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Practice of meditation and ballet linked to increased wisdom

The study investigated how specific mental and somatic practices were associated with self-reported measures of experience and wisdom. Using standard surveys, the researchers tested four groups of practitioners of mental and somatic practices: meditators, classical ballet dancers, practitioners of the Alexander Technique and practitioners of the Feldenkrais Method. The Alexander Technique is a method to improve posture, balance, coordination, and movement, while the Feldenkrais Method is a type of somatic education to enhancement movement and physical function, reduce pain, and increase self-awareness.

The study found that psychological traits associated with wisdom were on average highest among those who practiced meditation, and lowest among the ballet dancers group. However, the researchers also found that wisdom levels rose as more time was spent on either of these practices.

“As far as I know this is the first study to be published that looks at the relationship between meditation or ballet and increased wisdom,” said Monika Ardelt, a University of Florida associate professor of sociology. “That meditation is associated with wisdom is good to confirm, but the finding that the practice of ballet is associated with increased wisdom is fascinating. I’m not going to rush out and sign up for ballet, but I think this study will lead to more research on this question.”

Ballet was a bit of a wildcard entry into the study. The researchers were expecting meditation to show a positive correlation with wisdom, based on past research data, and only included ballet for the sake of comparison with the other practices. However, they were surprised by the results. Lead author and postdoctoral researcher at the university’s department of psychology, Patrick Williams is now planning to study new and experienced practitioners of meditation and ballet to see how this positive correlation stands the test of time.

Howard Nusbaum, professor of psychology at the university, said the current study marks a movement away from the concept that wisdom is a talent. The study shows that wisdom is more like a skill that can be acquired. Nusbaum is one of the principal investigators of the somatic wisdom research project at the university. Associate professor of music, Berthold Hoeckner, is the other principal investigator.

The survey questioned 298 participants on on experience levels with the four activities, and psychological surveys of traits such as empathy and reduced anxiety, thought to be associated with wisdom. While meditation is known to have positive effects on anxiety levels, this study is significant because it also links the higher levels of wisdom with lower levels of anxiety.

The study was published on February 18, 2016 in PLOS ONE.

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