Meditation as the next public health revolution?

Mindful magazine and the Jewish Community Center of Manhattan sponsored an online webinar about meditation, and the science in support of it, on September 30, 2014. The presentation featured Dan Harris, a national broadcast journalist, and Richard Davidson, PhD, a neuropsychologist from the University of Wisconsin. It is interesting and accessible introduction to basic mindfulness meditation. This webinar could be helpful for both behavioral professionals and non-professionals who are interested in learning about medication, and perhaps even trying it for themselves.

Dan Harris began the presentation by describing his personal history of anxiety, of “asshole” behaviors, and eventually developing problems with self-medication by abusing cocaine and Ecstasy. He stumbled onto meditation while using his professional skills to research non-medication options for coping with his anxiety. He was able to make what sounds like tremendous changes as a result of developing a regular meditation practice.

He described mindfulness meditation as “a simple, secular brain exercise,” and as a “bicep curl for your brain.” He views meditation as having the goal of helping the meditater learn to “respond wisely, not reflexively” to the world. He concluded his portion of the presentation by stating that he believes that meditation is, “the next big public health revolution.” He cited as an example of a similar revolution in the history of recreational running. He noted that in the past, say about 50 years ago, if a person said that they were going for a run the typical response might be, “who is chasing you?” Obviously, running is now a popular activity and is part of our current culture, and Harris predicts that meditation will become as popular and pervasive in the near future.

Richard Davidson began his part of the presentation by noting that the psychologist William James studied attention and understood the benefits of developing methods to “educate attention” and to increase a person’s “attention skills” James was, however, unclear about how a person would learn these skills. Davidson went on to describe current brain research that has found that the brain has more ability to change itself than we previously understood. He discussed the concept of neuroplasticity and said,”that is what the brain does. It is constantly changing.” He noted, however, that the brain typically changes itself in an “unwitting” manner, and meditation involves techniques to help the brain shape itself in a more conscious and intentional manner.

Davidson reviewed current research about the interactions between the brain and the rest of the body, and said, “there are massive information exchange highways between the brain and the body.” He hypothesized that is why certain meditation and yoga postures may have specific effects, and predicted that future research will lead to a better understand of the subtlies of how different meditation practices may lead to different outcomes.

Davidson concluded by describing a research project that he aspires to do and which he believes could provide tremendous benefits to the health care system. He hypothesized that, “people who meditate regularly have lower health care costs and require less medication.” He believes that if he is correct and is able to do the research that demonstrates this, this would be a “game changer” in regard to the emerging new paradigm of healthcare. Obviously, if he is right, this would be a new healthcare paradigm.

This webinar is available to be viewed for free until Oct. 24 at:

http://www.mindful.org/livestream

Richard Sethre, Psy.D., L.P.

www.mhconcierge.com

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