Meditation and Western science

My bride convinced me about a year ago to try meditation. Initially resisting it, I finally gave in and started. It took me about 7-10 days of continuous trying to finally begin to understand and achieve the benefits from this practice. It felt so good and I was able to get in to such a calm state, that I didn’t want to drag myself out of it. (Though like anything else in life, I struggle with shutting out the daily noise of life and carve out the time to meditate daily).

Being very interested in the practice of meditation while being rooted in science — and that it just so happens I’m currently reading a new book by the Dalai Lama entitled, The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality — I instantly noticed when my news aggregator scraped this Wired article about “Dalai Lama Gets Meditation Lesson” and I immediately pounced on it:

Scientists present at this month’s meeting included Richard Davidson, a Harvard University-trained neuroscientist who has done pioneering research on Buddhist monks, and Robert Sapolsky, a Stanford University professor who studies the effects of stress on the body. They told the Dalai Lama, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and an audience of 2,500 about recent experiments showing meditation can strengthen the immune system, prevent relapse in people with depression and lower cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone associated with stress.

All this is pushing the envelope of contemporary neuroscience. “It came as a great surprise to (scientists) that there were such clear neural correlates of meditative states,” said Wolf Singer, the director of Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt, who also addressed the conference.

There are an increasing number of articles — including this fabulous one at Wikipedia — that discuss real, demonstrable and quantifiable benefits from meditation that Westerners can believe in if scientists do. Look at this article, and then read this Psychology Today article that says at the end, “Through the deeply meditative practice of Tum-mo yoga, Tibetan monks are able to dry wet sheets placed on their bodies in near-freezing temperatures by raising their skin temperatures 17 degrees.

So it’s not just stress reduction that could or should be a goal of achieving higher states of consciousness from the practice of meditation. It makes me wonder what other meditation benefits we’ll discover as researchers probe our optimal mind/body states and the practices, medications and hacks we learn about and perform provide us with more knowledge.

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About Steve Borsch

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