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Correlation between Pineal Activation and Religious Meditation Observed by Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging

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Abstract

The human brain possesses plenty of functions but little is known about its scientific relationship with mind and spirit. Conferences^1,2^ focused on the connection between science and religion were held very recently in which neuroscientists, Buddhist scholars and Dalai Lama discussed attention, mental imagery, emotion, mind, brain functions and meditation, suggesting religious meditation offers an effective means to investigate the mystery of mind and spirit. In the past decade, scientists struggled to obtain brain mappings for various meditation styles using different brain imaging techniques and stimulating results have been observed^3-17^. In this letter we report that, together with other brain regions, pineal body exhibit significant activation during meditation process, supporting the long lasting speculation that pineal plays an important role in the intrinsic awareness which might concern spirit or soul. Pineal is known as an endocrine organ which produces substrates including melatonin and has been ascribed numerous even mysterious functions but its activation during meditation has never been observed by brain imaging technique. In seventeenth century, based on anatomic observation, Descartes ventured to suggest that pineal serves as the principal seat of the soul^18-20^. Inspired by its geometric center in the brain, physiologists, psychologists, philosophers and religionists have been speculating for centuries about pineal's function relevant to spirit and soul. In this study, we chose Chinese Original Quiet Sitting, one style of meditation, to explore this long lasting speculation by functional magnetic resonance imaging technique. Our results demonstrate a correlation between pineal activation and religious meditation which might have profound implications in physiological understanding of the intrinsic awareness.
1
Correlation between Pineal Activation and Religious
Meditation Observed by Functional Magnetic
Resonance Imaging
Chien-Hui Liou1,2, Chang-Wei Hsieh1,2, Chao-Hsien Hsieh1, Si-Chen Lee3, Jyh-Horng
Chen1 & Chi-Hong Wang4
1Interdisciplinary MRI/MRS Lab, Department of Electrical Engineering, National
Taiwan University, No. 1, Section 4, Roosevelt Road, Taipei, Taiwan 106, ROC.
2Anthro-Celestial Research Institute, The Tienti Teachings, No. 41, Wenjeng Lane,
Jungming Tsuen, Yuchr Shiang, Nantou, Taiwan 555, ROC.
3Department of Electrical Engineering, National Taiwan University, Taiwan, ROC.
4Department of Neurology, Cardinal Tien Hospital Yung Ho Branch, No. 80,
Chunghsing Street, Yungho City, Taipei, Taiwan 234, ROC.
Nature Precedings : hdl:10101/npre.2007.1328.1 : Posted 15 Nov 2007
2
The human brain possesses plenty of functions but little is known about its
scientific relationship with mind and spirit. Conferences1,2 focused on the
connection between science and religion were held very recently in which
neuroscientists, Buddhist scholars and Dalai Lama discussed attention, mental
imagery, emotion, mind, brain functions and meditation, suggesting religious
meditation offers an effective means to investigate the mystery of mind and spirit.
In the past decade, scientists struggled to obtain brain mappings for various
meditation styles using different brain imaging techniques and stimulating results
have been observed3-17. In this letter we report that, together with other brain
regions, pineal body exhibit significant activation during meditation process,
supporting the long lasting speculation that pineal plays an important role in the
intrinsic awareness which might concern spirit or soul. Pineal is known as an
endocrine organ which produces substrates including melatonin and has been
ascribed numerous even mysterious functions but its activation during meditation
has never been observed by brain imaging technique. In seventeenth century,
based on anatomic observation, Descartes ventured to suggest that pineal serves as
the principal seat of the soul18-20. Inspired by its geometric center in the brain,
physiologists, psychologists, philosophers and religionists have been speculating for
centuries about pineal’s function relevant to spirit and soul. In this study, we chose
Chinese Original Quiet Sitting, one style of meditation, to explore this long lasting
speculation by functional magnetic resonance imaging technique. Our results
demonstrate a correlation between pineal activation and religious meditation
which might have profound implications in physiological understanding of the
intrinsic awareness.
