CNN ran a piece yesterday about research out of the University of Wisconsin showing that meditation permanently changes the brain by strengthening the circuits related to concentration and empathy.
Richard Davidson, a psychologist at the university, says that strengthening neural systems is no different than training muscles of the body.
“The original investigations by people like Davidson in the 1990s were seen as intriguing, but it took some time to be convinced that brain processes were really changing during meditation,” says Josephine Briggs, Director of the NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Most studies so far have examined so-called focused-attention meditation, in which the practitioner concentrates on a particular subject, such as the breath. The meditator monitors the quality of attention and, when it drifts, returns attention to the object.
Over time, practitioners are supposed to find it easier to sustain attention during and outside of meditation.
Though Davidson himself practices Buddhist mediation, he says the practice itself is not about religion — it’s a mental activity that can be understood in secular terms.