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Meditation Medication: A research paper

jamesbrown176 1 / 3 1  
Nov 2, 2013   #1
This is a rough draft. I would love feedback about transitions, citations, as well as "readability". I am interested in the topic so I want it to be engaging. What could make it more interesting? What does it leave you asking?

Also it was difficult to navigate the types of sources I needed. So some suggestions as to where the paper is weak in terms of support would be appreciated.

It has been a long time since I have attempted a research paper, so anyone with recent experience would be extra helpful. Forgive the formatting, for some reason the site wouldn't let me load my attachment, so I had to copy/paste below.


Meditation Medication:
Legitimizing Mindful Meditation as a Form of Treatment
James Brown
English 102 #31647
Josephine Schwenckert
November 2, 2013

James Brown
English 102 #31647
Josephine Schwenckert
November 2, 2013

Meditation Medication: Legitimizing Mindful Meditation as a Form of Treatment

Do you or does someone you love have a debilitating mental illness? Struggling with serious brain disorders such as being bipolar, having ADHD, depression, various forms of addiction, or Alzheimer's disease usually leads to a lifetime of therapy or powerful medications. These medications have lists of side effects that force the user to weigh the pros and cons of even using them. In some instances, like Alzheimer's, those options are not even available as the medical community struggles to learn more about this complex affliction. In many ways the brain is still a mystery for scientists, and until recently there was no hope of a long term noninvasive treatment for the many neurological flaws that cause such suffering. Recently, however, a breakthrough in the study of the brain has not only changed the approach of psychologists and neuroscientists, but has also provided common ground between science and religion. Meditation, and even prayer, may be able to have lasting impact on the neuropathways that drive the function of the brain. While still overcoming stigmas of being alternative medicine or promoting religion as medicine, mindful meditation has been proven to positively alter the plasticity of the brain, and the implications on mental health issues may be profound.

Recently a long held belief about the brain has been proven wrong. Before, neuroscientists thought the brain was concrete. Neurological pathways were thought to be permanent. Everything from the neurons that control eyesight to the pathways that control an individual's personality; the consensus was that these things were determined at birth. Now, it is irrefutable that the brain has a plasticity - an ability to adapt and to be modified with changed behavior. The key to this major shift in the approach to neurological science is in the physical changes of the brain that result from traditions of prayer and meditation. Ryan B. Joo, an assistant professor of Asian Religions at Hampshire College, in his article entitled, Countercurrents from the West: 'Blue-Eyed' Zen Masters, discusses this unlikely source. "At this point in Western cultures, and increasingly in other world cultures, there exist side-by-side extensive religious and secular traditions of psychotherapy" (Joo 614). His paper focuses on vipassana meditation, a form of mindful meditation practiced for centuries by Tibetan Monks. Recognizing this neuroplasticity may open the door to prolonged positive noninvasive treatment for flaws in the way these neuropathways function.

The practice of mindfulness works twofold, in that it gives a short term benefit of a clear mind and relaxation, and a long-term benefit of actually improving cognitive function. Though traditional mindfulness is inspired by that ancient Tibetan practice of meditation, any regular practice that involves clearing the mind and letting go of stresses could be defined as mindful meditation. This is why noninvasive treatments like Alcoholic's Anonymous have had success in the past. "Alcoholics crave a drink because it offers escape, relaxation, companionship, the blunting of anxieties, and an opportunity for emotional release" (Duhigg 70) .Central to the twelve step program that is essence of AA is surrendering to a higher power. However, it is important to differentiate between the idea that prayer heals due to divine intervention and the idea that a regular quiet focused cleansing of one's troubled mind can have prolonged positive physical benefits. This is where the faith stops and the science takes over. Whatever religion or however one chooses to practice prayer or meditation, it is the act itself that soothes the stresses, and retrains the brain.

A person's faith or practice of mindful meditation can both serve as that submission to a higher power and the hope of something better. "Several studies suggest that patients' religious and spiritual beliefs are associated with improved mental well being, in that patients with such beliefs have reduced depression and stress" (Cohen 44). This prayer cannot be simple pleading for help or for specific miracles to be performed. Rather, the prayer that would be considered submission or mindfulness would be the kind of prayer that AA or vipassana meditation practices. A prayer that offers perspective, an acknowledgement in the powerful nature of a spiritual being or the universe or whatever allows one's troubles to be dwarfed by comparison. The repetition of the quiet practice of prayer or meditation lowers blood pressure, and alters the pathways of repetitive anxiety and stress. (Wildman 72)

While prayer of any sort has the potential to work similar to vipassana meditation, it is the specific mindfulness of that practice that has proven to alter the plasticity of the brain. Dr. Wesley J. Wildman, a professor of Philosophy, Theology and Ethics at Boston University School of Theology, studied this fact. "...[T]he focus of attention and broad awareness achieved in certain meditation states allows meditators to escape the grip of their self delusions and distorted interpretations to some degree" (Wildman 72). He describes the benefits of meditation: "Beginners can expect increases in impulse control and improved awareness of behavior patterns, while intermediate meditators can expect to enjoy increased ability to overcome bad habits, increased passionate behavior, and decreased addictive behavior" (71). This illustrates the benefit of meditation over time, as well as the immediate benefits of retraining the brain. But every breakthrough in science answers some questions but replaces those questions with more. What is specific about meditation that provides these benefits? What are the implications of this discovery? What are the limitations of our ability to retrain our brains?