In 2003, Barinaga reported a conference called “Investigating the Mind”, held at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Neuroscientists, Buddhist scholars and Dalai
Lama discussed attention, mental imagery, emotion, and collaborations to test insights
Nature Precedings : hdl:10101/npre.2007.1328.1 : Posted 15 Nov 2007
3
gleaned from meditation. Wisconsin's Richard Davidson collaborating with Matthieu
Ricard, using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), studied the brain activity
associated with positive emotions in Buddhist monks1. Knight (2004) also reported
another meetinga research conference held at the Dalai Lama's headquarters in
Dharamsala, Indiaincluding talks that suggested meditation can transform emotions
and that daily experiences can alter the expression of genes. Fred Gage, a neuroscientist
at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, presented his research
into how the brain can remake itself throughout life. As a key component of Buddhist
belief is that meditation literally transforms the mind. Richard Davidson pointed that
certain neural processes in the brain are more coordinated in people with extensive
training in meditation2. There are many studies about meditation on the mental
activation that employ different methods about brain mapping or detecting, such as:
fMRI, PET (positron emission tomography), SPECT (single photon emission computed
tomography), EEG (electroencephalogram), REG (rheoencephalography) and MEG
(magnetoencephalography). Herzog (1991)3, Lou (1999, 2005)4,5 and Kjaer (2002)6 had
studied Yoga meditation by PET. Lazar (2000)7 studied a simple type of meditation
(Kundalini) by fMRI. Newberg studied Tibetan Buddhist meditation (2001)8 and the
"verbal" based meditation of Franciscan nuns (2003)9 by SPECT. Lo (2003)10, Lutz
(2004)11 and Takahashi (2005)12 studied Buddhism or Zen meditation by EEG. Jevning
(1996)13 and Yamamoto (2006)14 studied Transcendental Meditation by REG, MEG and
EEG. Davidson (2003)15 measured brain electrical activity in mindfulness meditation
with healthy employees by EEG. Lazar (2005)16 used MRI to assess cortical thickness
in participants with extensive insight meditation experience. Hölzel (2007)17 using
fMRI found activations in the rostral anterior cingulate cortex and the dorsal medial
prefrontal cortex bilaterally in Vipassana meditation. These studies showed that
different meditation styles might arouse different brain activations and produce different
physical affections.
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Chinese Original Quiet Sitting (COQS) is essentially one kind of traditional Chinese
meditation. In ancient China, meditation was the prime practice for Taoists to temper
soul and body. The principal key of COQS is naturalness. Its working is allowed to
proceed naturally as to come into subtle adjustment21,22. The overall COQS process is
separated into two different parts: a short period, about several minutes, of silent
recitation of specific religious phrase and mental imagination of receiving spiritual
energy (which is named “Invitation of Primordial Qi”: IPQ), and a long period of
relaxation with no further action (named “Allow its Natural Workings”: ANW). Chen
(1997) had studied COQS by EEG and found that the brain theta-wave showed a
marked increase, while the alpha- and beta-waves showed a decrease after practice23.
We also had preceding fMRI studies24,25. In this paper, we showed how to investigate
the brain activation region precisely by fMRI. We chose COQS to go into deep
investigation since COQS includes a short period of IPQ stage, a specific mental
operation, in the beginning of the whole meditation process.
Sixteen subjects with seven females and nine males participated in this fMRI study.
Their mean age was 48.5±2.8 (32~70) with meditation experience 12.4±1.5 (4~21)
years. Their regularly mean practice times every day was about 1.3±0.1 (1~3) with
mean practice duration 54.7±5.7 (30~120) minutes each time. Fig. 1 showed the
normalized fMRI signal intensity of the pineal area during the IPQ stage of COQS. Fig.
