Researchers combine meditation and brain stimulation in new study

Researchers have detailed their work with combining the traditional practice of meditation and modern technology called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). Referred to as "e-meditation," the researchers wanted to determine whether the technology could be combined with mindfulness meditation as a self-administered enhancement performed by the practitioners themselves.

Meditation, particularly the 'mindfulness' version, has become a popular lifestyle activity based upon traditional practices that, for many secular practitioners, is intended to reduce blood pressure, ease the effects of depression, and more. Many people new to the practice find it difficult to settle down and concentrate on the practice, particularly those who are used to frequent distractions.

Transcranial direct current stimulation, meanwhile, is a technology that involves applying a mild electrical current through the skin and into certain areas of the brain. This is typically done with headsets, a number of which are available commercially for those who want to use the technology privately.

Past research on the tech has indicated that it may help alleviate the symptoms of depression and improve one's ability to concentrate. That latter effect may be particularly useful for those who are new to meditation, helping them reduce their wandering thoughts and maintain the discipline necessary for daily practice.

Before its potential benefit in meditation can be assessed, however, the researchers had to determine whether meditators could self-administer the device and whether it presented any issues. To test this, a new study from the Medical University of South Carolina set up a 5-day "e-meditation" retreat that tasked 31 people with using a brain-stimulating device up to twice daily as part of their meditation practice.

Though it's too early to determine whether the technology can enhance the meditation practice, the researchers say people were able to figure out how to use the device on their own by the second attempt; as well, they experienced only mild symptoms like tingling. The results — combined with past research — indicate that brain stimulation may be an interesting subject to explore as part of future meditation studies.