What are the #effects of #concussions on #meditators’ #brains? Many doctors and patients now agree that #meditation helps relieve pain and stress. Therefore, meditation is recommended post-concussion for many with injured brains.
However, I haven’t found anything for my problem: my concussion makes it impossible or difficult/painful for me to meditate. What happens to those who are already long-time meditators (such as I am; 42 years), post-concussion?
It’s fewer than four weeks since my injuries. I still have a lot of trouble and need to take much more time than usual to think clearly enough and to write well enough (neither up to former standards) to put this post together. Forgive its clumsiness, please.
Let me explain, first: the type of meditation I currently do is advanced. This means that the meditation techniques take years to learn. Practice is not just for twenty minutes a day or relegated to a physical posture or on a meditation cushion. This type of meditation involves components of many other types as well as more aspects which are unique to it. It is a Tibetan Buddhist practice called dzogchen (“Great Perfection”) that is supposed to occur all day and into the night (excellent practitioners do it 24/7). It takes years to cultivate this ongoing meditation as a habit.
Therefore, whatever brain parts most meditators are activating, meditators doing dzogchen meditation are utilizing those parts plus a few more, and all the time, once we’re “getting it.”
Post-concussion, the worst after-effect, for me, was being unable to meditate. This is comparable to being unable to eat sufficient food or breathe enough air. We can survive, but we are not well, you see?
What about having had a concussion is preventing me from meditating? Why do certain parts of my brain hurt when I try to meditate?
Finding nothing to answer my questions all in one place, I did some of my own research to help me understand and share what has been happening to me since my injury on April 6.
Here is what I found to be true, complete with PET scans, MRIs of brains and other visuals.
1. Scientists are learning more annually about the ways that meditators’ brains are different than non-meditators:
image from http://www.exploratorium.edu
Conclusions from above: meditation activates parts of our brain that ordinary brain activities do not.
2. Insight or Vipassana (Vipashana) meditators’ brains have been studied most. Here are some pictures to show how much that type of meditation changes the brains of Insight meditators:
image from http://www.nmr.mgh.harvard.edu
3. How else does meditation change one’s brain?
image from expanded–consciousness.blogspot.com
Meditators’ brains have thicker cortical areas and other parts are also strengthened unusually by meditation. Our brain waves are different even when we are not meditating. Really.
After feeling pain in three particular areas of my brain that hurt (even though my son and others claim we can’t feel pain in our brains… pooh) and the increased pressure in these areas every time I meditated, which made me stop, I went on a research treasure hunt to answer these questions.
4. What parts of the brain are used in meditation and what types of meditation use what parts most?
image from http://www.8limbsholistichealth.com
For me, the thalamus and frontal areas were most impacted and affected, so far, since the front of my face/forehead hit the wall, and since those areas are involved in my type of meditation. However, I could imagine that other injuries/affected areas could impact your meditation differently.
5. What about different kinds of meditation and where in the brain they occur?
image from http://www.fredtravis.com
Definitely the thalamus and all frontal areas are affected, for me. I guess I don’t feel the impact in the pariental lobe because mine wasn’t so injured. Again, your experiences could vary a lot.
6. What are the effects on various parts of the brain from a concussion? From my recent and current personal experience, I can answer that. These photos also back up my own understanding completely.
I felt pain and pressure immediately after the concussion when I automatically started to meditate which forced me to stop. Repeatedly. Over time, that pain became most apparent in three locations.
“Recent studies have shown heightened activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, frontal cortex, and prefrontal cortex, specifically in the dorsal medial prefrontal area during Vipassana meditation. Similarly, the cingulate cortex and frontal cortex areas were shown to have increased activity during Zen meditation”
Thanks to Wikipedia, I began to understand what was happening to me and why.
7. Meditators use these parts of our brain when we meditate:
image from uonews.uoregon.edu
When I found this picture, it made me cry. These are the parts that hurt when I try to meditate, all lit up and obvious. I can just point and you can understand.
8. When we look at three brains: one uninjured, one with a concussion, and one with a severe TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury), we notice obvious differences, particularly in these areas mentioned, above:
image from http://www.vitamindwiki.com
To orient you: top of photos = forehead/frontal areas of brain. Look at the differences in these three scans in that area, particularly. Startling, huh?
9. How does a concussed brain show up on an MRI?
image from http://www.ninds.nih.gov
I could be wrong, here, but I think these scans are oriented in opposite ways from those in #8. Top = back/neck, or the occipital lobe area. Look, therefore, at the bottoms of these scans to see how the frontal areas are affected.
Remember, though: most concussion injuries and symptoms do not show up on MRIs, CAT scans or X-rays, even when taken on the same day as the injury, much less those taken weeks or months later. Functional MRIs and PET scans are slightly better, but many effects are just not all that easy to visualize with the technology currently available.
10. What other signs of impact (concussion) on a brain can we see?
image from http://www.webdicine.com
For best understanding, contrast the picture in upper left with the one in the lower right. That’s my brain. Yuck.
11. Remembering what parts of the brain we use for meditating, look at these before-and-after scans of a concussed brain:
image from http://www.policymic.com
This time, the orientation is like this: forehead/frontal area is on the left of each scan; neck is on the right. Notice the frontal areas’ changes from scan to scan. Heartwrenching, to me.
12. Pay particular attention to the “frontal bruise” on this concussed brain (similar to what I experienced on April 6 when I hit the wall with my nose/face and broke my nose/got concussed):
image from kerlanjobeblog.com
Don’t you just have to say “ouch!” after seeing this frontal bruising? Empathy is easier when you can see it all in front of you.
13. Here is that PET scan, again, of a meditating brain. Notice what parts are “activated” (by colors):
image from uonews.uoregon.edu
Now you begin to see more clearly how concussions impact meditation?
14. Our brains should look and function this way when we meditate:
image from blog.bufferapp.com
I sorely miss the feelings of “after,” calmness and joy which I normally would experience all day long. Awful losses, here. Luckily, purports to be temporary.
15. In conclusion, this quote incorporates the research I found and speaks to my particular injuries to explain why I can’t meditate and the effects of that on me: “The two important areas of the brain that feature prominently in meditation research are the frontal lobes, located in the area of the forehead, above the eyebrows and the limbic system which is deep inside the centre of the brain. Generally speaking, these two areas function and interact to influence our behavior, emotions, thinking, and what we’re going to do with our life. In other words together they have a profound influence on our personality, who we are and how we feel. The other parts of the brain [featured in meditation research] are the parietal lobes, at the top of the head, which primarily deals with the physical body, the occipital lobes at the back of the head that deal mostly with vision and the temporal lobes, above the ears, which deal with auditory information.”
Best part of all this? IMPERMANENCE. This, too, shall pass. Injuries tend to resolve. Healing does occur.
Best wishes to all who are in recovery phases from TBIs and concussions. May all beings benefit.