal and the hippocampus region on the brain deal with emotional regulation and response control, through meditation the hippocampal region becomes larger, accounting for new habits of engaging mindful behaviour and emotional stability.
Research shows that breathing correctly activates the parasympathetic nervous system via the vagus nerve. Breathing consciously through meditation triggers the biofeedback signal, when these signals reach the brain reduces stress and has positive effects on mental and physical health. In a Mark Krasnow lab study with mice, they identified a group of neurons that connect the brainstem’s breathing to parts of the brain involved in arousal and attention. When these neurons were made non-functional, the mice remained calm, despite the researchers’ efforts to induce stress and excitement. These findings suggest that signals are normally relayed from the breathing centre to the rest of the brain. We have reason to believe this occurs in humans also.