The problem: how to improve brain function and unlock latent potential
Our brains contain a rather staggering 100 billion neurons, each connected to anywhere between a hundred, and a hundred thousand others. The quality of the neuronal networks they form, and the levels of communication between them, is what defines how well we can use this incredibly powerful organ.
However, neuroscientists estimate that we are using only 2 – 10% of our potential brain power. There is a lot of latent potential to be unlocked, and this is exactly what meditation helps us deliver.
But why are we using such a small percentage of our capacity in the first place? And what about how to improve brain function? The reasons for this sub-optimal functioning are not clear.
It may be that because the brain is such a huge consumer of energy that if we have stress in our lives, only those aspects of the brain function essential to survival may be used and the rest de-activates so that the energy can be deployed elsewhere. And just like muscle tissue, we must either use it or lose it. If neuronal networks are left unfired, they wither away.
It may also be that when we were younger, we did not have the more developed nervous system required to make this brain connectivity functional. And, it is the combination of a highly connected brain and a well developed nervous system that allows us to achieve peak performance in everything we do.
For most of us, our brain is only about 30 – 40% coherent. The different regions of the brain are operating independently of each other, our EEG amplitude readings are low, and these different brain regions are invariably cycling at a high (beta) frequency which is not so conducive to higher level functioning.
In addition, there are usually imbalances; between the hemispheres of the brain, within the frontal cortex (leading to irrationally negative thinking) and, between the regions of the brain, such as the cortex, the limbic system and the hippocampus.
Our brains are operating like an orchestra warming up before a concert. There are lots of constituent parts all doing their thing, but the overall result is a lot of discordant noise. Establishing coherence is like wheeling in the conductor. All of a sudden all of the players fall into line and what you now perceive is the integrated functioning of all those different parts, and what comes out is beautiful.
How meditation changes the brain: when we meditate using personalised mantras, we find that within seconds all areas of our brain fall into coherence readings of 90%+. The brain finally has a conductor.
All the areas of the brain sync into phase and the noisiness of our brains calms down. Our brainwave patterns display greater amplitude and, significantly, the cycling of the brain slows down from say 30 – 40 cycles per second (cps) when we’re working, to a much more beneficial and productive range of alpha functioning in the 6 – 7 cps range.
To give you an idea of how significant that is: even when we simply let the mind be easy without concentration, the brain tends to cycle in the 8 – 12 cps waveband range, which is restful but still de-synchronised. And this activity is measured mostly in the back of the brain.
During Vedic meditation, a much more profound alpha effect is found to spread forward from the rear of the head to cover the whole scalp, allowing all regions to connect. We are building new neuronal patterns as we go, letting go of older, less useful patterns and keeping the useful but under-utilised neuronal muscle groups exercised with some daily stimulation.
The stem that joins the hemispheres of the brain begins to operate in a more coordinated fashion so that any hemispheric weaknesses we may have as a result of over-dominant brain functioning begin to dissipate. Such synchronisation has great significance in that it is associated with higher cognitive functioning and greater levels of awareness. This facilitates a comprehensive blend of executive and creative functioning and we start using our brain in a much more integrated and global fashion.
The pre-frontal cortex is the most evolved part of the brain and is the home of our rationality, creativity and lateral thinking. Very early on in the practise of this meditation technique, the frontal cortex begins to become functionally more active and increases its capacity by growing thicker.
As well as allowing us to think in a logical, sequential manner, greater activity within the cortex also calms down the somewhat volatile, excitably emotional limbic system. This is the driver of so much of our reckless behaviours. The frontal cortex doesn’t fully mature until we’re well into our 20s, perhaps explaining why we get a bit more sensible as we hit 30!
In addition, our amygdala, which is the engine of the stress response, begins to become functionally less active and so we begin to respond more appropriately to people and situations. As a result, we have far less stress-induced cerebral shutdown.
Cerebral blood flow also increases, allowing all of the tissues and cells to be nourished more fully with oxygen and nutrients, keeping our grey matter in tip-top shape at all times. And the hippocampus, the seat of our memory formation and recall also grows larger as a result of meditation.
Having the whole brain functioning in concert like this correlates to increased intelligence, improved learning ability and academic performance, better short and long-term memory, enhanced moral reasoning, increased psychological stability, greater emotional maturity, greater alertness and faster reaction times.
Interestingly, it doesn’t stop there. The more we practise meditation, the more we take this high-level functioning into our day and studies have shown this begins to take effect within the first few months of learning. If you wanted to know how to improve brain function, here’s your answer.
We actually develop the ability to carry this alpha and theta functioning into the sort of dynamic activity that would normally trigger incoherence and high cycle, low amplitude brain activity. The longer we practise the meditation, the more extraordinary our mental functioning becomes as our brain patterns now start moving into the even more highly functional theta range of 4 – 7 cps, which, when operating in a synchronised fashion is exceptional.
Imagine sitting in an office and receiving 100,000 phone calls every second - and you must evaluate the incoming information and decide upon and make the appropriate response to each one. That's what each single neuron is doing - with billions of them doing it.
Craig Pearson, Author
How meditation changes the brain
Meditation with personalised mantras is the only technique we know of that delivers this type of functioning, it simultaneously develops the nervous system and globalised brain functioning. The reason is the unique quality of the mantras and also the unique way in which we use them. Instead of collapsing down our brains into localised functioning using a process of concentration, either on a word, sound, thought, concept or body part, the practise of this technique is effortless and relaxing and, as a result, the brain can relax into a higher state of operations.
And, if neuroscience is correct in understanding that all of us have 90-98% of our brain potential lying dormant, we can start tapping into some of that. The health, well-being and productivity gains that follow from such development will be huge.
And because this enhanced brain state functioning is a perfectly natural function to have, and the practice itself is very relaxed, we can become masters very quickly. We are talking weeks, not years, which is why people find themselves experiencing such clarity and efficiency gains so quickly. And with the passage of time, we can unlock more and more of our latent potential.
Meditation research, particularly in the last 10 years or so, has shown to be very promising because it points to an ability of the brain to change and optimize in a way we didn't know previously was possible.
BBC News (Apr 2011)