Posts by Wildmind Meditation News

For the first time, meditation has been shown to produce lasting beneficial changes in immune-system function as well as brain electrical activity Read more

Meditation improves immune-system function, study finds

For the first time, meditation has been shown to produce lasting beneficial changes in immune-system function as well as brain electrical activity, according to a University of Wisconsin-Madison study released Monday.

The study, which looked at a group of 25 employees of a Madison-area company who underwent an eight-week meditation training program, is the latest in a growing body of research into the mind-body connection.

As a part of the study at the end of the eight weeks, flu shots were given to the employees and a group of 16 other employees who did not receive meditation training.

When researchers checked for antibodies to the vaccine at one month and two months later, the meditators had significantly higher levels than the nonmeditators.

On average, the meditators had about a 5 percent increase in antibodies, but some had increases of up to 25 percent, Davidson said.

More importantly, the level of antibodies increased directly in relation to the level of increased brain-wave activity, he said.

To measure brain activity, electroencephalograms were done. Researchers found about 50 percent more electrical activity in the left frontal regions of the brains of the meditators. Other research has showed that part of the brain is associated with positive emotions and anxiety reduction.

The study’s findings will be published in the upcoming issue of the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

While many researchers have presumed that the benefits of meditation endure, there has been a shortage of such research, said Andrew Newberg, an assistant professor of radiology at the University of Pennsylvania who has done several neuroimaging studies involving meditation and prayer.

“The fact they can show long-term or chronic changes… is not completely surprising, but it’s important they were able to show that,” he said. “These kinds of studies, when done by high-quality researchers, are really what has been lacking in the field of alternative medicine.”

The meditation training for the study was done by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a noted meditation author who developed a stress-reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.

Judith Stevens, one of the test subjects, said her training has helped her think more clearly and react less emotionally to stressful situations.

“The road rage went down,” she said, laughing.

She said she now practices meditation for about 10 to 20 minutes, five times a week.

A weakness of the study is the relatively small number of participants and use of EEG, which is considered a relatively crude measurement of brain function. Read more

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Meditation “Good for Brain”

Scientists say they have found evidence that meditation has a biological effect on the body.

A small-scale study suggests it could boost parts of the brain and the immune system.

Meditation has been practised since ancient times, mainly in the East.

It is now catching on worldwide as a means to reduce stress or to help with pain caused by various illnesses.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the United States enrolled 41 people in a trial of so-called “mindfulness” meditation.

It is a technique developed by an American stress reduction specialist – Jon Kabat-Zinn – for helping hospital patients deal with pain and discomfort. Read the rest of the article…

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Finding happiness: cajole your brain to lean to the left

NY Times article by Daniel Goleman (author of Emotional Intelligence) on scientific explanations of how meditation acts as an antidote to stress:

All too many years ago, while I was still a psychology graduate student, I ran an experiment to assess how well meditation might work as an antidote to stress. My professors were skeptical, my measures were weak, and my subjects were mainly college sophomores. Not surprisingly, my results were inconclusive.

But today I feel vindicated.

To be sure, over the years there have been scores of studies that have looked at meditation, some suggesting its powers to alleviate the adverse effects of stress. But only last month did what I see as a definitive study confirm my once-shaky hypothesis, by revealing the brain mechanism that may account for meditation’s singular ability to soothe.

The data has emerged as one of many experimental fruits of an unlikely research collaboration: the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan religious and political leader in exile, and some of top psychologists and neuroscientists from the United States. The scientists met with the Dalai Lama for five days in Dharamsala, India, in March 2000, to discuss how people might better control their destructive emotions.

One of my personal heroes in this rapprochement between modern science and ancient wisdom is Dr. Richard Davidson, director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin. Dr. Davidson, in recent research using functional M.R.I. and advanced EEG analysis, has identified an index for the brain’s set point for moods.

The functional M.R.I. images reveal that when people are emotionally distressed — anxious, angry, depressed — the most active sites in the brain are circuitry converging on the amygdala, part of the brain’s emotional centers, and the right prefrontal cortex, a brain region important for the hypervigilance typical of people under stress.

By contrast, when people are in positive moods — upbeat, enthusiastic and energized — those sites are quiet, with the heightened activity in the left prefrontal cortex.

NY Times: Read the rest of this article…

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The fine art of doing nothing

Simran Bhargava, Financial Express, India: Sit back, close your eyes and relax. Allow any thoughts that surface to pass through your mind like clouds floating in the sky. Simply watch them come and go, without getting hooked into them.

