Friday, January 28, 2011

Meditation: It Changes You, Man

Not exactly yoga (though it is said that yoga is preparation for meditation), it appears that a daily meditation practice affects your brain. Today's New York Times has an article reporting that recent research on the brain demonstrates that it takes only eight weeks of meditation to physically alter your brain.

"The researchers report that those who meditated for about 30 minutes a day for eight weeks had measurable changes in gray-matter density in parts of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. ... M.R.I. brain scans taken before and after the participants’ meditation regimen found increased gray matter in the hippocampus, an area important for learning and memory. The images also showed a reduction of gray matter in the amygdala, a region connected to anxiety and stress. A control group that did not practice meditation showed no such changes."

So what has this to do with Anthropology? From an etic (and scientific) perspective, it long seemed that those who claimed that meditation had real physical benefits were just believers who had no evidence to support their case. At best, scientists argued, the reported benefits of meditation were due to some placebo effect.

This research demonstrates that the emic view, or what has been termed the indigenous traditional knowledge was right about meditation's physical impacts. While it seems jarring to our sensibilities when advocates of meditation or yoga argue that they are presenting a "scientific" system, they are not necessarily wrong.

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