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eMeditation: The Surprising New Type of Meditation

Meditation has been around for thousands of years and there are many different types of meditation. From mindfulness meditation to progressive muscle relaxation, to zen meditation and transcendental meditation. Now, there may be a new type of meditation on the horizon - eMeditation.

Neuroscientist Dr. Bashar Badran, from the Medical University of South Carolina, and his colleagues, have been using a brain stimulation technique called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to send a small electrical current across the brain. This procedure involves placing one electrode on the bone above the eye and another over the frontal area of the brain (known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex).

"...before you rush out and purchase a head-band infused with electrodes to wrap around your head during your next meditation session... there are a few points to be aware of."

The electrical signal acts to “switch off” the groups of neural cells responsible for mind-wandering. While mind-wandering is an effective evolutionary trait, too much is associated with feelings of unhappiness. When we focus our attention on a specific thought, those neurons down-regulate (switch off). The neurons then switch back on again when we’re not focusing on anything specific.

Electrical stimulation of the neurons aims to replicate what is occurring in the brain when performing meditation. The main difference is, the electrical stimulation aims to enhance the benefits that meditation can produce in weeks, in as little as a single session.

Dr Badran and his team tested 15 volunteers meditating while they received tDCS at 1 milliamp, 2 milliamp or sham, in three 20-minute sessions over 3 weeks. (Sham is a faked intervention intended to omit the step thought to be therapeutically necessary).

The volunteers reported feeling significantly calmer by up to 15 per cent after the brain stimulation. They also reported feeling 5 per cent calmer after receiving the placebo. Something to be said there for the power of the mind!

But before you rush out and purchase a head-band infused with electrodes to wrap around your head during your next meditation session (Bashar Badran has begun developing such a device) there are a few points to be aware of.

We don’t know exactly how the benefits of meditation come about. We also know that there has been some, largely uncommon, negative consequence associated with meditation too. A small number of people have reported emotional distress, hallucinations and psychosis from meditation. Also, although rare, tDCS has been associated with paresthesia (burning or tingling sensation in a limb), as well as redness and itchiness over the skin where the electrodes have been placed. If you are at risk for this, supercharging your meditation may not be a wise idea.

I’m of the firm belief that we should get the basics as near to perfect as possible before we start supplementing and supercharging things. Like optimising your diet before you start supplementing, I believe we all should practice the skill of influencing our brain’s thought processes ourselves, through meditation, before we start supercharging the process and relying on electrodes to do it for us.

Link: https://www-sciencedirect-com.ezp.lib.unimelb.edu.au/science/article/pii/S1935861X16302674

Have you ever tried e-Meditation? If not, would you? What do you see as the limitations or possibilities for this supercharged form of meditation?

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