While this is still a relatively new scientific breakthrough, the early science has been promising. Charles Duhigg, a renowned business reporter for the New York Times, in his bestseller The Power of Habit, describes a 2007 MIT study in which five chronic alcoholics had electrical devices implanted in the basal ganglia, where they believed the habit of drinking was located, and used that electrical charge to try to override the neurological cravings. In the short term the study was unequivocally successful. Eventually, however, four of the subjects relapsed after experiencing a stressful event (Duhigg 71). In conjunction with other routines for dealing with stress, such as Alcoholic's Anonymous, however, the "successes were dramatic" (71) This invasive retraining of the brain had short term success but lacked the reinforcement and the hope that is provided by the repetition and structure of systems to cultivate prolonged change.

Dr. Richard Davidson, a William James and Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has done a longitudinal study of the benefits of mindful meditation that many academics view as the foremost study of the effects of neuroplasticity. In this study, "Eight Tibetan Buddhist monks with at least ten thousand hours of meditation practice and ten volunteer controls with a modest week of meditation training" were tested. (Wildman 71). He explains, "[t]he adepts displayed distinctive and nontypical gamma-wave changes during meditation." (71) This study sent ripples through the psychological and neuroscientific communities, regarding not only the neuroplasticity of the brain, but also what is possible with a lifetime of brain training.

A third study, this one focusing on the benefits of noninvasive brain stimulation through magnetic currents, further demonstrates both the plasticity of the brain and the need for a repetition of mindfulness. "Functional neuroimaging studies in depression generally demonstrate reduced activity in prefrontal cortex, especially in, left more so than right [areas]" (Demirtas-Tatlidede 568). For any study, the area of the brain needs to be determined for an associated flaw in the neuropathways. The results were remarkably similar to the results demonstrated by the alcoholics in the study referenced by Duhigg. In the short term there was an increase in activity in the part of the brain that seems to, when performing atypically, cause depression. However, without prolonged reinforcement of these altered neuropathways, the brain reverted to its atypical function. "Presumably, these after-effects represent changes in neuronal plasticity, which can have immense therapeutic potential in neuropsychiatric diseases that feature over- or under- activation of brain regions (567).

The science is irrefutable. We now know that the brain has the potential for rewiring. We can pinpoint neuropathways that correspond to various ailments and test the efficacy of various treatments on the brain's plasticity. "The brains of people who have been blind since birth and who learn to read Braille," Dr. Davidson explains, "...their visual cortex - which [was] supposedly hardwired to process signals from the eye and turn them into visual images - undertakes a radical career change and takes on the job of processing sensations form the fingers rather than imput from the eyes" (Davidson 164 - 165) The brain is amazingly adaptable, and this reality should be the source of hope for so many who struggle with mental illness. Just as the blind can retrain their visual cortex the brain can be retrained through mindful meditation. The science is new and the possibilities are endless.

Works Cited

Cohen, Cynthia B., et al, "Prayer as Therapy: A Challenge to Both Religious Belief and Professional Ethics". Hastings Center Report: June 2000, 40-47. Online.
Davidson, Richard J. Sharon Begley. The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and Live - And How You Can Change Them. New York: Penguin Group, 2012. Print.

Duhigg, Charles. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business. New York: Random House, 2012. Print.
Demirtas-Tatlidede, Asli, Andrew M. Vahabzadeh-Hagh, Alvaro Pascual-Leone. "Can Noninvasive Brain Stimulation Enhance Cognition in Neuropsychiatric Disorders?" Neuropharmacology: 11 Jun. 2012: 566-578. Online.
Joo, Ryan B. "Countercurrents from the West: 'Blue-Eyed' Zen Masters, Vipassana Meditation and Buddhist Psychotherapy in Contemporary Korea" Journal of the American Academy of Religion: Sept. 2011: 614-638. Online.

Wildman, Wesley J. "Cognitive Error and Contemplative Practices: The Cultivation of Discernment in Mind and Heart." Buddhist-Christian Studies: Vol. 29 2009: 61-81, Online.
Danhk 1 / 2  
Nov 3, 2013   #2

I think this topic is quite interesting , and knowing a relative with serious depression , I find it all the more interesting.
The good point is that is understandable by most , I'm not an expert in neuro-sciences , I just have the basis from my seconday education.

There is just one point I'd like to focus on.
Brain plasticity is influenced by environmental factors , and meditation is said to cleanse your mind , but isn't practicing a passion said to have the same effect ?

And I think that , even though not so many people practice meditation , they often have time to relax but still , they still develop brain diseases such as Alzeimher's.

The point I'm trying to make is , that sometimes perfectly sane people develop Alzeimher's disease , and I find it hard to believe that meditation would have prevented it.

But since those kind of diseases are really hard to treat , I think maybe meditation is the lead to follow.

So to sump up , I find this article excellent , it's clear and there are several works to support your point.
Personally , I'm still not sure if it's really effective , but maybe it due to the fact that I'm an atheist and reading something like "Meditation is your salvation" may be hard to believe , even though you gave several scientfic references.

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