So many books and podcasts I have encountered over the past year have discussed the potential benefits of incorporating meditation into your collection of positive life habits. I dabbled with this through much of 2017 and then through the beginning of this year have increased my interest in this topic particularly after powerful recommendations in great books like peak performance (http://www.drchrisharper.co.uk/blog/revisiting-peak-performance) and have really enjoyed adding a short meditation session into my pre-work routine.
So my interest was piqued when I read the synopsis of "Altered Traits" by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson, which explores the science behind how meditation can change your mind, your body and your life.
They analyse, summarise and discuss all of the good research that has been carried out into meditation over the last 40 years. They present both the good and bad results and quite openly present their criticisms of that research such as the fact that the term “meditation” can cover quite different practices and a lot of studies do not make it clear what type is being studied.
Overall they provide quite a strong body of evidence, albeit one that they admit needs a lot more exploration and analysis, into the overwhelming benefits of meditation. These include improved focus, relief from stress both mental and physical, a heightened ability to empathise with others and even potentially a reduction in chronic pain.
The title of the book “Altered Traits” refers to the fact that the practice of meditation can transform the brain’s biology so that the brain functions differently even when not meditating. However one thing that the authors make clear is that the evidence for this altered long term biology has only properly been demonstrated for people with lifetime average total hours of meditation measured in the thousands eg Buddhist monks spending many hours every day meditating for many years. That doesn’t diminish the benefits previously mentioned it just means that if you are trying to improve your life with meditation it needs to be a daily habit to maintain those benefits.
I enjoyed listening to this book and found it built nicely on the information I have come across in the past. Helping to put that into perspective as well as giving useful advice about how to make the most of your meditation even if you are only doing 10-20 minutes per day.
Dr Chris Harper