Altered State of Consciousness and Meditation

Altered State of Consciousness and Meditation

Consciousness refers to the state of information processing in the brain (Guldenmund et al., 2012). The brain is constantly in a state of alterations and flux (Vait, 2005). Such alterations often cause changes in the functioning and structure of the brain. Consequently, it is essential to discern the extent and mechanisms through which such alteration and flux cause changes in the structure and functioning of the brain. During alterations and flux, the brain is considered to be in a state called altered state of consciousness (ASC). According to Holroyd (2003), ASC refers to an alteration of the pattern of functioning of the mind to the extent that a person’s consciousness is different from that of a normal person. Effect of alteration on the brain’s structure and functioning, as earlier mentioned, are due to change from a normal state of consciousness. This paper seeks to explore how ASC influences and alters the structure and functioning of the brain. In particular the paper majors on the link between meditation and consciousness. Moreover, the paper also considers various situations during which a person may be recommended to practice meditation.

ASC and brain structure and functioning

In ascertaining how altered state of consciousness affects brain structure and functioning, it is prudent to consider brain activity. The brain’s neuronal activity can be measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). While the brain is not involved in an activity that does not demand attention, it switches to resting mode (Guldenmund et al., 2012). Guldenmund and colleagues further explain that the resting mode supports the inner awareness of a person. Lying still while closing the eyes without performing any task can achieve the resting mode. Consequently, it can be inferred that the resting mode can be achieved through meditation. Brain activity changes during ASC can be explained by considering default mode network (DMN). Guldenmund and partners explain that DMN is a neuronal network that reflects the activity of the brain and hence consciousness. DMN is associated with temporoparietal cortex, anterior and posterior cingulate cortex (ACC and PCC respectively) parts of the brain.

According to Vaitl et al. (2005), ASC can be induced by various physiological and physical situations. Some of the physically induced ASC situations involve starvation and extreme environmental conditions. On the other hand, physiologically induced ASC includes hypnosis, meditation, relaxation and anesthesia. Guldenmund et al. (2012) explains that anesthesia is associated with PCC. An fMRI study revealed a progressive reduction in the connection of DMN and PCC. Consequently, there is a progressive loss of consciousness.

Hypnosis is another state that can induce ASC. Guldenmund and partners explain that hypnosis refers to a state of preventing consciousness awareness by the external stimuli. Holroyd (2003) compares the state with mediation as both involve a detachment from the external stimuli. Both states involve inducing ASC through concentration and attentional practices. Moreover, hypnosis is can be established through practices that contribute to relaxation (Guldenmund et al., 2012). Guldenmund and colleagues account for a decrease in the activity of DMN in states of hypnosis.

Meditation and Brain structure and functioning

In explaining the effect of meditation on the brain, Holroyd (2003) states that meditation resulted in increased activity in the anterior cingulate gyrus and the far frontal cortex. Moreover, meditation causes inhibition of the cortical auditory sensation. Meditation can also increase brain’s orderliness while reducing its complexity. Meditation switches off connections of the neuron networks and hence shutting off incoming information. This ability of meditation reduces the complexity of the brain and help in the maintenance of the internal attentional focus.

Davidson and Lutz (2008) account for decreases activation of the amygdala during focused attention meditation. Amygdala concerns with affective brain part and hence meditation result in a decrease in behaviors that are emotionally reactive. Davidson and Lutz further state that open monitoring meditation results in a decrease in the elaborative stimulus processing. Consequently, individuals can transit from one stimulus to another without being stuck in any. Moreover, it is associated with a decrease in a brain potential index of resource allocation and an increase in the orderliness of the brain. An increased ability to transit from one stimulus to another occurs during open monitoring meditation. Holroyd (2003) accounts for an effect of meditation on the blood flow to the brain. Meditation has been shown to affect cerebral blood flow. Holroyd explains that there is an increase in blood flow in frontal cortex and the anterior cingulated cortex due to high internal mental processing (Vaitl et al., 2005).

Applicability of meditation

Meditation can be used in clients with both medical and psychological problems. Some of the medical problems during which meditation may be beneficial include such as epilepsy, menopausal symptoms, and premenstrual syndrome. Moreover, meditation is essential in cases of anxiety and mood disorders, emotional disturbance, and autoimmune illnesses. Meditation can also be used in cases of stress, chronic pain and individuals with poor interpersonal relationships (Leppma, 2012). Chandiramani (2007) further states that meditation is essential for individuals with aversions and cravings.

Meditation may cause adverse effects to individuals practicing it. However, adverse effects associated with meditation are rare but may be experienced mostly in individuals with masked disorders that may be unmasked by meditation (Arias et al., 2006). Such masked conditions involve such as psychotic, bipolar and maniac disorders. Individuals exhibiting emotional detachment may also experience adverse effects of depersonalization and derealization after a session of meditation.




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