How a team of researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina is trying to take meditation practices into the future by merging cutting-edge brain stimulation with mindfulness.
Credit: Sarah Pack, Medical University of South Carolina
We live in a society plagued by burnout.
Our hyper-connectivity, sustained through the pulse of WiFi, leaves little room for quiet. This constant stimulation can cause stress, which is a risk factor for a host of diseases, including diabetes, depression and heart disease.
While meditation is touted to relieve the anxiety of the day-to-day struggle, many novices find it difficult to quiet their restless minds. Ultimately, many meditators quit their practice before they have a chance to reap its potential rewards.
To combat this mental unrest, Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) brain stimulation researchers Bashar W. Badran, Ph.D. and E. Baron Short, M.D., both of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, have been exploring mindfulness meditation, but with a twist.
This twist is known as E-meditation, in which mindfulness techniques are coupled with transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). In tDCS, a low electrical current is sent through the skin to specific areas of the brain. For E-Meditation, tDCS is targeted toward those regions of the brain that are involved in meditation.
Badran and Short recently partnered with the Center for Mindful Learning to investigate the effects of a five-day E-meditation retreat, in which 31 study participants were guided through the use of a meditation-enhancing device (Zendo, Bodhi Neurotech, Inc., Charleston, SC) that allowed them to self-administer tCDS up to twice a day during their meditation practice. The findings were reported at the 2019 Joint Meeting of Neuromodulation, held in Napa, California in October.
While direct current stimulation to the brain might seem counterintuitive in those seeking peace and relaxation, preliminary evidence from the MUSC researchers suggest that tDCS could be an effective method for reining in a wandering mind.
In a January 2017 letter to the editor of the journal Brain Stimulation, Short, Badran and colleagues reported increased feelings of calm as well as increases in scores on some facets of a mindfulness measure, including a significant increase in “acting with awareness,” after tDCS use.
These findings led the researchers to launch a start-up to develop a neurostimulation device that could be used to enhance meditation.
But would it be feasible to ask meditators to use the device to self-administer brain stimulation? That was the question the researchers were trying to answer with the study at the E-meditation retreat.
“So the question was, can people self-administer brain stimulation to augment their meditation practice outside of the laboratory?” said Badran.
Each day of the retreat, participants were scored on their self-perceived benefits, as well as any difficulties with using the device. The results were promising. Attendees were able to apply the device easily by their second use. Side effects from the device were few and mild, such as tingling at the site of application. Future studies will be needed to assess the longer-term benefits and side effects of using the device to enhance meditation.
E-meditation is still relatively new to the scene, but if the success seen at the retreat is borne out by longer-term studies with more participants, the team hopes one day to see E-meditation become a household practice.
Badran thinks it could enhance the practice of both experienced and inexperienced meditators.
“We wanted to make a tool for both novice and pros that could accelerate their practice,” said Badran. “I hope this is the way people will be meditating for the next 50 years.”
Disclosure: Dr. Bashar Badran and Dr. Baron Short are co-owners of Bodhi Neurotech, Inc., which manufactures Zendo and is an approved faculty start-up venture that has emerged from the research initially conducted at The Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, SC.
About the Medical University of South Carolina
Founded in 1824 in Charleston, the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) is the oldest medical school in the South, as well as the state’s only integrated, academic health sciences center with a unique charge to serve the state through education, research and patient care. Each year, MUSC educates and trains more than 3,000 students and 700 residents in six colleges: Dental Medicine, Graduate Studies, Health Professions, Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy. The state’s leader in obtaining biomedical research funds, in fiscal year 2018, MUSC set a new high, bringing in more than $276.5 million. For information on academic programs, visit http://musc.
As the clinical health system of the Medical University of South Carolina, MUSC Health is dedicated to delivering the highest quality patient care available, while training generations of competent, compassionate health care providers to serve the people of South Carolina and beyond. Comprising some 1,600 beds, more than 100 outreach sites, the MUSC College of Medicine, the physicians’ practice plan, and nearly 275 telehealth locations, MUSC Health owns and operates eight hospitals situated in Charleston, Chester, Florence, Lancaster and Marion counties. In 2019, for the fifth consecutive year, U.S. News & World Report named MUSC Health the number one hospital in South Carolina. To learn more about clinical patient services, visit http://muschealth.
MUSC and its affiliates have collective annual budgets of $3 billion. The more than 17,000 MUSC team members include world-class faculty, physicians, specialty providers and scientists who deliver groundbreaking education, research, technology and patient care.
About Bodhi NeuroTech
Bodhi NeuroTech is a Charleston-based start-up company founded by neuromodulation experts developing innovative technology for enhancing human wellness and performance. Bodhi is a multidisciplinary team of neuroscientists, psychiatrists, and engineers focused on bringing the most advanced brain stimulation devices and methods to consumers and medical professionals alike. Bodhi NeuroTech’s first consumer product is Zendo, a wearable neuromodulation platform for enhancing meditation. To learn more, visit https:/