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Lions Roar : January 2018
gamma waves are not nearly as strong as that seen by Richie’s team in yogis like Mingyur. The contrast between the yogis and controls in the intensity of gamma was immense: on average the yogis had 25 times greater amplitude gamma oscillations during baseline compared with the control group. We can only conjecture about what state of consciousness this reflects: yogis like Mingyur seem to experience an ongoing state of open, rich awareness during their daily lives, not just when they meditate. The yogis themselves have described it as a spaciousness and vastness in their experience, as if all their senses were wide open to the full, rich panorama of experience. Or, as a fourteenth century Tibetan text describes it, “...a state of bare, transparent awareness; Effortless and brilliantly vivid, a state of relaxed, rootless wisdom; Fixation free and crystal clear, a state without the slightest ref- erence point; Spacious empty clarity, a state wide open and unconfined; the senses unfettered...” The gamma brain state Richie and Antoine discovered was more than unusual, it was unprecedented—a wow! No brain lab had ever before seen gamma oscillations that persist for minutes rather than split seconds, are so strong, and are in syn- chrony across widespread regions of the brain. Astonishingly, this sustained, brain-entraining gamma pattern goes on even while seasoned meditators are asleep—as was found by Richie’s team in other research with long-term vipassana meditators who have an average lifetime practice of about 10,000 hours. These gamma oscillations continuing during deep sleep are, again, something never seen before and seem to reflect a residual quality of awareness that persists day and night. The yogis’ pattern of gamma oscillation contrasts with how, ordinarily, these waves occur only briefly, and in an isolated neural location. The adepts had a sharply heightened level of gamma waves oscillating in synchrony across their brain, independent of any particular mental act. Unheard of. Richie and Antoine were seeing for the first time a neural echo of the enduring transformations that years of meditation practice etch on the brain. Here was the treasure, hidden in the data all along: a genuine altered trait. ♦ From Altered Traits: What Science Reveals About How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson, pub- lished by Avery, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Adepts showed remarkable mental dexterity, entering and leaving difficult-to-achieve levels of awareness within split seconds, accompanied by equally pronounced shifts in measurable brain activity. Such feats of collective mental gymnastics had never been seen by science before. PHOTOCOURTESYOFCENTERFORHEALTHYMINDS,UNIVERSITYOFWISCONSIN–MADISON LION’S ROAR | JANUARY 2018 57