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  • Hello. This is 6 Minute English from BBC Learning English. I’m Neil.

  • And I’m Sam.

  • Neil: How do you relax, Sam?

  • Sam: Well, I love watching movies and I go swimming.

  • Neil : One thing that millions of people around the

  • world do is meditate to relax and that’s

  • the subject of our programme. Well be

  • looking at experiments by scientists in

  • the US into the Buddhist practice of meditation.

  • Well find out how Tibetan monks use meditation

  • techniques to focus better and manage

  • their emotions.

  • Sam: But what exactly is meditation? People just

  • sitting cross-legged on the floor, thinking

  • of nothing?!

  • Neil: Well, I think there’s a bit more to it than that. After

  • all, Buddhist meditation is an ancient practice

  • even science, according to some. Tibetan

  • Buddhism, as embodied by the Dalai Lama, is

  • what many people think of when you mention

  • meditation. Which brings me to my quiz question.

  • Sam: Which is..?

  • Neil : What is the meaning of the Tibetan word for

  • meditation’? Is it

  • a) to relax, b) to feel blissful, or

  • c) to become familiar.

  • Sam: I think it must be either a) to relax, or

  • b) to feel blissful because they sound like

  • positive states of mind. But I’m not sure

  • about calling meditation a ‘science’, Neil.

  • Isn’t it more like a philosophy or

  • a lifestyle?

  • Neil: Not according to Professor Richard Davidson

  • of the Center for Healthy Minds. He spoke

  • to Alejandra Martins of BBC World Service

  • programme 'Witness History' about his remarkable

  • scientific experiment which proved for the

  • first time that meditation can actually change

  • the brain.

  • Richard Davidson: When I first met His Holiness the Dalai Lama

  • it was 1972. He challenged me, he said, ‘I

  • understand that youve been using tools

  • of modern neuroscience to study anxiety

  • and depression. Why can’t you use those same

  • tools to study kindness and to study compassion?’

  • Neil: Neuroscience is the scientific study of the

  • workings of the human brain and nervous system.

  • Professor Davidson measured negative mental

  • states like depression, in contrast to positive

  • attitudes such as compassionthat’s

  • the wish for everyone to be free from suffering.

  • Sam: Right. In his test, Buddhist monks sent out

  • loving thoughts to everyone equallyto

  • friends, enemies and strangers as well as

  • to themselves.

  • Neil: Compassionate thoughts such asMay you

  • be happy and peaceful’, ‘May you not suffer’.

  • And the results were astonishing!

  • Sam: What did they show, Neil?

  • Neil: Very high levels of gamma oscillationsnow

  • that’s brain waves showing increased connections

  • between different parts of the brain. This

  • is what you or I might experience as a flash

  • of insight – a moment of sudden understanding

  • and clarity. For us, it might last less than

  • a second.

  • But for these experienced Buddhist

  • monks, the gamma waves lasted minutes!

  • Furthermore, as Richard Davidson explains,

  • brain changes as a result of meditation

  • can be long lasting.

  • Richard Davidson: There is no question at this point in time

  • based upon the current

  • science that has been conducted over the last

  • 10 years, that meditation can change the brain

  • in enduring ways; and the circuits that are

  • involved are multiple, but they include circuits

  • that are important for regulating attention

  • and regulating emotion.

  • Neil: So, this was proof of neuroplasticityour

  • brain’s ability to change in response to

  • conscious effort. In other words, the meditating

  • monks were intentionally reshaping their minds.

  • Sam: And this was possible because the brain circuits

  • different parts of the brain responsible

  • for different functionsstart talking

  • to each other in new ways that created enduring

  • meaning long-lasting - changes.

  • Neil: The meditators gained insight into how their

  • minds work. They were more focused and emotionally

  • balanced and less likely to get upset. How

  • cool is that?

  • Sam: Pretty cool! But these Tibetan monks sound

  • like Buddhas! They spend thousands of hours

  • sitting in meditation. I’ve got to go to

  • work, Neil! What good is meditation to me?

  • Neil : Well, Sam, in fact the experiment showed that

  • 30 minutes of meditation a day significantly

  • increased feelings of loving kindness in new

  • meditators too!

  • Sam: OK, maybe I’ll give meditation a go after

  • all. But not before I find out the answer

  • to today’s quiz please.

  • Neil: Yes, I asked you what the Tibetan word for

  • meditationmeant.

  • Sam: And I said either a) to relax, or b) to feel

  • blissful. And I’m feeling pretty confident

  • of getting it right this time, Neil.

  • Neil: Well, Sam, if the answer came to you in a

  • flash of insight then I’m afraid you need

  • more practice because the correct answer is

  • c) to become familiar, in this case with more

  • positive thoughts and emotions.

  • Sam: You mean emotions like kindness and compassion

  • the thought wishing everyone to be free

  • from their problems. What other

  • vocabulary did we learn today, Neil?

  • Neil: Well, it turns out meditation is actually

  • a science. Neuroscience in fact, which is

  • the study of the human brain and nervous system.

  • Meditation experiments proved neuroplasticity

  • - the brain’s ability to restructure.

  • Sam: By generating and sending out the compassionate

  • wish, ‘May all beings be happy’, Buddhist

  • meditators change their brain circuitsdifferent

  • parts of the brain responsible for different

  • functions. And this is an enduring change,

  • meaning it lasts and increases over a long

  • period of time.

  • Neil: I must say, Sam, you took it pretty well when

  • you guessed the wrong answer just then.

  • Sam: Thanks, Neil. I don’t like getting upset,

  • so I’m trying out some breathing meditation!

  • Breathing in the positive, breathing out the negative

  • Neil: Join us again soon for another interesting

  • discussion on 6 Minute English from BBC Learning English. Bye for now! Bye Bye. 6 Minute English from BBC Learning English.

  • Hi everyone. We hope you enjoy that video and thank you very much for watching. We have so much more just like it.

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Hello. This is 6 Minute English from BBC Learning English. I’m Neil.

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Meditation and your brain: 6 Minute English

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    Annie Huang posted on 2020/03/20
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