Dr. Travis Presents Paper Comparing Forms of Meditation

Faculty researcher Fred Travis recently presented a paper showing that different forms of meditation have much different neurophysiological characteristics and that the Transcendental Meditation® technique is distinguished by being effortless. A complete transcript of the presentation can be found at http://fredtravis.com/TUcson%20talking%20points.htm .
Speaking at the annual conference on The Science of Consciousness in Tucson, Dr. Travis spoke on the topic “Are all Meditations the Same?” He compared Tibetan Buddhist meditation, mindfulness meditation, and the Transcendental Meditation technique using neural imaging and EEG data.
He showed that Tibetan meditation is strenuous, with EEG readings in the 40 Hz range, or otherwise known as gamma waves. In addition, neural imaging shows that the brain is very active.
In mindfulness meditation, the brain appears to be imbalanced, with considerable activity in the left front cortex — the part of the brain associated with evaluating.
In contrast, EEG patterns during the Transcendental Meditation technique characteristically show global coherent alpha waves, which are correlated with the simplest form of awareness or pure consciousness. This EEG pattern isn’t seen in other practices of meditation.
Neural imaging of the practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique shows that the front and back of the brain, the attentional system, are more awake and active than when one is just sitting with one’s eyes closed, while the thalamus, which is the gateway of experience, is less active.
In other words, this indicates an experience of restful alertness. The attentional system is alert, while the mental experience is inward rather than outward.
“The response of the audience was very positive,” Dr. Travis said. “They saw the necessity to differentiate the various forms of meditation.”
He said the most difficult concept for them to understand was that the Transcendental Meditation technique is effortless. They had assumed it entailed concentration, but the EEG and neural imaging made clear that the mind was in a restfully alert state, especially as compared to the other forms of meditation.
Dr. Travis explained that the practice can be effortless because it is based on the natural tendency of the mind to go in a direction of greater charm. And because it is natural and effortless, the characteristic EEG patterns are seen within two months of an individual’s first beginning the practice.
“We need to continue to clarify this critical point that the Transcendental Meditation technique is effortless and uses the natural tendency of the mind,” Dr. Travis said.
Also, faculty member David Scharf gave a poster presentation at the conference titled “A New Angle on the Neural Correlates of Consciousness: Insights from Maharishi Vedic Science.” He said that the foundational importance of Maharishi’s programs and knowledge are increasingly being recognized.