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When you roll a genetic scientist and monk into one human being, you end up with Matthieu Ricard, a very happy individual with a passion for the perks of meditation.
He wants others to understand that meditation alters the brain just as weight-lifting changes muscle, and that anyone who trains his or her brain can be happy.
The proof is in Ricard’s own brain. When scientist Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin wired Ricard’s skull with 256 sensors, the scientist discovered something astonishing. Scans revealed that as Ricard meditated on compassion, his brain produced gamma wave levels “never reported before in the neuroscience literature,” said Davidson.
Ricard’s brain also showed intense activity in the left prefrontal cortex, but not in right side, indicating minimal negative thought activity and a hefty capacity for the experience of happiness.
“It’s a wonderful area of research because it shows that meditation is not just blissing out under a mango tree, but it completely changes your brain and therefore changes what you are,” says Ricard.
Of all our brain waves, gammas have the smallest amplitude and the fastest frequency. Neuroscientists believe gamma waves connect information coming from all areas of the brain and are associated with high levels of mental clarity and focus. We all have gamma brainwave activity, but the amount varies. Low gamma activity has been linked to memory and learning problems.
Other studies have validated that meditators, especially when focusing on feelings of compassion, produce gobs of gamma waves while meditating. The left prefrontal cortex activity increases, enhancing self-control, compassion and happiness. Activity in the amygdala, the brain’s fight or flight hub, decreases.
Ricard does not consider living well and showing compassion to be a religious law, but rather a very practical means of happiness. “Try sincerely to check, to investigate,” says Ricard. “That’s what Buddhism has been trying to unravel – the mechanism of happiness and suffering. It is a science of the mind.”
We can all create a habit of meditating by starting small. A minute or two of meditation with a focus on compassion just before rising in the morning, and another minute upon retiring can be the beginning of a powerful practice of gamma wave happiness.
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