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The Discovery That EEG Coherence Increases During TM
by David Orme-Johnson, Ph.D.

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30 September 2017

This excerpt is the second from part 3 in Dr. David Orme-Johnson's series on the Scientific Quest for Enlightenment.

Is Transcendental Consciousness the Same as Sleep, or the Onset of Sleep?

There were articles that tried to explain the physiological and EEG characteristics of Transcendental Meditation as some form of waking, dreaming, or sleep states of consciousness, or as an altered state, such as hypnosis,2 or as mere relaxation. Dr. Keith Wallace had shown in his Scientific American article that TM is completely different from hypnosis, and numerous meta-analyses over the years have subsequently shown that TM has much more profound effects than relaxation techniques on reducing anxiety,8, 9 alcohol, drug, and cigarette use,10 and blood pressure,11, 12 and on increasing psychological health and self-actualization.13

One study reported a preponderance of sleep during TM and suggested that the benefits of TM could be due to napping. Napping may be beneficial, but we found out later from a subject in that experiment that the researchers used ether to apply the EEG electrodes, which is why the meditators napped! Also, as we know from our TM instruction, sleep during meditation is natural if the body is fatigued. As Maharishi commented, however, sleep during TM is not Transcendental Consciousness.

On a tour of England with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi [the Founder of Maharishi European Research University (MERU), where Dr. Orme-Johnson and colleagues' EEG research was based] in 1973, Dr. Jean-Paul Banquet and I visited Dr. Peter Fenwick, a neuropsychiatrist, in his EEG lab at the Maudsley Hospital in London. Dr. Fenwick said that what happens during TM is the same as what you see during sleep onset, nothing new. ''No,'' Jean-Paul replied, he could see the difference between the EEG of TM and sleep onset.

Dr. Fenwick then challenged Jean-Paul by showing us two EEG records, which looked quite similar to me, and demanded that he tell us which was TM. Jean-Paul looked thoughtfully at the EEG records for a long 30 seconds, then pointed to one of the records and said, ''That one is TM.'' He was right! I was relieved. Dr. Fenwick looked skeptical. Lucky guess, I thought to myself, but I knew that Jean-Paul had a deeper understanding of EEG and TM than I did.

It was encounters such as these with Dr. Fenwick that made us feel an urgent need for a more refined EEG measure than synchrony to irrefutably show the uniqueness of Transcendental Consciousness. Jean-Paul identified EEG synchrony by visual inspection of the EEG paper records. Now we needed something more precise. Enter Dr. Paul Levine.

The Discovery That EEG Coherence Increases During TM

Our colleague Paul, being a physicist, began to explore how to adapt a precise measure of synchrony called coherence to the EEG from two regions of the brain, creating the Coherence Spectral Arrays, or COSPARs for short.

Paul was a pioneer in applying computers to calculate the degree of similarity between two waves over time. Synchrony was observed by visual inspection of how the EEG waves rose and fell together, how their peaks and troughs were aligned. Synchrony of waves was relatively easy to see since the two waves looked and remained identical in shape over a few seconds. But EEG varies a lot, and computers were needed to estimate the degree of correlation if the waves were not exactly the same but nonetheless exhibited a stable relationship over a few seconds.

This exact quantity is called coherence: the correlation between two areas of the brain compared for a given frequency across time. Coherence was an exact value, ranging from 0 (no coherence) to 1.0 (perfect coherence). Coherence is therefore an accurate measure of the degree of orderliness of interaction between brain regions, and hence how brain diversity is unified moment by moment to support the quality of our thinking.

Paul's work allowed us, and scientific research in general, to remove subjective judgment, and to detect and explore more subtle changes in global brain dynamics. With this elegant tool, we were in a position to study the process of transcending itself.

