Rhythm, Meditation and the Mind

I believe my original topic choice may have been slightly too concise. The immense library of human knowledge encompasses most things, but not everything. While there is an extensive amount of research of the neurophysiology of the brain, there is less research geared specifically to the neurophysiology of meditation and an even more selective amount of research dedicated to the neurophysiology of meditation in the community of Buddhist chanting. There is however, data on the effects of rhythm alone. This has lead me to the conclusion that it may be to my benefit to expand my sonic community to all meditators. Buddhist Samatha meditation will be included in this group, as well as transcendental meditation and other various genres of meditation. I will simply study the neurophysiological effects and their conscious repercussions of repetitive rhythmic sound during meditation.
The relationship of sound and meditation first came to my attention while reading The Auditory Visual iPod by Michael Bull. In this reading he uses first person accounts to reveal the mystical power an iPod can exert over human perception of a city. IPod users, myself being one, feel that these music devices detach one from the typical feelings of an environment and transport them to a mental state dependent on the auditory input. This began a train of thought which traveled down the tracks of, “If music can cause the brain to synchronize its perception with the music involuntarily, what would happen if one were to intentionally synchronize themselves with music?” After taking this thought and running with it, I can across a few independent accounts of the effects of rhythm on neurophysiology. For example, Buddhist monks have used mantras, sounds that invoke change, for meditative purposes for hundreds if not thousands of years, and the rhythmic drumming in dance music can spur physiological changes in respiration rate and heart rate (Carrington 2005, Vaitl et al. 2005).
I should begin by defining and providing outside information on the lucrative word meditation. There is no exact medical definition for meditation because there are so many different methods of meditation, there are however some characteristics that are almost universal among meditative states. An increase in alpha and theta waves in an electroencephalogram (EEG) reading is common in most meditative states although the exact significance has yet to be determined (Cahn et al. 2006). Some of the universal traits of meditation aren’t in physiological measures but more in conscious feelings. People who meditate often report a less acute sense of time and 3D orientation, as well as an increased feeling of attention. These combinations of feelings are often associated with spirituality (Amen 2005). Meditation can be more easily described as a self-initiated altered state of consciousness which results in mental clarity, usually in the form of increased attention around a specified thought, sound, object or image.
Specific regions of the brain control various functions. A normal method for dividing the brain into various regions is through the use of four lobes. These lobes are: the frontal lobe, the parietal lobe, the temporal lobe, and the occipital lobe. There generalized functions are, respectively: cognition and motor function, the sense of touch and body positioning, auditory perception, and visual perception. Within these general lobes are hundreds of unique areas responsible for more differentiated tasks. These unique areas within a certain lobe may work with another region of a separate lobe, or the same lobe, to form a system. And jammed within all of these systems and gray matter is the conscious. This rough schematic just scrawled before you only alludes to the intricacy of the most complex organ in the known universe. But what is trying to be demonstrated here is that no one region of the brain is the culprit for meditation, the brain is incredibly plastic. However studies have presented various findings which suggest that during meditation there is increased neural activity in the prefrontal cortex, a subdivision of the frontal lobe, as well as in the temporal lobe, the section of the brain associated with auditory perception (Amen 2005). It is reasonable to conclude that stimulation of the temporal lobe through auditory perception might alter a meditative state. These alterations will be further investigated on not just a neurophysiological level, but also on a spiritual and humanistic level. Meditation does possess a transcendental or spiritual connotation and it is one that shall be further examined within a scientific and spiritual lens with respect to audition.
Amen, Daniel G. Making a Good Brain Great. New York: Harmony, 2005. Print.

Dr. Daniel G. Amen M.D. is a psychiatrist who treats neurological problems through both a scientific and a holistic approach. Using modern technology, he studies meditation and measureable neurological changes that occur in various areas of the brain. He then analyzes these changes and assesses possible psychological impacts. This book was written for the everyday person who wishes to improve their physical wellbeing via improvements of the brain both psychological and physiologically. This fits within the realm of relativity because it answers my question of the neurological effects of meditation.

Cahn, B. R., & Polich, J. (2006). Meditation states and traits: EEG, ERP, and neuroimaging studies. Psychological Bulletin, 132(2), 180-211. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.132.2.180

Rael Cahn is currently a resident physician of UC Irvine, but he has a long, decorated past in psychiatry where he focused on the neurophysiology of the meditative state. John Polich is a neuroimaging researcher associated with the Scripps institute. This article is a peer reviewed journal article of a study performed on the neurophysiological effects of mediation. This article also discusses methods of meditation that include Buddhist Samatha meditation which focuses on breathing awareness. This fits inside my bubble of research because the study examines the neurophysiological responses elicited by rhythmic sounds during meditation.

Carrington, Patricia, PhD. “Impact of Sound on Emotions.” Mastering the Practice of EFT and Meditation. N.p., 2005. Web. 06 Mar. 2013.

Dr. Patricia Carrington is a doctor of psychology at Princeton University where focuses on stress management and self-development. This includes the study of meditation and the various effects sensory stimulation can have on the meditative process. This article was written for anyone who meditates, the language is understandable and there is a section of the article providing instructions to try some of the meditative techniques suggested. This article fits into the scope of the project by confirming that sounds have a neurological effect on meditation.

Levenson, R. W., Ekman, P., & Ricard, M. (2012). Meditation and the startle response: A case study. Emotion, 12(3), 650-658. doi:10.1037/a0027472

Matthieu Ricard is a Buddhist monk with forty years of experience meditating. Robert Levenson is a professor of psychology at UC Berkley whose research encompasses behavioral neuroscience and the relationship between psychological and physiological responses. The above article is case study of one individual meaning it is a presentation of data and conclusions drawn from a very specific study. This journal article appears to have been written for other scholars, and other experimenters who may wish to replicate the experiment, although that may prove difficult due to the existence of only one subject. This fits within my study by proving insight into the effects of sounds on meditation as well as supporting these claims with quantifiable scientific evidence.

Vaitl, D., Birbaumer, N., Gruzelier, J., Jamieson, G. A., Kotchoubey, B., Kübler, A., . . . Weiss, T. (2005). Psychobiology of Altered States of Consciousness. Psychological Bulletin, 131(1), 98-127. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.131.1.98

This article was released under the certification of the American Psychological Association, the APA, meaning that all of the contributing authors are members of the APA. Like many of my other sources, this is a peer reviewed journal article which entails that this is collaborative study meaning multiple external sources have been applied as well as some original research. From this article I was able to obtain associations between physiological changes in neural areas and the corresponding conscious reaction. This included specifics on the effects of rhythmic sounds and movement.