1a was the normalized fMRI signal intensity of each individual subject. Fig. 1b was the
normalized and smoothed fMRI signal intensity of the 16 subjects. The data were
smoothed by wavelet denoise package of LabVIEW™ (Haar wavelet, level 3). Variant
activation strength and patterns were observed among these sixteen subjects probably
due to the individual differences in meditation experience, age, physiological or
physical conditions. We also obtained the fMRI images by SPM26. Fig. 2 showed the
brain activation regions during the IPQ stage of COQS analyzed by fixed effect analysis
in SPM with p<10-5. These images showed that during the IPQ period the brain regions
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such as: pineal body, corpora quadrigemina, thalamus, insula, claustrum, anterior
cingulate, cingulate gyrus, Brodmann area 24, superior temporal gyrus, Brodmann area
47, middle temporal gyrus, right side inferior fontal gyrus, Brodmann area 37, putamen,
and many other regions including cerebellum were also activated. We could find from
the results of the other meditation researches which were mentioned above that different
meditation styles may have the same activation regions as we have found in COQS,
such as: anterior cingulate (Lazar7, Yamamoto14), precentral gyrus (Lazar7), cingulate
gyrus (Newberg9), inferior frontal gyrus (Newberg8,9), right anterior insula (Lazar16),
temporal gyrus (Lazar7) and thalamus (Newberg9). The functions of these regions were
interesting and should be paid more attention to. We discussed them in the following.
For the inference into the population, we also performed the second level random effect
analysis with SPM and showed the results in Fig. 3 (p<10-3). It still appeared that pineal
body was activated during the IPQ period.
In order to get the more accurate vision of the pineal activation, other fMRI images
were obtained by FACT27. Four right handed subjects, two females and two males, were
reported here and participated in nine experiments. Their mean age was 43 (range
33~52) years old with meditation experience from 10~21 years. The fMRI results
reproducibly and precisely showed that special regions exhibited the same activation
during the IPQ periods. Fig. 4 showed the best images of the consistent region of these
experiments. Fig. 4a and 4b were the anatomic images of the slice including the pineal
body which showed non-activated and activated. Fig. 4c was the relative signal intensity
of the region shown in the green block region in Fig. 4b. Among these nine experiments,
the cross correlation coefficient threshold was 0.30~0.79, the mean size of the active
region was about three pixels (3.1±0.3) and the signal change was about 3.5 %
(3.5±0.6). We had also dealt with the brain activation regions during the second stage-
the ANW state-of COQS. Among the ANW state, hypothalamus showed positive
activation after the IPQ period25. Besides, we knew that the fMRI images were based on
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the BOLD (Blood Oxygenation Level Dependent) signal changes which were complex
functions reflecting the changes in the balance of oxy- and deoxyhemoglobin, an
indirect indicator for the activation status of nearby neurons. Since pineal is not a
neuron but a gland, the elaborate reason which causes the signal changes in pineal body
still need more study. Nevertheless, all our results distinctly pointed that: during the
meditation process, especially the short period of phrase recitation of the mental
operation, pineal body was aroused and showed activation, which meant that pineal
body can be activated by the IPQ operation.
Some scientists found that, influenced by the meditation process, the melatonin level
was elevated28-30. These studies might offer some chemical and quantitative evidences
to the pineal activation concerned with meditation and should be proceeded to further
examinations. Moreover, some meditators claimed that, during the IPQ process, special
feelings occurred from the top of the head, down to the hairline and than to the middle
point of two eyebrows. These kinds of self-observed description provide another aspect
of understanding to the physical reaction coupled with mental operation or brain activity
of this meditation and may inspire more studies in the future. Scrutinizing our fMRI
results and comparing with other meditation researches7,8,9,14,16, the brain activation
regions exhibit profound significance between meditation and physiological reactions
and adjustments. While keeping on reciting religious phrase in mind, the brain regions
which are responsible for intonation, processing of syntax and sensation of sound, such
as: the superior temporal gyrus, Brodmann area 47, middle temporal gyrus and right
side inferior frontal gyrus, exhibit activation. Furthermore, some meditators claimed to
see the inner light10 or hear inner voice during the meditation process, perhaps these
phenomena may be concerned with corpora quadrigemina. The upcoming physiological
affections, such as regulating the autonomic function, visceral functions, motor systems
and sensory systems, might activate thalamus and insula. As meditation is essentially
such a complicated mental operation, it may also concern with the emotion and
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cognitive functions, the anterior cingulate and cingulate gyrus might activate
accordingly. Further, during the ANW stage, the hypothalamus was aroused and might
get a secretive regulation during the second meditation period, which is a long period of
relaxation with no further action in body or mind. This is the state which we named
“Allow its Natural Workings” (ANW). Many other regions were also activated during
the IPQ and ANW state and may need more study to find out their mysteries.
According to our fMRI results, we summarize and propose some view points here.
