The science issue of Ascent Magazine in 2001 was the spark I needed to start my meditation practice. An article about Dr. Andrew Newberg’s research on the brains of Buddhists and nuns while meditating gave me the scientific proof that this sitting business was going to get me somewhere (sorry, that’s what I needed!). In the tests, meditators pulled a string when they felt at the height of their meditative state, dye was injected into their brains, their brains were then studied.
Here’s what got me: “the finding that caused the greatest excitement was that neurological information to the Orientation Association Area (OAA), was greatly reduced or “deafferented.” The OAA, located at the top rear section of the brain, is the part responsible for orienting the body in physical space. One way that it does this is to clearly define the limits of an individual’s body – it distinguishes the “you” from “not you.” If this area were to have no sensory information with which to do its job, logic followed that the individual would not be able to determine where he or she ended and where the rest of the world began.”
Perhaps the feeling of separateness most of us feel is due to our biology. For survival we are wired to locate ourselves in space. With meditation practice our attention is not going towards this task and we feel oneness with all. What is seemingly ethereal is really practical.
I had experienced something like this after a workshop with Tias Little. The sense of where I ended and the rest began was GONE, and I floated in this state for who knows how long (it was also timeless!). Receiving scientific proof that meditation (when practiced regularly) affected the part of our brains somehow turned the switch for me. Now my primary practice is meditation, asana comes if I have enough time. The affects on my quality of life have been substantial.
A few weeks ago NPR ran a series called The Science of Spirituality.
This five-part series addresses the relationship between spiritual practice and the brain, addressing “The Biology of Belief”, exploring “Spiritual Virtuosos” and “Near-Death Experiences.” Check it out. Maybe it will be the spark that ignites something new!
If you have a meditation practice, tell us what helped you get started!

Posted by: Anne Phyfe

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