The NIH community was delighted to welcome His Holiness the Dalai Lama on March 7 to present the annual NIH J. Edward Rall Cultural Lecture, in which he discussed “The Role of Science in Human Flourishing.” Not surprisingly, the event—a conversation between the Dalai Lama and NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins—drew a large and engaged audience.
While the Dalai Lama was here, I was privileged to be among a small group to accompany him for a visit with a child enrolled in an NIH Clinical Center study on rehabilitation for childhood cerebral palsy. Researchers at NIH are interested in learning how physical exercise and training in rehabilitation affect the neuroplasticity of the childhood brain. The Dalai Lama’s warmth, infectious laugh, and curiosity about the research completely won over both patients and staff.
NCCAM grantee Richard Davidson, Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison accompanied him during the visit and has worked with the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan monks to examine how the mental exercise of meditation might impact the brain in order to improve health and well-being. Here at NCCAM, we have held a long interest in the research of meditation for health purposes and have supported a number of studies. Past studies have established an association with changes in the electrical function of the brain; more recent studies indicate possible neuroanatomic changes associated with the practice of meditation.
It was fascinating to hear the Dalai Lama’s insights on the connection between science and the human condition—for example, the biological impacts of a mother’s loving touch on her newborn’s development. I am intrigued and look forward to continuing our research on how the brain is changed by varying emotional states and how that affects our physiology.