A New York Times article, "In Sitting Still, A Bench Press For the Brain," (May 10, 2012) in a special section dedicated to "Retirement," caught my attention. As I expected it was an article promoting non-Christian eastern meditation. The article quotes a devotee of Sri Chinmoy, a mediation teacher in Queens , NY., who has practiced meditation for a number of years and who believes that this practice has "expanded the boundaries of her consciousness and also had beneficial effects on her brain."
The article quotes several studies done in university labs which support the idea that meditation has a physical effect on the brain. One study shows that long time meditators have "greater gyrification which is the folding of the cerebral cortex. Another study shows benefits for those with coronary heart disease, reducing the possibility of an heart attack. The conductor of this study says the reduction in stress produced by meditation can cause changes in the brain and cut stress hormones like cortisol and damp the inflammatory processes associated with atherosclerosis. The essence of these experiments is that meditation physically changes the brain in beneficial ways.
What is involved in the practice of meditation and how does is differ from what the Church Fathers teach us? The article answers the question about what to meditators do in the following way: It [meditation] is hard work, because you have to make a constant mental effort. It challenges the brain by demanding greater attention which is especially helpful for maintaining cognitive health as one ages. It is a discipline that improves your ability to focus and concentrate. It's a way of exercising your cognitive muscles.
There are many forms of meditation but they all are centered on an exercise which demands a focus of attention. For some it on a mantra, for others a focus on the breath. Others have you focus on a spiritual saying. They ask you to engage in this meditation for 30minutes each day to gain the beneficial results. They also ask you to have a special place, to sit in a special way, to use incense, light a candle and to use differing forms of visualization to gain a relaxed orientation. They often avoid the mention of God, but when they do they put it like Sri Chimmoy: "
References: The Orthodox Word, No 278, 2011; No 279, 2011