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31 May 2021
33 min 29 sec
Video Overview
Maria Kozhevnikov


I will review research evidence which shows that types of meditation developed out of certain traditions such as Vajrayana Tantric Buddhism lead to heightened sympathetic activation and phasic alertness boost in focused attention), while types of meditation from other traditions such as Theravada and Mahayana elicit heightened parasympathetic activity and tonic alertness (vigilance). Such findings validate Buddhist scriptural descriptions of heightened arousal during Vajrayana practices and a calm and alert state of mind during Theravada and Mahayana types of meditation and demonstrate the importance of the cultural and philosophical context out of which the meditation practices develop. Furthermore, I will talk about neurophysiological correlates of main classes of Vajrayana practices, such as Generation stages (Deity self-visualization), Completion stages with sign (Tummo), and Completion stages without Sing (Mahamudra), and will show that Generation and Completion with sign stages produce the state of arousal and associated phasic alertness, later employed in Completion without sign culminating meditations. 

Speaker Bio: Maria Kozhevnikov

Maria Kozhevnikov is an Associate Professor at the National University of Singapore and also a Visiting Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School. Maria Kozhevnikov received her Ph.D. from Technion (Israel) jointly with UC Santa Barbara. Prior to joining the National University of Singapore, she has held faculty positions at Rutgers University (NJ) and George Mason University (VA).  Her research interests focus on examining the neurocognitive bases of creativity and visualization as well as in exploring ways to boost creativity and cognitive capacities through the use of innovative technologies as well as ancient meditative practices.

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  • This is the second part of my presentation part two. And in this part, I will present the results of those studies, study two and study three study tools conducted at Gap check Nana in Tibet, and it examined the neurophysiology of Dhamma practice which is the completion of sign practice.
  • And in studies three, I will present my recent research conducted in Bhutan, which investigates neurophysiological correlates of tantra Mahamudra, that is Mahamudra performed in Vajrayana context of the generation stages. There have been only very few scientific studies so far on Domo, such as Herbert Benson research, and Alex sledded have presented in this conference, his study on trauma, and my own study, which I’m presenting here, but with regard to Tantra, Maha Mudra. There have been no scientific studies whatsoever. What has been studied in is only sutra Maha Mudra Maha Mudra performed in a restful relaxed state. So we’ll talk about and studies three.
  • Study two, which was focused on examining the neurophysiology of tumor was conducted at Nanjing town in the Shanghai province and China is eastern Tibet. And this region where now Qingdao is located is also known as, um, the region which had and still have monasteries specializing in tomo ends the best the most experienced Dharma practitioners.
  • All Participants were then advanced practitioners, nuns, and monks from local monasteries, was extensive meditation experience. We took the EEG recording and measure the auxilary temperature while they were doing toma and auxilary temperature was taken to validate the claims that they’re able to increase their core body temperature while to do more, and also to examine neurophysiological processes which contribute to these temperature increases. And I just want to mention that Herbert Benson has already conducted his experiments with toma meditators.
  • Obviously observed only peripheral body temperature increases and particular increases in finger temperature. But while it’s not a big deal to increase peripheral body temperature, but just by just imagining your hands are put into hot water, it’s a totally different story to increase core body temperature to increase core body temperature. It means to be in control of autonomic nervous system, which is considered to be impossible by contemporary modern medical science series.
  • Give NAME helped with all the logistic arrangements and experiments were conducted. Most of the experiments were conducted at NAME house and NAME Magliocco how there was running experiments and was also translations. For more meditative practice is targeted at controlling inner energy. It is also called psychic heat the practice Dhamma practice is characterized by a special prison technique ways breathing, were often halation. During a period of holding the press, the practitioners use their abdominal muscles to press down to the navel area, while at the same time contracting the pelvic muscles to push the air up.
  • There are different types of my internal practice which differ in terms of their breathing technique involved and also in their goals and the content of visualization. The type of Dhamma practice performed by the practitioners in this study was forceful breath of B the goal of which is to raise society like heat and there is also gentle Braz jeebies a goal which is to maintain heat during the ceremony.