Paul's work at the MERU EEG lab, with the assistance of Russell Hebert, Chris Haynes, Urs Strobel, and Alarik Arenander, laid the foundation for measuring brain orderliness during the experience of transcending, and greatly expanded our knowledge of Transcendental Consciousness.16 His COSPARs showed that the alpha1 EEG brain waves, which Keith Wallace had first shown to increase during TM and which Jean-Paul Banquet had shown to be synchronous, were highly coherent across the brain. The COSPARS showed that during TM the brain waves from different areas of the brain reached coherence and sustained that coherence at over 95 percent, where perfect coherence is 100 percent (see Chart 1).

Chart 1. Coherence Spectral Array during TM. This set of four COSPARs shows what is happening in four main brain areas before, during, and after TM practice. The subject had been practicing TM for about 4 years. The dotted yellow lines mark the beginning and end of TM practice. The ''mountain peaks'' are periods of brain orderliness or coherence over .95 (1.0 is perfect) in the alpha1 8-10 Hz frequency band, which appeared a few minutes after starting TM and continued into the eyes-closed periods after TM. Total coherence (see the right side of each COSPAR) is coherence across all EEG frequency bands, which increased during TM and lasted afterwards.

A night's sleep, on the other hand, was shown to have the opposite effect, dramatically decreasing alpha1 and total EEG coherence. This told us that the COSPARS provided a window into a person's state of consciousness, providing further support for Dr. Wallace's assertion that it was a distinct fourth state of consciousness. The COSPARS showed that, in contrast to sleep, TM was like ''falling awake,'' effortlessly sliding into a higher level of inner awareness and brain integration.

Global Good News will continue to feature excerpts from part 3 of Dr. Orme-Johnson's series on the Scientific Quest for Enlightenment: ''How Transcending Optimizes Your Brain''

∙ Read Part 1, ''A Scientist's Quest for Enlightenment''
∙ Read Part 2, ''The Remarkable Story of the Scientific Exploration of Enlightenment''
∙ Read previous excerpt from Part 3, ''How Transcending Optimizes Your Brain: Revolutionary TM research advanced the science of human potential''

Dr. David Orme-Johnson is one of the principal researchers on the Transcendental Meditation technique worldwide, with over 100 publications in peer-reviewed journals. He served as Director of Research of the International Center for Scientific Research, and Vice Chancellor of Maharishi European Research University. At Maharishi University of Management, Dr. Orme-Johnson was Head of the Psychology Department, Director of the Doctoral Program in Psychology, Co-Director of the Ph.D. program in the Physiology of Human Consciousness, and Dean of Research.

2. Wallace RK. The Physiology of Meditation. Scientific American. 1972;226:84-90.
8. Eppley K, Abrams AI, Shear J. Differential effects of relaxation techniques on trait anxiety: A meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychology. 1989;45(6):957-74.
9. Orme-Johnson DW, Barnes VA. Effects of the Transcendental Meditation technique on trait anxiety: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2013;20(5):330-41.
10. Alexander CN, Robinson P, Rainforth MV. Treating alcohol, nicotine and drug abuse through Transcendental Meditation: A review and statistical meta-analysis. Alcohol Treatment Quarterly. 1994;11:13-87.
11. Anderson JW, Liu CH, Kryscio RJ. Blood pressure response to Transcendental Meditation: A meta-analysis. American Journal of Hypertension. 2008;21(3):310-6.
12. Rainforth MV, Schneider RH, Nidich SI, Gaylord-King C, Salerno JW, Anderson JW. Stress reduction programs in patients with elevated blood pressure: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Current Hypertension Report. 2007;9(6):520-8.
16. Levine PH, Hebert R, Haynes CT, Strobel U. EEG coherence during the Transcendental Meditation Technique. In: Orme-Johnson D, Farrow, J., editor. Scientific Research on the Transcendental Meditation Program: Collected Papers. Livingston Manor NY: Maharishi European Research University Press; 1977. p. 187-207.

Copyright © 2017 Maharishi Foundation USA

SOURCE: Original article in Enjoy TM News includes photos, scientific charts, and complete list of references.

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