Western empirical science continues to validate the benefits of such Eastern mind-body-spirit practices as meditation and yoga. Such benefits have been well known to practitioners for eons, but the practices and the philosophical perspectives associated with them are now increasingly embraced in the West. Not only because they are beneficial, but also because of confirmation from the kind of research studies that are acceptable to Western thinking.

Two recent examples add to the list, and are worth noting: One finds that meditation can promote creative thinking – even if you’ve never meditated before. Findings from the study, conducted at Leiden University and published in Mindfulness, show that meditation can have a long-lasting effect on your thought processes, including the creation of new, imaginative ideas. Interestingly, though, the study found that enhanced creative thinking was associated only with such meditation practices as mindfulness – observing and acknowledging thoughts and emotions that arise; being receptive to them without “following them.” In contrast, an increase of creative thinking was not associated with meditation practices that involve singular concentration on an object.

The other recent study found that yoga practice diminishes anxiety and improves overall mood. This study, led by Boston University researchers and published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, examined brain levels of GABA among participants in a yoga practice of one and a half hours over twelve weeks, compared with other forms of physical movement.

Low levels of GABA are associated with higher levels of depression and anxiety. Pre-and post-brain scans showed increased levels of GABA in the yoga participants, and were associated with lower anxiety and a boost of positive mood. According to lead author Chris Streeter, this is the first study to show that increased GABA levels are associated with improved mood and decreased anxiety. It is also the first to demonstrate an association between yoga postures in particular, increased GABA levels and improvements in mood and anxiety. But at the same time, another study has found that participants who were instructed to walk with a noticeably depressed style then experienced a negative effect upon their mood.

This is significant because it adds another piece of evidence to the growing recognition that both yoga and meditation can impact and transform much of our mental, emotional and cognitive functioning. We see this in studies that illustrate the power of meditation to alter the expression of our genes, especially those related to the experience and expression of stress. Moreover, a recent Harvard study found that meditation can actually restructure the brain; "reboot" it, in a sense.

I think the upshot of these studies is that how we engage our minds, bodies and mental/emotional outlook has impact upon our total system. We are, after all, one bio-psycho-spiritual-social being.

dlabier@CenterProgressive.org

Center for Progressive Development

Blog: Progressive Impact

© 2014 Douglas LaBier

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