This simple act of doing — well, nothing at all — is one of the most potent tools yet discovered to banish stress from your life. Doing a little bit of “nothing” every day can, over time, change the texture of your life. It can also significantly bring down blood pressure and according to some doctors, reverse cardiac disease.

Meditation is such a humble little technique that for years no one took it seriously at all. Much too flaky, hardcore medical practitioners said, leave it to the yogi types.

Since then, meditation has come a long way. After politely refusing to study the impact of Transcendental Meditation on blood pressure in 1968, the Harvard Medical School, as well as dozens of other medical schools, now include alternative medicine — also known as integrative medicine — in their curricula.

More recently, Dr Dean Ornish’s landmark research found that diet and lifestyle changes-including daily meditation-could actually reverse heart disease. So significant was this study that for the first time US insurance companies agreed to cover costs of patients learning these lifestyle strategies: this was good business because a high percentage of patients who were candidates for angioplasty and bypass surgeries were actually able to avoid it.

And last month, Time magazine’s annual issue on the latest advances in health and science put “How your mind can heal your body” on its cover. It quotes well-known US cardiologist Dr Mehmet Oz who, although trained in western scientific techniques, now also relies heavily on the ancient eastern technique of meditation to help steer patients toward recovery. Why? “Because it works,” he says.

And so something 2,500 years old is new again. Signed and delivered with a seal of approval from some of the highest medical authorities on the planet.

How did meditation become mainstream? Perhaps our suffering — rampant heart disease, hypertension, strokes — caught our attention, with every man over 35 now carrying around with him the very real fear that such an event could happen to him at any time. Perhaps it was just too many people facing too much stress. Perhaps it was the growing voices of meditation converts all around that couldn’t be ignored any longer. And so, many people, including doctors who wouldn’t have earlier given it a second look, said: “Okay, let’s give it a try.”

And what do you know, it works.

Meditation is simply a route to stillness, a way to create a calm centre in a chaotic universe. It is an antidote to the feeling of being overloaded. If mental stress can lead to irritability, anxiety, heart trouble, hypertension, then holding the reverse feeling in the system — mental calm — would lead to wellness. Makes sense doesn’t it?

Too much stress floods the body with the stress hormone cortisol which, unrelieved, can turn toxic — and dangerous. The old ways of dealing with stress didn’t seem to work because the mental noises followed everywhere. To work, to a party, even into sleep. You could take a vacation to get away from chronic stress — only to find that wherever you go, there you are. Alongwith all the excess baggage in your head.

Meditation is a way to regularly defuse the steam. There are many ways to meditate: from Buddha’s 2,500 year old Vipassana to Mahesh Yogi’s TM to Osho’s active meditations to the Mindfulness practices of Thich Naht Hanh to the whirling of the Sufi dervishes which symbolise a still centre in a turning universe.

It doesn’t matter which vehicle you board to reach a stillpoint. All work on the same principle of emptying the mind of its overload: the noises within become a blur — and slowly fall away, leaving a feeling of inner quiet.

According to the Harvard doctor and hypertension expert Herbert Benson triggering the relaxation response in the body is remarkably simple. All it requires is four factors: One, a quiet environment. Two, a short word or mantra which you repeat over and over to row you back to centre when your mind wanders. Three, a passive attitude, which is the most critical element for meditation. And four, a comfortable position. Start with a few minutes and build up to about 20 minutes a day. That’s it.

Several people find sitting still difficult and practitioners say that the mistake they make is trying too hard to shut out the mental chatter. The key is to accept it — to let all thoughts simply pass through the mind. It means also reversing the old programming of “Don’t just sit there, do something” to the new one of “Don’t just do something, sit there.”

Meditation isn’t a quick fix. Its effects are long-term. If you do it regularly, you may begin to notice subtle changes. Earlier an inner restlessness went with you everywhere, now perhaps an inner calm does. Maybe you react with less annoyance at what other people do. Perhaps you sleep better. Perhaps you have sudden clarity on a problem that had you befuddled before. Perhaps there is a lot to be done and you do it — calmly.

And perhaps the doctor straps a blood pressure monitor on your arm and says: “Surprise, normal.”

That’s pretty life-changing.

The spiritual recovery programmes like Alcoholics Anonymous — which have helped millions — suggest regular time for both, prayer and meditation. They say prayer is asking whatever higher power you believe in for help. And meditation is listening quietly for the answers. You may be surprised at some of the answers you get while meditating.

