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6/16/11

Neuroplasticity?:Tibetan Monk Meditated & Cured Gangrened Leg

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Because by itself your mind cannot make a table move, the notion of mind over matter is regarded as a fiction. Of course, that has given rise to the quip, "I believe in mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter."
However, neuroscience in its discovery of neuroplasticity, has come to believe in a certain kind of mind over matter. Long before that, physicians had marveled at cases where a patient's positive attitude seemed to have affected his immune system so that he recovered from a serious illness through changing his auto-immune response to the disease. Of course, such cases come with the familiar caveat, Don't try this at home. The recoveries are anecdotal rather than statistically verified. Still, with neuroplasticity, the cases are more than anecdotal.

During most of the 20th Century, neuroscientists viewed brain structure as stable, and not subject to change after a certain period of childhood.  Today, neuroplasticity has been observed as an ability of the brain to change itself through interaction with environment.  This plasticity ranges from cell alteration in learning to cortical remapping of damaged brain areas.

Meditation has been studied for the brain's ability of mind control over matter. Although their findings were not within the accepted definition of neuroplasticity (affect of brain on brain neurons) Harvard Medical School's Herbert Benson and colleagues traveled to India to scientifically test and verify monks' claims for their meditative abilities. These claims were singularly interesting because they involved control over the autonomic nervous system, whose sympathetic and parasympathetic sub-systems are not usually under conscious, voluntary control. Benson found that the monks could activate gamma brain waves to a far greater extent than most people.  They could cause their hands to warm without increasing heart beat, and at a rate five times more successful than people picked randomly off the street, so to speak.  In the interest of brevity, or "cutting to the chase," this is only one example of meditative feats scientific researchers had not considered possible. You can look up other examples for yourself.

Here is an interesting story, which seems to involve neuroplasticity--I am stretching the accepted definition--on a level never before considered. Read on.

"A Tibetan lama believes he cured his gangrene-stricken leg by meditating for a year. Now scientists are studying his brain, hoping to discover a medical miracle.

Can the power of the mind help humans self-heal? That’s what a group of scientists are hoping to help determine by studying a Tibetan lama who believes he cured himself of gangrene through meditation.

When Tibetan Lama Phakyab Rinpoche immigrated to the United States in 2003, he was a 37-year-old refugee with diabetes and Pott’s Disease. His afflictions had gotten so bad that his right foot and leg had developed gangrene. He was hospitalized and examined by three different doctors in New York City who all gave the same treatment recommendation: amputate." More
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