  • So, I will show today’s results for the meditation. Since it looks like it has this component of thermal practice which in fact contributes to core body temperature increases and be involved suppose forceful and vigorous base breathing and visualization of a rising flame that starts at the lowest level and with each breath rises up to the crowns ahead and lengthy period of training is required before before practitioners can perform to more entering to any to any assurance of success.
  • This is NAME was there in 2011 and they can truly believe it was already 10 years ago. And I was lucky enough to absorb the ceremony of drying wet sheets, which gave check nouns doing every year during the coldest day in the year. And you can see, you can see on the thermometer which air puts out and it was around minus 20 degrees Celsius, which is around -4 Fahrenheit.
  • And it was extremely cold days, it is not allowed to take any photos of the ceremony of drying but sheets. So I took the photo of the place of the ceremony just minutes before the ceremony. So this is this is a road nonce follow while the dry and wet sheets. And as a testament of the importance of the Dhamma practice of capture Nana raises ceremony is held as I mentioned annually, and all of the experience Nuns walk slowly for a few all arounds and other complex in minus 20 minus 30 Celsius weather wearing only short skirts and shoes, and the wet sheet wrapped around the neck.
  • And as soon as they try one word, she did give it the llama and they get another ice cold wet shade to dry it also. And here also the locals already waiting before the sunrise towards the nonce working around the monastery premises. And you can see here how cold this actually How cold was during that night. And he announced also waiting waiting for the ceremony.
  • And here are the results. Indeed, we found that thermal practitioners were able to increase their core body temperature up to 100.8 degrees Fahrenheit which is mild fever, and this is exhilarate temperature which usually is one degree lower than oral temperature. practitioners were able to reach these increases during about 3040 minutes of the meditation. And the monks and nuns usual do not perform of the longer sunset.
  • And they perform a B during the night of ceremony interrupted in sequence was through call through core Tibetan yoga physical exercise. So they performed the whole night. We identified two factors contributing to core body temperature increases. The first one is somatic components somatic components relate is related to base prison and specifically appear duration, meaning how long they were able to hold their breath. And some participants were able to do it from two to three minutes. And we found that appear duration correlated with the rate of that temperature increases that is how fast are we able to exhibit core body temperature increases.
  • But what is interesting, we also found that there is a cognitive component the quality of the realization and it is the quality of the visualization which correlated with the overall temperature increases, that is how high they were able to raise their core body temperature. And on the left, you can see you can see the graph representing the increases in core body temperature versus of power changes and those were measured using EEG equipment.
  • And as you can see here, there is there was a significant correlation between the alpha power increases and the temperature increases. So those who were able to raise that temperature up to 1.2 degrees, they were able to increase the alpha power more than two times. So increases in alpha power and money neuroscience studies considered to represent internalized attention or indicator of increase increase in focused attention resources invested into the task.
  • Two things I would like to emphasize here, while it might seem that the increase a one degree Celsius in Corbeau, the temperature is rather modest, this all depends on the initial body temperature. It’s not a big deal to raise core body temperature from six degrees Celsius, which is a bit lower than normal to so the seven degrees Celsius by doing aerobics going to sauna or doing some breathing exercises, but it’s practically impossible to raise core body temperature beyond.
  • So the 7.2 degrees Celsius so there’s seven Pour into his a borderline armpit temperature above which one enters into a fever zone. So the 7.2 is a threshold, and here’s a body in his shades, all kinds of processes to bring the temperature back to normal. So, the blood vessels start to dilate, a person starts to sweat and their body temperature goes down.
  • Unless of course, the person has some infection and then this threshold is lifted. So, to raise your body temperature voluntarily beyond 37.2 Celsius means to gain control of the autonomic nervous system, and to be able to control processes which are considered to be beyond the realm of conscious control. And you can see here that two subjects were able to do it the increases in core body temperature as a result of the meditation have major implications.
  • They mean paradoxically high arousal, most likely much higher than arousal that could be achieved by generation stages by the meditation because here, there is a combination not only visualization, but also breathe in specific breathing techniques of mind and body working together to lead to higher arousal. One degree increase in core body temperature means enormous increase in metabolic rate, so it’s enormous arousal and issues through focus does isolation and bracing.