Since pineal shows activation during the mental operation period of silent recitation of
specific religious phrase and mental imagination of receiving spiritual energy, although
the distinct internal process is still unknown, pineal seems to have certain or special
functions here. These special functions may also have some interaction forms with the
inner body which caused the physiological affections. Combining with the endocrine
functions of pineal, it may vitalize or strengthen our corporeal existences. In summary,
the religious meditation of receiving spiritual energy can cause correlated pineal
activation and show clear brain imaging observed by fMRI, supporting the speculation
that pineal plays an important role in the intrinsic awareness which might concern spirit
or soul. Whether this correlation is merely a psychological effect or a real physical
phenomenon remain to be further explored.
METHODS
Paradigm design. We designed the block type of paradigm to find out the BOLD
(Blood Oxygenation Level Dependent) signal changes during the IPQ operation. There
were two kinds of block-design paradigm adopted in this research. The first paradigm
included two blocks of IPQ state, each with three minutes, and three control periods
each also with three minutes put before, between and after the two meditation epoch.
Total scan time was 15 minutes. The second paradigm contained four periods of IPQ
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state, each with 1.5 minutes, and five control periods also with 1.5 minutes put before,
between and after those four meditation epoch. Total scan time was 13.5 minutes.
Equipment and data acquisition. Experiments were performed on Bruker 3T
ParaVision system with a birdcage head coil. Images were acquired using gradient-echo
echo planar image (EPI) with matrix size of 128×128, TE of 35 ms, and TR of 6000 ms.
All experiments had 12 continuous slices with slice thickness of 7 mm, field of view of
30×30 cm2.
Data analysis and image performance. The SPM (Statistical Parametric Mapping, the
popular MATLAB software package implementing statistical parametric mapping for
neuroimaging data)26 and the FACT (Functional MRI Analysis and Clustering Tools, on
the Knoppix LINUX system)27 were adopted for the data analysis and fMRI image
performances.
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Acknowledgements Thanks are due to the Tienti Teachings for offering the subjects to
this research. We also appreciate Professor K. C. Liang and C. T. Yen for discussions.
Author Information Reprints and permissions information is available at
npg.nature.com/reprintsandpermissions. The authors declare no competing financial
interests. Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to J. H. Chen
(jhchen@ntu.edu.tw) or S. C. Lee (sclee@cc.ee.ntu.edu.tw).
Nature Precedings : hdl:10101/npre.2007.1328.1 : Posted 15 Nov 2007
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Figure legends
Figure 1 The normalized fMRI signal intensity of the pineal area during the
COQS-IPQ stage. a, The normalized fMRI signal intensity of each individual subject.
The solid lines are smoothed curve of the raw data. b, The normalized and smoothed
fMRI signal intensity of the 16 subjects. The data were smoothed by wavelet denoise
package of LabVIEW (Haar wavelet, level 3). All the horizontal axes of the diagrams in
a and b show the number of scans. The blocked region shown by gray areas in a or red
dashed line in b between 30-60 and 90-120 scans mean the meditation period whereas
the other regions mean the control period.
Figure 2 The brain activation regions during the COQS-IPQ stage (p10-5). L
and R in the parentheses mean left and right of the brain area. The x, y, z Talairach
coordinates of the center of the blue cross in these three views are [0 0 0].
Figure 3 The random effect analysis result of the brain activation regions during
the COQS-IPQ atage (p10-3). The pineal body (indicated by the arrow) still showed
activation.
Figure 4 The best images and the signal intensity of the pineal activation area
during the COQS-IPQ stage. a, the anatomic image of the slice including the pineal
body, but not activated. From this image, we can see that the position of the pineal body
is physiologically a little left-hand-side (right-hand-side in this image). b, the anatomic
image of the slice showed the activation area of the pineal body, four pixels were seen
been activated in this image, this image was produced by combining the activated EPI
image with the anatomic raw image. c, the relative signal intensity of the region shown
in the green block region of b. The horizontal axis shows the scan numbers with four
meditation blocks.
