Meditation still misunderstood—even when the results are good!

There has been plenty of research over the years to support the effects of mind-body techniques as real and not just imaginary. Now, a new article claims that high-tech brain studies are demonstrating that meditation brings about positive structural changes in the brain itself. But, once again, we need to be careful about modern research—and the people who write about it.

The author of this particular article reported that “Integrative Body-Mind Training (IBMT), a type of Chinese mindfulness meditation, may induce positive structural changes in the brain’s white matter.”

First of all, I am not sure how anything called “Integrative” ( a mongrel  term invented in the past 10 years) could be any type of Chinese medicine or meditation (which has been around for 2,000 years).

Second, the combining of “Chinese” and “Mindful Meditation” is simply a no-go to me.

I have spent 25 years writing textbooks trying to get the taxonomy straight among the many healing techniques we call “Complementary and Alternative Medicine.” And Mindful Meditation  is a distinctly modern and American development—from right here in my home state at the University of Massachusetts in recent decades. In fact, the term “mindfulness” is used specifically to distinguish it from Asian traditions  such as Transcendental Meditation.

Researchers say their IBMT differs from other forms of meditation because it depends heavily on the inducement of a high degree of awareness and balance of the body, mind, and environment. Which is curious because that’s precisely what characterizes Mindful Meditation itself—being present in the moment.

These idiosyncrasies make me wonder  about the validity of this seemingly groundbreaking research. I fear it may be another example where we have some high-tech tools in the hands of high-tech researchers. Who, unfortunately, don’t seem to understand the first thing about various meditative approaches.

We already knew that meditation—by whatever name (even the old fashioned kind we do in church, called prayer) improves mood and health. And we also knew that meditative states change brain metabolism. But if what these researchers have found is actually true—and these effects are literally changing in the structure of nervous tissue… Well, that really is something to contemplate!

I’ll keep you posted on any more developments that come about with this research. But in the meantime, if you’re interested in learning more about Mindful Meditation and its significant health benefits, please refer to my book, New World Mindfulness.


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