Others say you should ideally meditate for half an hour everyday. And when you can’t find the time to do it, you should do it for an hour. That’s usually a signal that you are overloaded and need to de-stress.

Chances are that, by now, pretty much everyone is convinced of the benefits of meditation. The more important question is: How many actually do it ? Knowing counts for nothing, doing for everything.

The most important words I ever heard on the subject were from a meditation teacher who said that this simple practice is so powerful, that done regularly, it can change your life. You close your eyes and sit still and nothing seems to have changed. But each time you meditate, it’s like putting a drop of blue into a glass of clear water. You don’t even notice it in the beginning.

And then one day the water turns blue.

Simran Bhargava has been a writer and editor for several years. She writes a weekly column on the business of life.

Original article no longer available…

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Meditation Benefits Schoolchildren, Study Finds

A Medical College of Georgia pilot study using meditation to help lower blood pressure in teens was so successful that the project has been extended to five high schools and a middle school.

Dr. Vernon Barnes, a physiologist at the Georgia Prevention Institute with over 30 years of experience in teaching and applying meditation techniques, conducted the pilot five years ago, teaching meditation to students with high-normal blood pressure at a Richmond County high school.

The results, published in a 1999 edition of Psychosomatic Medicine, cited lower blood pressure and other improvements among participants. The success spurred the GPI to expand the project to include 156 high school students and 80 middle school students in Richmond County. The study is funded by the American Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health.

For the expanded study, all students in the six participating schools were tested for high-normal blood pressure. Half of those with the condition–a leading risk factor for hypertension–were invited to join in daily 10- to 15-minute meditation classes. The other half, a control group, received health education to lower blood pressure but no meditation training. The students who received meditation training also were instructed to meditate at home each evening.

“Blood pressure typically goes up with age, and the blood pressure of the control group did go up,” Dr. Barnes said. “The blood pressure of the meditation group went down.”

The blood pressure was tested during both normal conditions and stressful conditions, such as a virtual-reality driving simulation and a stressful interview. The improvements of the meditation group held up in all conditions, Dr. Barnes said. Also tested were other indicators of cardiac health, such as the volume of blood pumped from the heart with every beat… Read the rest of the article…

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Say “Om” before surgery

Mehmet Oz: In my work as a cardiovascular surgeon, I use the most sophisticated tools of modern medicine to separate patients from their diseased hearts and replace these organs with healthy ones. While my training was in the science of the Western world, I also rely heavily on an ancient Eastern technique–meditation–to help my patients prepare for surgery and to steer them gently toward recovery. Why? Because it works.

Every patient who comes to Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City for a heart operation is offered an optional program of massage, yoga and meditation. We sell specially prepared 90-minute audiotapes in which a calm voice speaks over gentle strains of New Age music and urges patients to remember a place where they felt happy and comfortable…

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Resolve that 2003 will be a year of peace

Seattle PI

Well, it’s New Year’s Eve and like millions of other Americans I’ve come up with a resolution. I hear that self-prescribed goals have a better chance of being met if the promise-maker shares it with someone else, based on the theory that most people want to live according to what they say they are going to do.

So I resolve to meditate more. Call it the Year of Meditation, which, according to many experienced contemplatives, is not a mere mental exercise but a prelude to right action.

Let the meditation begin. Right here. Right now.

I am led (compelled?) to meditate on peace, it being the holiday season.

But meditating on peace at a time when war is being advertised, or rather sold, as the way to peace gets confusing.

Considering my status as a spiritual weakling, I brought along some help via “The Little Book of Peace,” given to me as a Christmas present, hoping to stand on the shoulders of giants that I may catch a glimpse of a better world.

The great English novelist Joseph Conrad asserts that “what all men (and women) are really after is some form or perhaps only some formula of peace.”

Everyone — and I mean everyone — is for peace. Even Hitler wanted peace — not a just peace but a peace that excluded non-Aryans.

Of course, before Conrad there was the German monk Thomas à Kempis who expressed a similar sentiment: “All men desire peace but few indeed desire those things which make for peace.”

Or to put it another way: “Being a pacifist between wars is as easy as being a vegetarian between meals,” in the words of the Christian anarchist Ammon Hennacy. That’s why it’s not enough to call for peace. The important question is always: peace under what terms?

