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Thread: Meditation study

  1. #1

    Meditation study

    Studies of Zen Buddhist Monks

    In a study that attracted much attention among meditation and biofeedback researchers during the 1960s, Akira Kasamatsu and Tomio Hirai, physicians at the University of Tokyo, studied the EEG changes exhibited during meditation by Zen teachers and their disciples (forty-eight in all) from Soto and Rinzai centers in Japan. For experimental control, they studied the EEGs of twenty-two subjects with no experience at meditation. They made EEG recordings; recorded their subjects' pulse rates, respiration, and galvanic skin response; and tested their responses to sensory stimuli during meditation. The recordings on the Zen monks were made during a weeklong retreat, or sesshin, at a Zendo, except for a few tests at the experimenters' laboratory. The Zen teachers and their most experienced students exhibited a typical progression of brain-wave activity during meditation, which Kasamatsu and Hirai divided into four stages:

    * Stage 1: Characterized by the appearance of alpha waves in spite of opened eyes.
    * Stage 2: Characterized by an increase in amplitude of persistent alpha waves.
    * Stage 3: Characterized by a decrease in alpha frequency.
    * Stage 4: Characterized by the appearance of rhythmical theta trains (Kasamatsu and Hirai, 1966).

    Not all four stages were evident in every Zen practitioner, nor in any of the controls, but a strong correlation existed between the number of stages a given student exhibited and that student's length of time in Zen training. This correlation was supported by a Zen teacher's evaluation of each student's proficiency. The teacher ranked the students in three levels, without seeing their EEG records, and his rankings correlated well with Kasamatsu and Hirai's assessment of their EEGs.

    The Kasamatsu-Hirai study also revealed significant differences between four Zen masters and four control subjects in their response to repetitive click stimuli. Like the Zen masters, the controls exhibited a blocking of alpha when a click sound first occurred, but they gradually became habituated to such stimuli so that their brain-wave activity no longer responded when a click was made. The Zen masters, however, did not become habituated, but continued to exhibit blocking as long as the stimuli continued. This finding indicates that Zen practice promotes a serene, alert awareness that is consistently responsive to both external and internal stimuli (Kasamatsu et al., 1957; Hirai, 1960; and Kasamatsu and Hirai, 1963).
    Has anyone read this? Seems pretty cool and supportive of the practice.

  2. #2

    Re: Meditation study

    Hi Chris,

    Actually, neurological and other testing of meditation subjects has made great strides since the 1960's, especially with the advent of the fMRI machine and the like.

    Here is a fairly good list on the subject, although already a few years out of date. The research is not limited, of course, to just Shikantaza, but includes all forms of mindfulness meditation, relaxation meditation, TM, research on the enhanced visualization abilities of Tibetan monks (they do a lot of meditation where they visualize detailed Mandala), for example.

    The most recent research I know specifically on Shikantaza ( if I recall ... apparently Zazen is not helping MY memory! ops: ... the form they used was focused on breath following practice), is this ... VERY positive results, as was true regarding most reports on the cognitive and bodily effects revealed in the research on meditation ... ... rain-4193/

    One of the most comprehensive books on the subject (the size of a phone book, and dense reading at times, also already several years out of date) is this ...

    (Zen and the Brain): ... q=&f=false

    Dr. Austin published a couple more phonebooks on the topic after that one.

    But, as far as I am concerned, the most important test is simply whether Zazen is functioning well in one's own life.

    Gassho, Jundo

  3. #3

    Re: Meditation study

    That's very true. The more I sit, the more I find that my life is becoming more harmonious. Not easier or simpler or anything, because life will always be what it will be, and it is always what it needs to be right then, but that I am more accepting of it and more "in tune" with everything that I experience.

    Always Home.

  4. #4

    Re: Meditation study


    Shambhala Sunspace has information on some very recent research on Zazen and pain ...

    Anyone who’s ever done a lot of meditation might think at first, God, does this hurt! It’s true: when you first get into sitting, especially if you’re sitting in a cross-legged position, it can really do a number on your knees. Sure, you should sit with the pain, observing it and noticing it — and (most likely) you’ll eventually see it dissipate.

    But could it be that meditation actively combats pain? It would appear so. A new University of Montreal study released yesterday in a special issue of the American Psychological Association journal, Emotion, says that Zen meditation “helps lower sensitivity to pain” by thickening the the anterior cingulate, a part of your brain that regulates pain and your mental reactions to it. Overall, Zen meditators monitored in a related study experienced an 18% reduction in sensitivity to pain. ... more-15243

  5. #5

    Re: Meditation study

    Thank you for raising this which I find a fascinating area with considerable implications for modern society as well as our own personal practice.

    Upaya Zen Centre has been running a number of events on this area exploring in great depth the rapid advances in neuroscience and meditation. the latest series called Zen Brain begins at ... editation/ and it a series of podcast recordings of the events. They seem to have at least an annual event and there are earlier events looking at different aspects of practice.


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