Scientists who trekked to the Mount Everest region of Nepal last May have discovered the amazing effects meditation has on brain activity.
It was the first study of its kind to involve a large number of monks in their own monasteries of Namche and Tengboche.
Neuroscientist at the University of Victoria, Olav Krigolson led the almost two week study with Gordon Binsted, Dean of the Faculty of Health and Social Development at the University of British Columbia's Okanagan campus.
Krigolson and Binsted measured the brain activity of 27 Tibetan Buddhist monks meditating, in comparison to rest.
"We hardly know anything about the brain," Krigolson said. "We know very little about how people learn and make decisions."
"There are currently a lot of missing pieces to the story.
Using a headband-sized electroencephalography (EEG) system, the scientists recorded the monks' brain activity while they meditated for just five minutes."While humans are able to achieve a "brain state" where they are happy, thoughtful and focused, Krigolson and Binsted wanted to know how this was possible, and if there were other ways humans could reach it.
"When meditating even though they're sitting quietly their brain is essentially lit up like a Christmas tree," Binsted said.
The monks showed increased signs of focus, relaxation and synchronisation in the brain.
Krigolson described synchronisation in the brain like all the different faculties in an office working together as one.
"[It's a] better place for the brain to be, you want your brain to work this way."
After meditating, the monks played an attention task where they had to notice different colours appearing a screen.
For instance the screen may have shown a red circle three times in a row before it changed to green.
The brain had to notice the change to green and respond accordingly to the new event.
"When there's an infrequent event the brain says 'oh hey there's something new'," Binsted said.
The scientists discovered that by meditating the monks were able to remain focused and relaxed long after the exercise, a "carryover effect" as such.
While it was unclear how long or how much training in meditation would be required to obtain this carryover state, Krigolson said it asked the question "are there other ways to create this pattern?"
"Does it have to be meditation? Can you get to it another way?"
While there is still a lot to learn about brain function, Krigolson said meditation is a good way to keep the brain in shape and healthy, and achieve better focus and relaxation.
"All you need is a quiet place."
The scientists are going back to Nepal for five weeks in October to conduct further study.