Meditation can alter brain structure

Kathy Sykes, a Bristol University professor, has long known that if she does not find at least 30 minutes a day in her frantically overcrowded schedule to lie down and listen to music, she is grumpier, more tired and less able to concentrate.

What Professor Sykes, who holds the chair in the Public Engagement of Science and Engineering at Bristol, did not realise until recently is that she was, in effect, practising a fairly crude form of meditation. She also didn't know that there was growing evidence to show that this ancient practice can make people healthier and happier. It may even increase life span, alter brain structure and change personality.

Ancient traditional therapies do not always stand up to close scientific scrutiny. But when Professor Sykes put meditation under the metaphorical microscope for the second series of Alternative Therapies: The Evidence, which she is presenting on BBC Two on Monday, she was surprised to find that the saffron-robed monks of Kathmandu and the white-coated scientists of Harvard shared more common ground than might have been expected.

“Several people have told me that meditation can affect your emotions,” she says, “and one of the areas of the brain that scientists are finding may be affected by meditation is involved in processing emotions, among other things. These are early days and we need more trials, but this is potentially very exciting.”

There are signs that mainstream medicine has already started to sit up and take notice of meditation. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), which is about 80 per cent meditation, has been approved by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) for use with people who have experienced three or more episodes of depression. And MBCT is now offered by some UK primary care trusts.

Source - Times

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