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Israel: US expert's university lecture tour reveals how Transcendental Meditation enhances functioning of 'the brain's CEO'
by Global Good News staff writer
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31 December 2008
In a recent tour through Israel, Dr Fred Travis, Director of the Center for Brain, Consciousness, and Cognition at Maharishi University of Management (M.U.M.), Fairfield, Iowa, USA, delivered presentations to universities throughout the nation. His main lecture series, geared toward students and professors unfamiliar with neuroscience, addressed factors critical to brain function and how the brain is influenced by Maharishi's Transcendental Meditation Programme.
Part I of this article gave an overview of Dr Travis's tour.
Speaking 23 December 2008, Dr Travis described his lectures to the Israeli universities. He began by introducing the prefrontal cortex—or 'CEO'—of the brain, which plays a critical role in directing and organizing input. 'The logical next step in the presentation was to address which factors contribute to the functioning of the brain's CEO,' Dr Travis noted. Among these factors, which he went on to discuss in detail, were normal brain development, stress, fatigue, drugs, and alcohol.
Beginning at age 12, he said, is when connections to the CEO gain a fatty layer called myelin, which speeds up the brain's processing of information up to twenty times. Although their brains contain the same connections as mature adults, children and teenagers process information in terms of the immediate present, rather than life's larger context.
When under stress, the brain undergoes the process of downshifting, Dr Travis explained, so that connections to the prefrontal cortex are reduced, while those to the brain's sensory and motor area are enhanced. 'In this way, the brain loses some of its organizing and decision-making power,' he added.
In a similar way, when one is in a state of fatigue, the CEO is the first part of the brain to shut down. In his lectures, Dr Travis presented results of an experiment tracking daytime brain activity of two samples of students: one having gotten a full night's sleep and one having stayed up all night. Data revealed that the well-rested group had high levels of prefrontal cortex activity the next day, while the sleep-deprived group had very little. Instead, the latter group experienced heightened activity in the amygdala, a portion of the brain governing intense emotions such as fear. 'When overtired, the brain enters fight-or-flight mode, treating every daily encounter as a threat,' explained Dr Travis.
The final factor Dr Travis discussed in his lectures was how drugs and alcohol affect brain function. When using substances on a regular basis, he said, functional lesions can form in the brain. 'This results because frontal areas of the brain's CEO are not being used.'
At this point in the lecture, Dr Travis explained how the Transcendental Meditation Programme leads to a distinct brain state, characterized by 'restful alertness'. During the practice of TM the brain ceases all activities of concentration and information processing, while at the same time achieving increased coherence and interconnectivity between its functions. Using the EEG monitor, Dr Travis demonstrated how, after only a few seconds of TM practice, the brain initiates global functioning—spontaneous coherence among localized parts. 'Long-term TM practice will lead to enhanced functioning of the brain's CEO, for improved abilities of judgment, moral reasoning, and spontaneous right action,' he said.
Lastly, in his presentation to Israeli students and faculty, Dr Travis contrasted the effects of the TM Technique to those of other meditation practices. During the practice of Zen and Tibetan Buddhist Meditations, the brain engages in concentration and intense intellectual activity, while during TM, the brain achieves a resting state while maintaining global alertness.
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