  • So similar degeneration stages completion stages, with sign and in particular tumor seem to be targeted at generating the state of arousal the state of High Wycombe is a state of high physical or fitness, which is apparently needed for completion without facts that was outside stages. And are they employed later in this culminating non dual awareness, tantric meditation so they really perform on a state of high wakefulness.
  • And here is a result of studies three studies, three was conducted in eastern Bhutan with experienced Vajrayana practitioners from well syndrome matura Trade Center interest is temple and NAME helped me again with all the translation and running experiments. Six of our practitioners were moms and three, three of the monks were cave monks with more than nine years of meditation retreats. This study is currently in the final stages of data analysis. It has two goals.
  • The first one was to examine what is going on during the completion without sign meditations, specifically during Tantra Mahamudra practice. And our hypothesis was that one of the most critical condition to perform tantric style Maha Mudra is to be in a state of high arousal state which is possible to achieve only eases through preceding generation stages like DD or completion was time practices like tomo and as Vonda Kondo chair, in his interview mentioned was our generation stages Mahamudra absorption lags that energetic components.
  • And indeed, there have been 1000 years debate in Buddhist philosophical literature was a sutra Maha Mudra can lead to the same achievement to the same mullendore state of awareness as tantrum culture. While there have been discussions in scientific literature on Tibetan style Maha Mudra, termed open presence recall or non dual awareness, researchers mostly focus on non tantric sutra type of Maha Mudra.
  • And it’s a shame that it was a specific type of mindfulness it was called Condor mindfulness object with mindfulness or object plus shamatha. And its neural correlates were also similar to that of Shaman. For example, Zorana Sipowicz, was doing several of these studies on Maha Mudra. That is, the instructions given to the participants were the comments, meditating Maha Mudra from the restful state, while ignoring generation and or completion of the science stages.
  • So no studies so far have been conducted on Tantra Mahamudra, performed in Vajrayana in a context that is after generation stages. So So Dr. Maha Mudra versus Tantra Mahamudra. This was the first research equation, you will get it from scientific perspective. And the second goal was to get to more practice and to quantify the level of arousal achieved by tumo practice and compare it with arousal achieved by the So we asked our participants to perform Maha Mudra after the rest. So this is sort of sutra Maha Mudra, indicated here as one. And then the day they were performing D there, and then they were asked to do Maha Mudra toes.
  • So this is Maha Mudra, after deity, more like Tantra. And those practitioners who are experts in tomorrow, we also ask them to do more meditation at the end. And also, this is not how they usually perform this practice Mahamudra performed after two more. But here we had only 10 participants who are experts in tumor. So we didn’t want to interrupt the sequence of meditations for other practitioners. So we actually have them to the end. And both HRV and EEG data were collected throughout this experiment.
  • These are our HRV results. So vertical axis indicates h f changes. Positive values indicate relaxation and manga devalues indicate arousal. And the meditative practices in a sequence of wearable homes are plotted on a horizontal axis. As you can see from the graph, first of all, we found that non tantric Mahamudra one resulted in a relaxation response, very similar to ? of a persona in our first study, which I presented in part one, as for the the meditation, it caused significant arousal also consistent with the results of our first study.
  • An additional interest in finding was that we found a significant correlation between the level of arousal and arouse fullness visualized, the the more wrathful the deity, the higher the arousal, also, just dimension it is not enough to visualize add to experience arousal, based on my other studies, it looks like it should be self visualized, the data should be visualized from a first person perspective.
  • So, one should visualize oneself as a deity, no just visualize add in front of oneself. And apparently this is the this should be Raza rosvold. Since more this will be the locally position level overalls also Mahamudra after the two is performed in a state of high arousal also as you can see, this arousal is a bit washed up in comparison with the the again supporting our hypothesis that tantric Mahamudra does not produce arousal by itself but employs the arousal produced by the and finally tumo.
