Hiroaki Kumano, professor at Japan’s Waseda University, has recently publicized his study on how meditation affects blood flow to the brain and, over the long-term, improve brain function. The assumption is that changes in the brain can lead to changes in the body as well. It has been somewhat proven that positive changes in the brain can cause improvement with illnesses, including the use of psychotherapeutic drugs to help improve a patient’s mood or reduce unhealthy behavior.
Professor Kumano is exploring the effects of a type of meditation called “mindfulness” – a cognitive therapy technique used to treat depression and anxiety disorders. This type of meditation basically teaches patients to face their thoughts and state of mind. “This technique will be more effective if we have a better understanding of how the brain changes in response to the way the training is conducted,” Kumano said. In his research, Kumano used a process called NIRS – or near infrared spectroscopy – to measure blood flow in the brain, as blood flow is relatively connected to neural activity. The subject wears a cap equipped with numerous sensors, and information about the blood flow is taken by capturing the reflection from infrared light that passes through the subject’s skull.
Initially, Kumano’s study has shown that blood flow increases during meditation. If a person were to continue the meditation therapy for several years, the thickness of the brain tissue changes. This may lead to positive effects in the person’s physiology. Kumano feels positive about the initial discoveries in his study, and he says that the next phase of research is already underway.