I’m amazed at some of the arguments hawks use to defend war policies, which usually go beyond polemics for a “just war” and descend into ridicule of pacifism and non-violence as being dangerously naive in the face of “reality” and human nature.

But there is truth about human nature contained in the Buddhist insight: “Hate is not conquered by hate. Hate is conquered by love. This is a law eternal.” Who can refute it?

Or how about the less esoteric observation made by Anna Julia Cooper, former slave turned feminist? “Peace produced by suppression is neither natural nor desirable.”

Why? Woodrow Wilson answers: “Victory would mean peace forced upon the losers, a victor’s terms imposed upon the vanquished. It would be accepted in humiliation, under duress, at an intolerable sacrifice, and would leave a sting, a resentment, a bitter memory upon which the terms of peace would rest, not permanently, but only upon quicksand.” How’s that for keeping it real?

Yes, the world has changed since the days of so-called Wilsonian idealism — one notable change being that to express such a truism in public discourse is to run the risk of being blacklisted as a terrorist sympathizer.

But to sidestep the predictable consequences of war by pretending that the elimination of a particular enemy will bring peace is just as foolishly naive as peace activists’ vague calls for disarmament.

The world is not yet ready for disarmament. Doves would do well to consider what philosopher William James wrote in his famous study on religious experience. “What we now need to discover in the social realm is the moral equivalent of war: something heroic that will speak to men as universally as war does, and yet will be as compatible with their spiritual selves as war has proven itself to be incompatible.” Pro sports may be our best hope in this regard.

Until we find a “moral equivalent of war,” we will continue to have wars. Of course, that doesn’t mean we should lie to ourselves. Our military tradition, at its finest, is a legacy of brave men and women risking their lives to fight for our rights.

But let’s not deny that many, if not most, young people who join the services these days do so because they are looking for educational or job opportunities, not because they want to defend “freedom.”

And with our heavy reliance on superior air power and high-tech weaponry to fight our enemies, not only has the battlefield changed with modern war but the spiritual dynamics have changed also. And that comes with a high moral price.

“Technology has allowed the world of men in our society to separate itself from the sight and the sounds of killing; from the horror of it, but not from the killing. It must be easy to kill from a roomful of fluorescent lights and wash-and-wear shirts,” says Caryl Rivers, a Boston University professor.

And finally, there is A.J. Muste’s famous quip, which must irritate the sensibilities of those who ask: What is the way to peace? “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.”

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Peace meditation in Sri Lanka’s Parliament

Daily News, Sri Lanka: In view of ushering peace and prosperity to the country, all parliamentarians will observe meditation and take part in inter-religious services at the first sitting of the House in 2003.

Chairman of the Saumia Youth Foundation P. Anthonymuttoo told the Daily News that the Speaker has given his consent to the suggestion made by his organisation to hold religious services and a peace meditation in Parliament and accordingly, parliamentarians will meditate in the new year for the dawn of permanent peace in the country.

The program organised by the SYF in collaboration with other social groups will be conducted by religious leaders from all parts of the country including the North and East.

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India’s meditative model jail

The massive Tihar jail complex just outside the Indian capital Delhi was until a few years ago a place to be feared.

Comprising six separate prisons sprawling over 400 acres, Tihar – the biggest prison in Asia – was notorious for drugs, corruption and violence.

Overcrowding is still a chronic problem, with 12,000 inmates filling the institution to almost three times its capacity.

But Tihar is now regarded as a model prison, welcoming delegations from far and wide who come to study how prison authorities turned the place around.

The key to their success, they say, is an holistic approach to reform and rehabilitation.

‘Golden cage’

Meditation and yoga are now widely practised by inmates, and more than 1,000 prisoners are enrolled in education programmes or degree courses….

BBC South Asia: Read more…

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Meditate your way to success

Teachers across the UK are searching for ways to tackle classroom discipline. One experiment in California is having significant results.

Typical school rituals like recess and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance are being joined by something that has been dubbed “om schooling” in establishments in California.

But for a growing number of youngsters at state schools in San Francisco, yoga is helping bring inner peace to inner city establishments.

At Phyllis Camp’s physical education class at the city’s James Lick School , the noise level as the children line up outside class is deafening. They tumble into the gym a raw bundle of energy.

In normal circumstances it would take a teacher several minutes to calm this lot down. For Phyllis it takes no time at all as she quickly gets them lined up in four rows and under her control….

BBC Americas: Read more

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