By: Olav Krigolson
B.C. researchers have returned from Everest with some enlightening findings about the human brain.
Scientists trekked to the remote village of Namche, Nepal in May to record the brain activity of meditating Tibetan Buddhist monks for the first time. The monastery is more than 3,400 metres above sea level and situated along the route to Mt. Everest's base camp.
"If we were going to understand what was going on in their brains and gain insight into meditation then what better to do than to go the source," University of Victoria neuroscientist Olav Krigolson told CTV news Channel on Thursday. Krigolson is colead of the joint research venture between UVic and University of British Columbia.
To measure monks' brain activity, Krigolson's team used a MUSE headband that records brain waves and displays them on a laptop in real time. The study of 27 monks recorded brain activity at rest, during meditation and while playing video games.
Researchers found that monks' brains are still very active in meditation. Their analysis shows monks' brains were more relaxed, focused and in sync during meditation compared to when they were at rest.
Krigolson said his team has found meditation also has a "carry over effect."
When Monks played video games after meditating, he noticed their neurons were more responsive to visual stimuli.
These findings could be helpful in keeping the brain active as people grow older. Krigolson's brain data suggests meditation would be a good idea to "stave off the effect of aging," but he said more research is needed.
He's also part of an international team researching how altitude affects the body. After visiting the monastery, Krigolson continued to the Everest base camp with a physiologist to learn how they might be able to detect altitude sickness.
"All this research is designed to create a picture some day about how the brain works...and there are currently a lot of missing pieces to the story," Krigolson said in a release.
The researchers outfitted the monks with brain wave monitors and asked them to meditate. (University of Victoria)