for National Geographic News
Regular meditation may increase smarts and stave off aging, according to an ongoing study.
The research is one in a string of studies that suggest some time spent getting in tune with the flow of one's breathing can complement a regimen of pills, diet, and exercise. Meditation is being prescribed for stress, anxiety, infertility, skin diseases, and other ailments.
Many medical professionals in the West remain skeptical or are against the use of meditation for therapy.
But some are beginning to endorse its benefits, said neuroscientist Sara Lazar, who leads the research at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts.
"Our hope is that by providing concrete evidence of [meditation's] benefits, more people will at least try it and see if it is beneficial for them," she said in an email interview. (See a photo gallery on Buddhism's rise in the West.)
Lazar presented a paper on the research during a visit of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, to the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience last November in Washington, D.C.
Science and Buddhism
The Dalai Lama was at the neuroscience meeting to give a talk on the potential for mingling neuroscience with the Buddhist tradition of meditation (map: "Buddhism's Path to Going Global").
Prior to the Dalai Lama's talk, several hundred people signed an online petition urging the Society for Neuroscience to cancel the lecture, on the grounds that he is a religious leader whose goals conflict with those of the society.
The petition itself was seen as controversial. Since many of the signatories were Chinese Americans, defenders of the lecture charged that it was opposed on political grounds. The Dalai Lama has long symbolized the movement to free Tibet from Chinese rule.
Despite the controversy, the talk was met with scant sign of protest from the 14,000 or so conference participants in attendance, according to media reports.
During his speech, the Dalai Lama emphasized his preference for scientific inquiry over religious dogma.
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