Science Meets Meditation

Reports about scientific studies that provide clues to links between the brain, the mind and meditation are surfacing around the web, spawned in particular by the Dalai Lama’s appearance this past weekend at Investigating the Mind, a round of talks on the science and clinical application of meditation. Here’s a survey of the top stories on the subject:

  • “By gaining deeper insight into the human psyche, we might find ways of transforming our thoughts, emotions and their underlying properties so that a more wholesome and fulfilling way can be found.” -Dalai Lama.
  • Recent studies by Bruce O’Hara and colleagues at University of Kentucky demonstrated that meditation overwhelmingly improves performance in standard “psychomotor vigilance task” tests, used to quantify the effects of sleepiness on mental acuity. Read more at New Scientist.
  • In another related study led by Sara Lazar, assistant in psychology at Massachusetts General Hospital, meditation has been shown to correlate to increased thickness in the cortical regions (related both to sensory functions — auditory and visual perception of the brain — and to automatic monitoring of things like heart rate and breathing). The study also indicates that regular meditation may slow age-related thinning of the frontal cortex. “Most of the regions identified in this study were found in the right hemisphere,” the researchers said. “The right hemisphere is essential for sustaining attention, which is a central practice of Insight meditation.” They said other forms of yoga and meditation likely have a similar impact on cortical structure, although each tradition would be expected to have a slightly different pattern of cortical thickening based on the specific mental exercises involved.

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