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Three Different Types of Meditation Explained and Their Corresponding Brain Waves

Transcribed by l.m.

If you have ever wondered what way we can classify the many different meditations that exist today, in this post (which is a transcribed part of a TV show) Dr. Fred Travis, Professor of Maharishi Vedic Science, will give you one interesting way of doing that. In the first part of his talk he discussed the link that exists between Neuroplasticity, stress and meditation. In this post you will learn something more about the link between the different meditations and the frequency of brain waves they produce. This is an important question in view of the possibility to monitor the brainwaves our brain produces in real time with the newest generation of devices available to the general public.

Question - When we say meditation, every one of us has their own notion about what meditation is. There are also many different schools of meditation. What do you mean when you say meditation within the context of neuroscience?


image of brain activity

It is really a critical question. People are recognizing that they have to expand and explore their inner resources. And this is what meditation do. But the point to understand is that meditations are different. It is like asking a question about medication. What medication can I use? Should it be any medication. Doctors say no, medications do different things. Same way with meditations. Meditations have been put in three categories.

Three Categories of Meditation

Focused Attention

The first category called focused attention are meditations that require a lot of focus, a lot of mental effort. These are your traditional concentration meditations. For instance, Zen meditation. You try to keep your mind on one thought. Not allow it to move. Or maybe to focus on one part of the body and not allow it to move.

Or a compassion meditation in which you try to create a very pure experience of loving kindness and compassion. Pure meaning not connected with an object but just that emotion onto itself. And in these meditation you see the brain wave of focusing the mind. It's called gamma EEG. Gamma goes up and down 20-50 times per second and you see gamma in the brain whenever you are focusing the brain.

Many of your viewers, gamma is in their brains right now. They are trying to understand all of this information, they are trying to relate it with what they have experienced in the past. When you are doing that, when you are really focusing on the specific line of information, you see this gamma EEG.

serene meditative landscape

Open Monitoring

Other meditations use less effort. What they involve is rather than controlling the mind, just continuing to watch what's going on in the mind. These meditations are called open monitoring. Whenever you are doing that, that is you are having your attention in and you are following the ongoing processes, you see a different brain wave. It is called Theta EEG. It goes up and down 6 to 8 times per second. And many meditations show Theta. This includes Zazen, where you just sit, you don't do anything you just watch; it includes Mindfulness, where you just are mindful of, you just observe the ongoing processes, whether it is just breath going in and out, whether it's a body scan, how is my body, body tension, thoughts, emotions.

Automatic Self-transcending

These first two meditations keep you involved in thinking. And what they do is they are developing specific cognitive skills, thinking skills that you can use after meditation. The last category of meditation involves least effort. It is called automatic self-transcending. The self that's being transcending here is the meditation procedure itself. The other meditations involve being involved in the thinking process, so there is the knower, you are experiencing some object of experience. Meditations in automatic self-transcending actually allow the thinking process to settle down to get to being. You are actually transcending, you are going beyond thoughts and categories and experiences , and just experiencing what is the level of wakefulness which is at the source of thoughts. When you are having this type of cognitive process the attention is turned within and you are just awake, which is at a very specific frequency which is called Alpha 1. Brain waves go up and down 8 to 10 times per second. Meditation where we see this type of brain is transcendental meditation.

Transcendental meditation is just that. To start from the thinking process and allow the active thinking mind to settle down. What's happening is, thought are becoming secondary an experience; what's becoming more primary is that underlying field of wakefulness within which you put everything together.

About the Author

Prof. Dr. Fred Travis, Professor of Maharishi Vedic Science. The interview was conducted by Krešimir Mišak, the author of the popular TV show Fringe Science. Source:


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