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... Our literature review did not result in many reports on its cognitive involvement; the few available studies suggest its possible role in long-term memory (Batouli & Sisakhti, 2019), or the involvement of the habenula, a structure adjacent to the PG, in spatial memory (Goutagny et al., 2013;Mathis, Cosquer, Avallone, Cassel, & Lecourtier, 2015), long-term memory (Tomaiuolo, Gonzalez, Medina, & Piriz, 2014), or decision-making (Hikosaka, 2010). The only fMRI study which has illustrated the involvement of PG in a cognitive function was related to religious meditation (Liou et al., 2007). As a result, a suggestion for the future works is to consider assessing the role of PG in the cognitive abilities, along with all other brain areas of interest. ...
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The objective of this study was to test the hypothesis that the regular practice of mindfulness meditation is associated with increased physiological levels of melatonin. Melatonin may be related to a variety of biologic functions important in maintaining health and preventing disease, including breast and prostate cancer. Previous studies have shown melatonin production is photosensitive and we suggest here that it also may be psychosensitive. A cross-sectional study of 12-hour (20:00-08:00) urinary 6-sulphatoxymelatonin was conducted from which we analyzed data from 8 women who regularly meditate (RM) and 8 women who do not meditate (NM). All samples were collected in the homes of study participants. Volunteers were recruited to provide 12-hour overnight samples of urine. All subjects collected the samples on one night during the same 1-week period. There was no explicit intervention. However, all RM were either graduates of, or teachers in, the University of Massachusetts Stress Reduction and Relaxation Program. The main outcome measure was the total excretion of urinary 6-sulphatoxymelatonin. Multiple linear regression (Proc GLM in SAS) was performed to test the effect of meditation (RM vs NM) on 6-sulphatoxymelatonin. The results of the study were that after controlling for the non-significant effect of menstrual period interval, we found an effect of meditation group (RM vs NM: b = 1.983; F = 6.78; p = 0.02) and age (for each integer year: b = 0.169; F = 8.41; p = 0.01). The conclusion is that study results are consistent with our hypothesis and indicate that melatonin might be a useful parameter in testing similar psycho-social interventions.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)
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Previous blood flow measurements in this laboratory have indicated increased nonrenal nonhepatic blood flow during behaviorally induced rest states, especially during the stylized mental technique of transcendental meditation (TM). We have hypothesized that increased cerebral blood flow (CBF) may account for most of the increased nonrenal nonhepatic blood flow during TM. In this report we describe increased frontal and occipital CBF in TM determined by the electrical impedance plethysmographic methodology known as rheoencephalography (REG), which allows noninvasive, nondisturbing, continuous CBF monitoring. We also report high correlation between increased CBF and decreased cerebrovascular resistance (CVR) during TM, suggesting that a contributing vascular mechanism to the increased CBF may be decreased CVR. Because only a small amount of stage 1 sleep was observed during TM and because stage 1 sleep has been reported to be accompanied by decreased CBF, we believe that sleep did not contribute to the CBF increase. The data of this study are consistent with the hypothesis that blood flow changes during TM comprise a patterned response subserving needs of increased cerebral activity.
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The aim of the present study was to examine whether the neural structures subserving meditation can be reproducibly measured, and, if so, whether they are different from those supporting the resting state of normal consciousness. Cerebral blood flow distribution was investigated with the 15O-H20 PET technique in nine young adults, who were highly experienced yoga teachers, during the relaxation meditation (Yoga Nidra), and during the resting state of normal consciousness. In addition, global CBF was measured in two of the subjects. Spectral EEG analysis was performed throughout the investigations. In meditation, differential activity was seen, with the noticeable exception of V1, in the posterior sensory and associative cortices known to participate in imagery tasks. In the resting state of normal consciousness (compared with meditation as a baseline), differential activity was found in dorso-lateral and orbital frontal cortex, anterior cingulate gyri, left temporal gyri, left inferior parietal lobule, striatal and thalamic regions, pons and cerebellar vermis and hemispheres, structures thought to support an executive attentional network. The mean global flow remained unchanged for both subjects throughout the investigation (39+/-5 and 38+/-4 ml/100 g/min, uncorrected for partial volume effects). It is concluded that the (H2)15O PET method may measure CBF distribution in the meditative state as well as during the resting state of normal consciousness, and that characteristic patterns of neural activity support each state. These findings enhance our understanding of the neural basis of different aspects of consciousness.