Greater Wisdom Linked to Meditation – And Ballet

Researchers who were looking to better understand the connection between meditation and wisdom came upon some surprising findings: The physical pursuit of ballet increases wisdom as well the more it is practiced.

The researchers included ballet in the study, “not expecting to find that it was associated with wisdom, but rather for comparison purposes,” said Dr. Patrick B. Williams, lead author and a postdoctoral researcher in the University of Chicago’s Department of Psychology.

“The link between ballet and wisdom is mysterious to us and something that we’re already investigating further,” Williams said.

Williams, who is a member of a research project on somatic wisdom, says he would like to track both novices and seasoned practitioners of meditation and ballet for months and years to see whether the associations hold up over time. The published research was groundbreaking because science has overlooked somatic practices as a possible path to wisdom, he said.

For the study, the researchers surveyed 298 indivuduals using Survey Monkey, a popular Internet-based tool that is being used increasingly in scientific research.

Participants were asked about their experience (both in number of years and hours of practice) as a teacher or student of four activities: meditation, the Alexander Technique (a method for improving posture, balance, coordination, and movement), the Feldenkrais Method (a form of somatic education that seeks to improve movement and physical function, reduce pain, and increase self-awareness), and classical ballet.

The survey also included psychological questionnaires that asked about traits thought to be components of wisdom, such as empathy and anxiety.

The findings revealed that those who practice meditation — vipassana (29 percent), mindfulness (23 percent), Buddhist (14 percent), and other types — had more wisdom, on average, than those in the three other groups. More importantly, it established for the first time that the link between meditation and wisdom might be attributable to a lower level of anxiety.

While participants who practiced ballet had the lowest levels of wisdom among the four activities, the more they practiced ballet, the higher they scored on measures of psychological traits that are associated with wisdom.

Williams noted that while the study did not look for nor establish a causal relationship between wisdom and any of the four practices, the findings suggest that further study could identify such a causal relationship.

“We hope our exploratory research will encourage others to replicate our results and look for other experiences that are linked with wisdom, as well as the factors that might explain such links,” Williams said.

If mental and somatic practices can lead to more wisdom, “their applications should be explored across settings such as in the classroom or workplace with the goal of creating not only wiser people but also a wiser society,” researchers concluded.

The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Source: University of Chicago

Ballet dancers photo by shutterstock.