Neuroscience Proves

the Benefits of Meditation

We live in very interesting times.  Not only do we have pure Buddhist teachings from over 2500 years of meditative traditions, but in the past few years we have seen an advancement of scientific instruments and techniques which has enabled us to see the workings of the brain and body in ways that our ancestors could only have imagined.  

Neuroscience, the study of the brain and nervous system, has now amassed overwhelming scientific evidence, that show the changes in the brains and bodies of people who meditate.


Buddhist meditators throughout the centuries have experienced and spoken of the physical benefits. Even though some of these benefits are merely a by-product, and not the goal of their meditations, they are still very much welcomed, and can be experienced by anybody who is willing to practice.


Non-mediators, however, particularly those from the West, whose countries lack rich meditative traditions, have often been overly doubtful of these claims. But due to the recent advancement of neuroscience, it has now finally been possible to prove the benefits of meditation.


A growing number of health care practitioners throughout the West have shown great interest in the recent findings, and have begun to tell their patients about certain meditative techniques common to Buddhism, and how they can help manage stress and illness.

 

Below is an article by James Shreeve, the Executive Editor of Science at National Geographic.

For 2,500 years Buddhists have employed strict training techniques to guide their mental state away from destructive emotions and toward a more compassionate, happier frame of being. Spurred by the cascade of new evidence for the brain's plasticity, Western neuroscientists have taken a keen interest. Can meditation literally change the mind?


For the past several years Richard Davidson and his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have been studying brain activity in Tibetan monks, both in meditative and non-meditative states. Davidson's group had shown earlier that people who are inclined to fall prey to negative emotions displayed a pattern of persistent activity in regions of their right prefrontal cortex. In those with more positive temperaments the activity occurred in the left prefrontal cortex instead. When Davidson ran the experiment on a senior Tibetan lama skilled in meditation, the lama's baseline of activity proved to be much farther to the left of anyone previously tested. Judging from this one study, at least, he was quantifiably the happiest man in the world.


Davidson recently tested the prefrontal activity in some volunteers from a high-tech company in Wisconsin. One group of volunteers then received eight weeks of training in meditation, while a control group did not. All the participants also received flu shots.


By the end of the study, those who had meditated showed a pronounced shift in brain activity toward the left, "happier," frontal cortex. The meditators also showed a healthier immune response to the flu shot, suggesting that the training affected the body's health as well as the mind's.

"You don't have to become a Buddhist," says the Dalai Lama himself, who is closely following the work of Western cognitive scientists like Davidson. "Everybody has the potential to lead a peaceful, meaningful life."

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