Excellence in Action resulting from students optimizing brain functioning


Fred Travis PhD
Dr Fred Travis, PhD

Brain Wave research
Dr Travis explains the significance of EEG patterns created during meditation.

monitoring brain waves of meditating student
EEG Coherence is measured before and during Transcendental Meditation.


The Power of Effortlessness
by Global Good News staff writer
June 2006

Dr Fred Travis, Director, Center for Brain, Consciousness, and Cognition at Maharishi University of Management, Fairfield, Iowa, USA, recently returned from a research trip to American University (AU), Washington, DC, where he collected brainwave data of 39 university students who learned Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation Technique (TM) in February, sponsored by the David Lynch Foundation. According to Dr Travis, the AU students were very excited to compare their brainwave patterns both during TM and during computer tests.

Right now Dr Travis is at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield analysing the data. He interrupted his focused analysis to give Global Good News an exclusive interview in which he described his experience studying the EEG of the students on this landmark project.

Dr Travis said that the scientific understanding of what is occurring in the brain physiology concretely revealed to each student the value of TM. In addition to recording brainwave activity of the young people who just learned TM, Dr Travis conducted knowledge and experience meetings with them. In these meetings, the students were extremely enthusiastic and easily grasped the knowledge of the development of higher consciousness in light of their new experiences during TM.

He went on to tell us that the part of this research they most took to heart was learning that experience changes the brain. What this means is that a person's brain circuits today reflect his or her decisions of yesterday, and one's brain circuits of tomorrow reflect his or her decisions of today. This empowers the students to know that they can be anything they want to be; it just depends on their decisions.

Q:  What kind of decisions can students make to affect their brain functioning?

Dr Travis:  For one, what time they go to sleep, because the brain’s frontal executive system, which is affected by sleep, is the first one to go offline. As is anyone’s experience when they try to study at night, they read it a second and a third time and it just doesn’t get in. Another decision is exposure to certain levels of stress in one’s life.  Stress bypasses the frontal executive system also, and it strengthens stimulus response connections in a detrimental way. This means the brain will see a situation and respond to it on its surface value, without taking into consideration the big picture. Tunnel vision is strengthened, not the ability to think broadly. Every experience, no matter what it is, strengthens some connections and weakens others. Certain activities are found to strengthen stress circuits, other activities are found to strengthen transcending circuits. The circuits TM encourages are characterized by the quality of being awake and alert while the body is rested.

Q:  Is there anything about the brainwave data of students that has changed over the years?

Dr Travis:  What is universally seen is that students quickly master the ability to transcend. They quickly master the ability to experience inner wakefulness. Progressively what is seen is that with regularity of practice, integration of inner wakefulness in daily activity is growing over time.

One very interesting research finding on people who reported they are living in enlightenment, is that during the TM practice the coherence of their brainwaves was equal to the seven-year meditators who didn’t report experiences of higher states of consciousness. However, the difference was found in activity. There, you see more of the coherent EEG activity in the people who are witnessing and reporting higher states of consciousness, than the meditators who are not. So, the experience of transcending is immediately available to all through TM, but enlightenment means it is more integrated with activity.

The regular alternation between transcending and activity makes the transcendent more integrated, and this explains why the longer-term meditators show more coherent brainwave functioning during activity than shorter-term and non-meditators; but during the experience of TM itself, there is no difference.

TM is unique in that there’s not the ‘expert’ dichotomy like in other systems, which are focused on mastering a technique before enjoying the results. TM is effortless and natural—nothing could make it more so. The research shows that within two months of the practice, the coherence is really at a high level during TM and practitioners maintain this coherent level after six and twelve months. However, the results that you see progressively increasing are during activity—increasing coherence while performing a task.

Q:  Is there anything unique about the brain waves of students?

Dr Travis:  The brain waves of students are changing dramatically as the underlying brain structure and function undergoes massive transformations. When we are born our brains are not assembled, the neurons are there but they are not connected. 40,000 new connections are made every second in the first three years of your life. This high level of connectivity is seen up to puberty, at which time connections we have used are strengthened and those not used are pruned.  Also, output fibers gain a fatty layer over time, which speeds up the flow of information 20 times.

Q:  So, the brain gets more sophisticated as we age?

Dr Travis:  Exactly. During the first 20 years brain maturation is driven by biological processes directed by DNA.  Experience interacts with natural biological maturation in the first two decades of life and then is the driving force of brain structure and function from the age of 30 on.

The experience of restful alertness, the inner wakefulness that we effortlessly experience during the TM technique, is also an experience and this experience also strengthens specific connections.  The connections you’re creating during the experience of restful alertness support the experience of inner wakefulness underlying and supporting each localized experience.

Q:  What’s the most important thing about your research young people should know?

Dr Travis:  Every meditator should know the power of effortlessness that Maharishi has brought us from the Vedic Tradition. It allows anyone to contact pure wakefulness, pure consciousness, regardless of the length of time they have been practicing the TM Technique. This reality is seen very convincingly in our recently published study of individuals reporting the permanent integration of Transcendental Consciousness with waking, sleeping, and dreaming—the state of Cosmic Consciousness or enlightenment.

During TM, the EEG of the enlightened individuals was the same as a control group of individuals who had practised the TM Technique for an average of seven years. The difference in the EEG patterns between these groups was during complex tasks after meditation. It is very significant that you get the goal the first time you sit and learn to practise the Transcendental Meditation Technique. In the first few days you experience pure consciousness. Regular practice of the TM Technique brings that transcendental reality into daily life. This point of effortlessness clearly differentiates the TM Technique from other systems of meditation.

© Copyright 2006, Global Good News(sm) Service

"The potential of every student is infinite. The time of student life should serve to unfold that infinite potential so that every individual becomes a vibrant centre of Total Knowledge."—Maharishi

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