To achieve a feeling of peace, calm and serenity? Meditate ... In fact, meditation is able to distract from obsessive thoughts, attenuates moods such as anger and nervousness and allows you to achieve relaxation by acting on the mind and its plasticity. Therefore, the results of meditation are measurable and this is exactly what scientists at the University of California did, as evidenced by the research published a few months ago in the journal Human Brain Mapping (Zanesco et al, Hum Brain Mapp, 2021).
Shamatha meditation, what it consists of
There is a basic meditation, called Shamatha, typical of the Buddhist tradition. Referring to this meditation, Buddha compared it to the sharp sword without which it is risky to go into battle. Shamatha meditation focuses on awareness of the breath as in this way the attention is focused on this action and not on problems or thoughts. In its simplest version, shamatha meditation takes place like this. For 15-30 minutes, or longer if you can, sit in a comfortable position, back straight and hands on your thighs. Move your attention to the breath, which enters and leaves the body, focusing your inner gaze on the air that passes at the point where you feel this passage most, it could be the nostrils, the beginning of the throat or the solar plexus. If a thought arises, it must be just observed and let go. This is the meditation used by researchers to evaluate the effects on mood, emotions and the brain. But let's understand better.
Meditation increases calm and serenity, the study
60 individuals were recruited, average age 48 years. The study evaluated the effects of intensive meditation. In fact, 30 volunteers were invited to participate in a retreat in which at least 10 hours a day were dedicated to Shamatha meditation, either alone or under the guidance of a teacher. The remaining 30 volunteers were instead used as a control. The study participants were subjected to tests, questionnaires and examinations, in particular, the resting EEG was measured in order to analyze the so-called EEG microstates. These microstates are patterns in which multiple areas of the brain are activated spontaneously and simultaneously in resting conditions. These states are not always the same but adapt to external conditions and stimuli, depending on brain plasticity. What emerged was that with the passing of the days the volunteers subjected to meditation increased their awareness more and more, feeling an ever-increasing sensation of calm, relaxation and serenity. Even more interesting is that these emotional states were reflected in changes in the EEG microstates, which showed variations compared to the beginning of the retreat.
The study was carried out in an intensive way, inapplicable in everyday life. However, thanks to this research it is clear that meditation leads to objective and measurable benefits that leave traces in the brain. It is not possible to devote most of the day to meditation, but certainly dedicating to yourself a quarter of an hour regularly can have important effects on our mental health in an age in which serenity is considered almost an unattainable goal.