If we 'google' Alzheimer's and mindfulness meditation, we will get a
dozen articles about the benefits of this practice in the slowing of the
fateful disease. Should we meditate to elude the prospect of dementia in our
late years? Certainly not, for two reasons.
Let's look at the first one. Everything that defines a person as a
specific individual and everything that person knows and can do is encoded in
the brain. Such code is his or her software. The brain itself, following with
the technological comparison, is his or her hardware. It is in this hardware
where the Alzheimer's disease seems to inflict the pernicious damage that leads
to the malfunctioning of the whole hardware/software complex.
Since the end of the 20TH century, numerous studies -the earliest with
Buddhist monks, the most recent with meditation apprentices-that have revealed
remarkable changes in the brain, as results from the intensive exercise of
mental silence. Some researchers have detected significant increases in
neuronal activity in certain areas. Others, more striking, reported physical
changes to the concentration of grey matter. Such finds are not surprising
since the brain is the control of everything, whether intellectual activity or
A pilot project at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston in
2013 suggests that the brain changes associated with meditation practice may
contribute to slowing the upsurge of the cognitive disorders related to
Alzheimer's disease and other dementias.
"This was a small study... but we're very excited about the
initial findings because they suggest that mindfulness based practices may
reduce hippocampal atrophy and improve functional connectivity in the areas of
the brain most affected by Alzheimer's disease”, says project lead author Dr.
Rebecca Erwin Wells.
The optimism is an obvious consequence of the scientific eagerness to
soon find solutions to such serious condition. It should be stressed, however,
that the American Alzheimer Association acknowledges the current science
ignorance about the cause of the disease. Some plaques and tangles in the
neural fibers of patients are the main suspects of the death of affected cells
and the loss of tissue in the brain. The illness seems then to originate in
physical damages and not as a problem of neuronal connectivity.
Through comprehension tests and observations of behavior, doctors may
conjecture that the dementia of a patient may come from Alzheimer's, but it is
only his or her autopsy what will confirm unequivocally that the person
suffered from this terrible evil. The changes detected by instruments on
meditators' brains are not sufficient to establish that a soft treatment such
as meditation will prevent a disease whose unequivocal presence will only be
known after death. In consequence, the potential delaying of the Alzheimer's
disease does not seem to be a good enough motivation to start meditating.
Let's review the second reason. We should never have expectations when
we close our eyes and favor mental silence, because any illusory desire arising
will become part of the noise that we want to silence. We must not even pursue
the elimination of anxiety or stress, the prime movers of countless
With much humor, S. N. Goenka (1924-2013), the great promoter of the
Vipassana technique for mindfulness meditation, chronicled the sequence of his
own learning, which he received directly from U Ba Khin, a lay sage from
Myanmar. Master Goenka recounted that his first approach to Ba Khin originated
from some devastating migraines that he suffered and that would heal, as
someone had advised him, through meditation. When he explained that this was
his motivation to attend the Vipassana retreat, the rejection he got was
categorical. "A migraine is not sufficient reason to meditate," said
the Burmese sage.
Shortly afterwards, Master Goenka understood the message. The
experience he went through during his first retreat, to the fortune of millions
of people, led to the progressive creation of the one hundred and seventy
Vipassana Meditation Centers that there exist today around the planet.
The picture of our eventual dementia is, without any doubt, terrifying.
But if, in your particular case, dear reader, the prevention of Alzheimer's is
your motivation to meditate, it will probably be a waste of your time. Neither
should you start meditating because you suffer from migraines. Approaching
meditation, determinedly and uninterestedly, all your psychosomatic ailments
will go away, headaches included... And so, at the right time.Gustavo Estrada
Author de ‘INNER HARMONY trough MINDFULNESS MEDIATATION’
P.S. Any feedback on the English grammar & vocabulary use in this article is welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org