Can Neuroscience Understand Meditation?

Neuroscience and Meditation

Research in neuroscience has grown exponentially in the last decade, making it one of the most important scientific disciplines. Why is that? Simply because neuroscience deals with the brain. And it is hard to argue with those who claim that the brain is the most important organ in the human body.

Much of the latest studies have focused on meditation. Advances in technology allow neuroscientists to look into brain’s activity during meditation to understand how the brain is structured, how it works, how it develops, and how it can be changed. Thanks to these studies, the biomedical community now recommends meditation as a clinical intervention for its proven positive health benefits. And this has profoundly changed the perception of meditation in the general public, contributing to its popularity and vast applications: from personal development, to elite sport and the corporate world.

There are two main areas of research:

  • Neuro imaging – which looks at changes in brain activities and structure. This is done via MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and EEG (electroencephalogram).

  • Molecular biology – which looks at gene expression (epigenetics). This is done via functional tests tracking biochemistry reactions in the body.

The first area of research has offered remarkable insight on how meditation influences brain activity and its structure. It has been shown that it is possible to rewire neural pathways, meaning the brain can change – a phenomenon called neuro-plasticity. The brain is malleable, not fixed; it can be moulded even in adult life and it can learn new connections, which reflect into more positive emotions, behaviours and mind-set.

The second area has shown that meditation can influence genetic expression. This means that you are not determined by your genes, rather your fate is in your hands. Meditation results in better immune response, reduced stress response and reduced inflammation, with huge implication for medicine and personal wellbeing.

So through meditation you can literally change your biological processes at a cellular and molecular level and bring about profound psycho-physiological positive effects. In fact, physiology and psychology should not be considered as two separate disciplines, exactly like body and mind are not two separate entities. They are deeply interconnected because whatever happens to the body influences the mind and vice-versa.

But is meditation all about neural circuits, biochemistry, physiology, neurotransmitters and epigenetics? Osho advocated and supported technological development and his harsh criticism of Gandhi on this point, was outrageous in India back then.

I am personally absolutely in favour of scientific research. However, we need to remember that neuroscience is still in its infancy. There is so much more that is not understood compared to what is partially understood. And so many times it has happened in science that, as research progresses, new discoveries completely overturned previously acquired knowledge. Also, whatever is not comprehended by science, is discharged as irrelevant or superstitious. The thing is, if science does not have the instrument to understand a phenomenon, that does not mean that a particular phenomenon is wrong or false. 

My guess (and hope) is that the next area of scientific research will focus on energy. We all know by experience what it means to be fully energetic or low on energy, but there is no consensus or clear understanding of what exactly energy is. Perhaps quantum physics has come closer than any other discipline to understand energy. Yet we do not have the equipment to fully investigate this phenomenon.

It is my personal belief that all the modern scientific research on meditation is just scratching the surface. They are just starting to reveal the power of meditation for the potential of human development. It is just shedding glimpses of light on a vast ocean of potentialities. As science progresses, more and more surprising discoveries will emerge, especially on Osho Active Meditation. But there is no need to wait for that moment. Regardless of what neuroscientists say, listen to your bodymind. Meditate daily and notice how meditation changes your life for the better. Take ownership over your destiny and let neuroscientists do their research.