Has anyone meditated for a long time?
A storage room, bare walls. Cold light illuminates the stacks of wooden boxes. The task is to collect the green glasses that are here and there on the boxes. But suddenly there are spiders everywhere. Thick, hairy, terrifying spiders crawl across the ground, sticking to the walls. In one corner of the room is a green glowing glass. Spider legs protrude from underneath. The heart is beating. The body reports: fear.
Here - in the basement of the Max Planck Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience in Leipzig - it is neither about spider phobias nor anxiety disorders. Rather, brain researcher Tania Singer and her team want to investigate how meditation changes people. The programmed nightmare, internally called "Room 101", is part of a research project. The test subjects are projected onto the retina through a helmet to find out whether the mental training helps people to better regulate their emotions.
Many people still consider meditation to be a purely religious practice, which is mainly engaged in red-robed monks in the Himalayas. In fact, it is a psychological technique with which in principle every person can influence his or her mind and health.
The question is no longer whether meditation has an effect - but which one
It is now well established that meditation leaves traces in the brain. The psychologist Richard Davidson from the University of Wisconsin-Madison was able to demonstrate in 2007 that a three-month meditation training course sharpens awareness. The participants recognized numbers that are hidden on a screen between numerous letters faster than before the training. And Sara Lazar, of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, reported that the training was even reflected in the morphology of the brain. The brain scanner showed that it shrinks the almond kernel, a structure in the brain that is involved in controlling fear, among other things. At the same time, the gray matter had increased in areas of the brain that are associated with compassion, for example.
"The brain is able to change, and just as we learn a new sport, we can also train skills like attention or compassion," says Richard Davidson. "It's not voodoo."
This is how Tania Singer sees it: "The question is actually no longer whether meditation has an effect, but which meditation has which effect, how big it is and how long it takes for it to appear." This is exactly what she is investigating in her project, in which 17 meditation teachers and 160 test subjects in Leipzig and Berlin are involved. Participants meditated at least six days a week for nine months. At the same time, they were checked physically and mentally by the researchers: How high is the level of the stress hormone cortisol in the saliva? How often do they cooperate in specially developed computer games? How happy are you And how fast is your heart racing when you walk through room 101? Each participant's brain was also scanned five times.
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