Scientific research into meditation typically has focused on mindfulness meditation -- connecting to what's happening in the present moment, particularly the breath -- and has found that it calms the mind and the physical body, reducing the stress response. A new study, however, finds that while that's true for Theravadan methods, it's not the the case with Tibetan or vajrayana practices.
Researchers at the National University of Singapore looked at two types of meditation -- shamata, or calm-abiding, and vipassana -- typically associated with Theravadan schools of Buddhism, along with Tibetan practices of visualizing oneself as a meditational deity and open, unfocused awareness. Using EKGs and EEGs, they found that while the Theravadan practices produced a state of relaxation, the Tibetan methods had the opposite effect, a state of arousal.
The researchers had also observed an immediate dramatic increase in performance on cognitive tasks following only Vajrayana styles of meditation. They noted that such dramatic boost in attentional capacity is impossible during a state of relaxation. Their results show that Vajrayana and Theravada styles of meditation are based on different neurophysiological mechanisms, which give rise to either an arousal or relaxation response.The findings suggest that Vajrayana methods could be beneficial for peak performance -- as in a competition -- while Theravadan techniques are more useful for relaxation.
Researchers noted that Vajrayana meditation typically requires years of practice. They're doing further research to try to determine "whether it is also possible to acquire the beneficial effects of brain performance by practicing certain essential elements of the meditation. This would provide an effective and practical method for non-practitioners to quickly increase brain performance in times of need."