  • You can see it produces arousal of double intensity in comparison was the and looking at other HRV indicators in addition to HF, such as LF Lau frequency or ratio LF to HF, we found that it is not just withdrawal from parasympathetic system during tumor, but also significant activation of sympathetic system, which means Domokos it’s not just arousal but it actually cause stress causes stress. But this stress seems to be well controlled by practitioners but their body and mind
  • These are the results of our EEG study, And I uploaded here scalp maps for different frequency bands four four meditative practices and each practice is ordered here versus its corresponding baseline which is precedent condition. red colors indicate increase in the power of a particular frequency environment and blue colors indicates a decrease. So, if we look for Delta power, in terms of attention, Delta power could be viewed as interference control. So that increases in Delta could be considered as inhibition of inappropriate actions are salts and decreases could be viewed as this inhibition.
  • So we can see that during two we have significant this inhibition more significant than during and one and here for two it is global, while for one, it is limited to frontal areas. As for DD, and two more. We see here inhibition of inappropriate responses in Recent Delta power and the level of Delta activity is quite similar for Bose, two more and DD. Also for two more. It’s localized to frontal areas to frontal regions. As for Seta activity, I didn’t plot it here because we didn’t find any significant changes.
  • And this is in contrast actually to previous studies, which showed increases in setup as a signature of many meditations. Alpha power can be viewed as top down versus bottom up control of attention, or internal versus external attention, that is attention directed inwards, versus outward. An increase would mean internalization of attention while decrease would mean externalization of attention. And here, the most interesting differences between one and four and one, we see significant increases in parietal regions especially there were special parallels for low alpha meant for me to receive significant decreases particular in parietal regions.
  • So it looks like during M2 meditation attention is directed outwards, anticipating upcoming stimuli, while during M1 attention is directed at monitoring our internal mental world. The results of increasing our alpha power in parietal areas were obtained also for the person and mindfulness in other studies. And these results are rather consistent with meditation instructions for the partner, the instructions is to monitor the content occupies the mind, while for Mahamudra instructions require evenly distributed attention to the outside world.
  • But it looks like it's a difficult result of a high state of arousal to direct attention outward. And, as we can see, during M1 attention is still directed inwards to the internal states. So again, this is the most significant difference between one and thought in terms of our power. As for DD, and tomorrow, we see significant increases, especially in parietal areas.
  • Also for tomo, they’re more widespread, they’re more global, consistent with previous literature. And not surprisingly because both meditations require internalization of attention directed attention to internal stimuli such as images or video or images of flames. As for better power decreases and better in neuroscience literature attributed to processing of upcoming stimuli and increases in better attributed to maintenance of the status quo that is maintaining sensory motor set during the next processing step or continuation of the current cognitive set.
  • So, as we can see for DD and for tumor, we see better increases and specifically for tumors acquired significant and global, the tumor requirement then and of sensorimotor sensorimotor sets and cognitive sets subjects need to continue to do images themselves as the and continue to do different visualizations required by Dhamma practice.
  • As for M1 and M2, they seem to be quite similar, and they both show decreases also to show more pronounced decreases in beta, which indicate more readiness to process a normal signaling. As for gamma, we have really interesting results here. And they contradict most of the previous literature on department mindfulness and other open monitoring types of meditation that showed increase, not decrease in gamma power. Here both M1 and M2 show gamma power decreases which contradict previous literature, both Sutra and Tantra MahaMudra are non dual awareness types of meditations. They do not stress attentional focus or object binding as other styles of meditation, but they stress more distribution of attention across the entire visual field.
  • So, if we interpret karma has been responsible for object binding, and for binding of perceptual experiences into moment to moment awareness, the decreases in gamma four m one and m two could indicate that objects are not selected from the background and attentional focus widen. So, that practitioners really looking beyond visual appearances in conclusion about gamma power. Our results are inconsistent with previous studies, which show increases in gamma. And they show that gamma decreases actually could their signature of non dual types of meditation and they might signify an object plus non conceptual state.
  • So, in conclusion, Deity sumo that is generation and completion with science stages lead to the state of arousal and cause further Kolodner has significant pumping of cognitive and sensory motor resources was Domo Helen about double the intensity of the this is similar to athletes who use visualization before a challenging task to enhance the subsequent physical performance and prime corresponding brain motor areas. But the data is here your generation and completion was signed stages to prepare themselves for Mahamudra. By enhancing that tension, and plan and also related errors in the brain to replace their body it was body and mind of a deity.
