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Discovering a Bio-Marker for Periods of Transcendental Consciousness
by David Orme-Johnson, Ph.D.

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6 December 2017

This excerpt is the fourth from part 3 in Dr. David Orme-Johnson's series on the Scientific Quest for Enlightenment. Part 3 began with his questions: ''What happens to our brains when we practice Transcendental Meditation and transcend? Do we experience a new state of consciousness that's different from waking, dreaming, or sleeping? If so, how does that help us realize our highest human potential? These were some of the questions that our group of international researchers were trying to answer in the 1970s. Based at Maharishi European Research University (MERU) in the Swiss and French Alps, we were on a quest to create a scientific portrait of Transcendental Consciousness, the state we all experience when we practice the TM technique.''

Discovering a Bio-Marker for Periods of Transcendental Consciousness

We knew from our own experience that Transcendental Meditation (TM) practice is typically a mix of several states . . . depending on the condition of the body at the time. In our pursuit of the scientifically elusive Transcendental Consciousness, we wanted to identify the exact moment that thoughts did their disappearing act into unbounded awareness. We thought that this would help us pin down that Transcendental Consciousness really was a fourth major state of consciousness. As before, it was Maharishi Mahesh Yogi [Founder of the Transcendental Meditation programme and Maharishi European Research University] who oriented us where to look.

Many VIPs visited Maharishi at MERU, which at this time was located high in the French Alps . . . in Courchevel. This was the headquarters from where Maharishi was conducting advanced TM courses in towns around the region, frequently visiting them by helicopter.

On one such occasion Maharishi took the visitors and an entourage of us scientists to see the EEG lab where an experiment was in progress. Our seven-foot tall EEG machine and other equipment were crammed into one room of a double suite, with the subject meditating in the other room. The group watched as tracings of 12 channels of EEG and one of respiration flowed out in large sheets, folding into a neat stack.

As Alarik Arenander [one of the researchers] explained what was going on, Maharishi asked, ''What is that?'' gesturing toward the paper tracings. Alarik, puzzled, stopped his commentary, then started again. After a few moments of watching the tracings, Maharishi again asked, ''What is that?'' This happened a couple more times, with all of us still befuddled about what Maharishi was referring to.

Then Maharishi stepped forward and started unfurling the neat stack of tracings and spreading them around. ''Here, and here, and here,'' Maharishi said, pointing to long periods of suspended respiration. ''These are periods of Transcendental Consciousness.''

Just as Maharishi had oriented the scientists to study synchrony and coherence as key EEG indicators, now he was orienting us where to look for isolated periods of TC. . . .

Studying Isolated Periods of Transcending

Once Maharishi had pointed this out, it was completely obvious to all of us that respiratory suspension marked isolated periods of clear transcending. We knew this from our own twice-daily meditation practice. But how could we convey this to the world? A skeptic might ask, ''How do you know that a subject was transcending when his or her breath became suspended?'' Good question.

Chart 3. Respiratory Suspension during Transcendental Consciousness (TC). The button signals mark the periods of pure TC experience, which were found to coincide exactly with suspension of the breath, establishing respiratory suspension as a bio-marker of TC.17

Dr. John T. Farrow, a biochemist trained at Brandeis University, and Russell Hebert came up with a clever series of experiments to show just this. They had subjects press a button after they had a subjective experience of transcending. Sure enough, periods of respiratory suspension preceded each button signal (see Chart 3). This established that a clear experience of Transcendental Consciousness had occurred at that time.

In four different experiments, with 565 criterion-meeting episodes of breath suspension observed in 40 subjects practicing TM, John and Russell established that the moments of TC are associated with breath suspension. Respiratory suspension was now a clear 'bio-marker' for Transcendental Consciousness. The suspensions of breath during the TM technique occur spontaneously and naturally as part of a very comfortable experience of deep rest, and there is no shortage of oxygen during this time or of compensatory breathing afterwards.

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 excerpts from Part 3:
How Transcending Optimizes Your Brain: Revolutionary TM research advanced the science of human potential
The Discovery That EEG Coherence Increases During Transcendental Meditation
Optimization of Brain Functioning: Correlates of EEG coherence

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.

17. Farrow JT, Hebert JR. Breath suspension during the Transcendental Meditation technique. Psychosomatic Medicine. 1982;44(2):133-53.

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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