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Buddhist monks help unlock the secrets of meditation

BC researchers in Nepal studied Buddhist monks to see what happens when they meditate. As Kylie Stanton reports, what they learned might help us all reach a higher consciousness.

A group of scientists from B.C. have travelled half way around the world to research brain activity.

They travelled all the way to the Mount Everest region of Nepal to work with 27 monks.

“What we really want to do that made our project unique is to see if meditation actually enhanced subsequent brain function,” neuroscientist Olav Kirgolson said.

To do this, researchers from the University of Victoria and UBC’s Okanagan campus, used a headband-sized electroencephalography system.

They modified it so they could record brain activity of meditating Tibetan Buddhist monks.

They use head bands that connect via Bluetooth to a laptop to record their brain waves.

Their brain is recorded during a rest period and then again playing a video game that assesses cognitive function.

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The monks were then asked to meditate and try the game one more time.

When researchers compared the two scenarios, they said every participant preformed better after meditating.

“I think the critical thing there to learn is, you know, if you have a degree of practice were you can deliberately attempt to change your brain function that could be applied to any number of applications,” said Gordon Binstead, with UBC’s Faculty of Health and Social Development.

“It has opened up to a whole new way of essentially brain training.”

Although monks make it their life’s work to reach a certain levels of mindfulness, the hope is the findings can be applied to everyone.

“Getting data like this proves our overall understanding of happiness and mental mindfulness,” Kirgolson said.

“So I’d like to think that that is a small part of a small part of a big picture that hopefully will one day lead to bigger and better things.”

With files from Kylie Stanton