  • Nothing like this, in the case of Mahamudra of the rest. Mahamudra of the rest shows the opposite pattern of physiological response that shows a state of relaxation, similar to the person or mindfulness and in terms of EEG markers. The most significant difference between Sutra and Tantra MahaMudra is in alpha power band related to top down versus bottom up attentional control.
  • We know from neuroscience literature that arousal facilitates enhanced sensory capacity and readiness to respond to incoming stimuli. And it does seem that arousal is critical to facilitate the sense of alertness and direct attention from our internal world to the outside world. So try Maha Mudra and Dungeon Mahamudra also have common features which seem to be a common feature actually of all non dual types of meditations performed ease in relaxed or out state, both sutra Maha Mudra and tantra Maha Mudra show decrease in gamma power not not the increase indicate and distribution of attention across entire visual field without selection of any particular object in the background.
  • So indeed, this is why as a non dual practitioner is trying to go heavy on objects. Although it’s more a matter of definition, what what we choose to define as meditation, but if you look at Vajrayana practices, we can see that similar to the practices of Theravada and Mahayana, they aim at the same end result full control over autonomic system which so radically means a full control of Mind Over body, so they do it through different channels parasympathetic channel, using Theravada Mahayana styles of meditation, or sympathetic channel using Vajrayana meditations.
  • The only difference here is that most likely taken control over parasympathetic channels will take much longer time. So not surprisingly, Vajrayana is considered to be the fastest path to enlightenment also, perhaps not the safest one. So what I would like to suggest based on the results of of the three studies I presented here, is to define meditation as a technique to enhance control over the autonomic nervous system, either through parasympathetic or sympathetic channels.
  • I want to emphasize that they can control over autonomic systems through sympathetic channel does not mean that VAs Rhianna teachings aim to teach only how to arouse oneself of course, they also require master relaxation techniques to bring the body back to normal state. Absolutely, because it’s not just to reach arousal it 's also to return back to normal set to normal state safely. For example, Vajrayana also teaches practices like the persona, which lead to relaxation response, and vice versa. For example, Theravada and Mahayana meditation involved in visualization all in kindness meditation, which is common to all three Buddhist traditions. These types of meditations specifically loving kindness we know also cause some level of arousal.
  • So, the main difference between the practices of different traditions is primarily on what these traditions build upon muster in sympathetic or master and parasympathetic systems. And finally, I want to suggest a revised categorization of meditation according to which we can classify all the meditations in relation to the autonomic nervous system and relations they produce specifically in terms of HF HRP. So, here positive changes in H F means relaxation, and I put here these practices which cause relaxation response such as trauma to the person or mindfulness and so from a common show our negative values means arousal.
  • So, I put here generation stages and competition stages. And now we have known do all types of meditations, which usually performed in Vajrayana tradition in the state of arousal after generational competition stages with time, or you have also more relaxing types of open monitoring and non-dollar instead of meditations, which, which are performed in a relaxed state.
  • Future studies can quantify these HF changes for a variety of meditative techniques, not just from Buddhist traditions, but other traditions. So, eventually we can come up with a very akin classification of different meditations and also it might seem like very crude classification of meditations based entirely on physiological component of meditation and arousal versus relaxation.
  • This is not exactly the case because specific attentional and other cognitive processes common along with physiological state. And as I mentioned before, in my first part, in the first part of my presentation, arousal comes with plastic alertness with focused attention, enhanced focused attention and enhanced visual imagery, while the state of relaxation comes with sustained attentional focus, sustained attention and tonic alertness and it characterized by other attentional processes.
  • So mind and body here working really focused. So actually these classification are not entirely on physiological dimension, it’s actually on the type of Mind Body interaction. And another advantage of such categorization is that it proposes some scientific right theorists such as all logical markers, one can use to evaluate oneself on how well they perform a specific connotation.
  • And was is a HRV changes as similar results are in use by experienced meditators during this particular type of meditation. And nowadays, HRV changes can be easily avoided at home using modern devices, such as Apple Watches, for example, so actually needs some kind of marker, some operational definition and some way to evaluate one’s progress in a particular type of meditation.
  • And this is the end of my presentation. And thank you very much for your attention.