World’s best universities lead the way for research into meditation
1968 marks a real turning point for scientific research into meditation, when a group of Transcendental Meditation (TM) practitioners turned up at Harvard Medical School and asked to be studied, claiming they could reduce their blood pressure with the practice. Herbert Benson, then a cardiologist at Harvard, agreed to a study and met with TM’s founder Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to agree an outcome. It resulted in the publication of “The Relaxation Response” in 1975 by Benson and Miriam Klipper, which by 1986 was a best-seller that clinical psychologists recommended to their patients.
Since then meditation has become a major focus of research for experts in multiple disciplines and universities are where most of the research is taking place. David Black’s Mindfulness Research Guide has a good list of research centres here, as does the Mind & Life Institute’s Resources section. The following is a list of some of the prominent ones in their respective categories.
This is where it started and where it continues. Leading universities in the USA and Europe have established dedicated research centres into meditation.
- Oxford Mindfulness Centre, UK: part of Oxford University’s Department of Psychiatry, founded 2008. Its Director, Professor Mark Williams is one of the founders of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy.
- Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Germany: Tania Singer, Director of Social Neuroscience has just co-edited the eBook “Compassion: Bridging Practice and Science” which explains how mental training transforms the human brain, and that compassion can reduce pain.
- AccEPT University of Exeter, UK: Mindfulness-based therapies currently being researched within the Accessing Evidenced Based Psychological Therapies Clinic, part of Psychology in the College of Life and Environmental Science.
- University of Massachusetts Amherst –where Jon Kabat-Zinn introduced Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction in 1979, its Centre for Mindfulness sits within the Division of Preventative and Behavioral Medicine, part of the Department of Medicine.
- Stanford University – The Centre for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education sits within the Standford School of Medicine, researching neural implications of compassion meditation.
- University of Wisconsin, Madison – The Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center is led by neuroscientist Dr. Richard J. Davidson, who is world-renowned for research on “healthy qualities of mind such as kindness, compassion, altruism, forgiveness, mindfulness and well-being”.
- University of California, LA – “The Mindful Awareness Research Center is a partner of the Norman Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology within the Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA”.
- Benson-Henry Institute (BHI) of Mind-Body Medicine, USA – founded by meditation research pioneer Herbert Benson, M.D., Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, BHI is a non-profit scientific and educational organization dedicated to researching clinical applications of mind/body medicine.
- Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, USA – established in 1997 within the University of California, San Francisco, it has become a premier integrative health resource for research, education and patient care, with much of its focus on mind-body medicine.
Dedicated Research Institutes
- Mind-Life Institute (MLI) – Founded in 1990, MLI originated as a collaboration between the 14th Dalai Lama, entrepreneur and lawyer Adam Engle, and scientist Francisco J. Varela. Its mission is “to promote and support rigorous, multi-disciplinary scientific investigation of the mind which will lead to the development and dissemination of practices that cultivate the mental qualities of attention, emotional balance, kindness, compassion, confidence and happiness.” Its board of directors include many of the above-mentioned scientists, plus leading figures in philosophy, religion, and business.