Researchers to investigate stress response in regular meditators

While most people are aware that meditation can help us to relax, a group of University of South Australia researchers hope to prove that a daily dose of meditation can do much more.

They have begun a research project investigating stress responses in people who meditate regularly compared to people who are long-term carers and who do not meditate.

Behavioural neuroscience researcher Dr Maarten Immink says ultimately the project aims to show that meditation reduces stress and that it can have physical as well as mental function benefits for people who live in higher stress situations.

“Previous research has already shown that meditation helps with attention, memory and decision making,” he says.

“The general notion of meditation is not to avoid stress but to learn to deal with the stress a little bit differently. So when stress is triggered, as it is in all of us, it’s about how we respond to that, whether it’s about breathing differently or thinking in a different way. We’re hoping to show that meditation can have impacts on physical health and mental function, by evaluating differences in stress biomarkers (cortisol) and in how people handle stressful challenges.”

Public health researcher Dr Shona Kelly says there is a lot of information about the mental strain faced by carers, however there is less information about how their physical health and mental function are affected.

“We do know that carers have impaired immunity, higher blood pressure and a greater risk of dying than non-carers of the same age and sex. What we don’t understand is the physiological processes that lead to this poorer health,” Dr Kelly says.

The researchers are looking for people to take part in the study, which is a multi-disciplinary research project in UniSA’s Division of Health Sciences. Also involved are Dr Chris Della Vedova and Dr John Hayball from the School of Pharmacy, research assistant Steph Kershaw, and Dr Stuart Cathcart from the University of Canberra Centre for Applied Psychological Research.

They need 40 participants who are regular meditators (have engaged in meditation practice five days a week for at least three years) and who are in good health. They also need 40 participants who have been carers for at least three years, who are generally in good health and who are not regular meditators.

Dr Kelly says all participants will be asked to collect samples of saliva at home using a provided kit. These will be compared with samples collected during a socially stressful challenge (public speaking) in a two-hour testing session at UniSA’s City East Campus.

“Saliva contains stress related chemicals which can be measured,” she says.

“We’re expecting to see the chemical cortisol will rise less and come down faster in the people who are regular meditators. We are also looking for stress biomarkers which can be incorporated into large health surveys where bringing people into the university is not practical.”

Anyone interested in being involved, or wanting more information, can contact Dr Kelly on (08) 8302 2901 or by email

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Kids urged to meditate

Children should meditate, not watch TV.

Dance teacher Nicola Baartse has started the stretch and meditate class for children, five and above.

Recent studies found too much television early in life had adverse affects on education and health. “As a mum, I am passionate about having my kids find a way to destress and learn how to be still sometimes without using the TV as a relaxation device,” she said.

“It helps to slow them down and give them a chance to recuperate after a hectic day.”

The class involves mind-body movement meditation. “We structure the movement with things the children are familiar with like animals and places they’ve been,” Ms Baartse said.

The dance teacher, who runs Oasis Movement Academy, said there was a gap in the market for children’s meditation. “Having a concept of the body, mind and spirit as one entity is very important,” she said.

“It influences your…

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conversations when you’re older.

“I’ve noticed that children be better focused and in the long term, they have an ability to listen to themselves.”


Classes are on Thursdays, 3.20pm (aged five to eight) and 4pm (aged nine to 13).

Classes for teenagers and adults will start in July.

At the Annandale Creative Arts Centre, 81 Johnston St, Annandale.

For information call Ms Baartse on 0402 299 592, email or visit

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Learning to live in the moment

A few boys twitch and are reluctant to close their eyes. It’s not easy to get those aged 10 to 12 to keep still, let alone stop their minds from racing.

But it doesn’t take long before the soothing words of meditation teacher Janet Etty-Leal have lulled this class of grade 5 and 6 students into a different mental space.

Lying in a circle, they are practising a form of meditation known as mindfulness that has become core curriculum at Yarraman Oaks Primary School. This school in Noble Park is one of a growing number that have embraced the technique to improve focus and stress management.

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Principal Bill Liston was so taken with mindfulness after attending sessions by Ms Etty-Leal at a principals’ conference four years ago that he asked her to train his staff so they could run weekly sessions for all students.

“It is a lifetime strategy to help them cope with the day-to-day relationships with other children, with the pressure to achieve these days,” he says. “It allows them to get things into perspective, and to do things in a calmer manner.”

Sometimes the meditation sessions run at the start of school or after a…

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break to help students to concentrate. Teachers also run shorter meditation sessions called “capsules” to break up two-hour classes.

Once regarded as alternative, or New Age, meditation has become mainstream. Ms Etty-Leal has run mindfulness programs at more than 40 Victorian schools in recent years. She has also trained school principals, careers teachers and counsellors and Education Department staff, as well as running programs for healthcare professionals and for many companies, including Australia Post and Tattersall’s.

Her recent book, Meditation Capsules, a mindfulness program for children, brings together the techniques she has taught in schools. It adds to a growing body of international literature and research on mindfulness.

Dr Craig Hassed, deputy head of Monash University’s department of general practice, has been teaching mindfulness techniques to trainee doctors and GPs since 1991.

Research shows that it reduces stress and improves work performance.

He also provides mindfulness training to staff and students at many Melbourne secondary schools, but particularly independent schools such as Carey Baptist Grammar, Melbourne Grammar, Geelong Grammar and St Michael’s Grammar.

Each week he flies to Canberra to run training sessions for staff at the Australian National University.

Put simply, mindfulness involves sitting or lying down, closing your eyes, and focusing the mind on breathing and on different parts of the body (for example, the weight of your clothes, the pressure of your shoes). This can be for as little as a minute or for five minutes or longer. Thoughts that come and go are observed and acknowledged, but are not reacted to or judged. “You watch the train [of thought] go by but you don’t get on the train,” Dr Hassed says.

Most people need to learn to live in the moment, he says, and to do so they must recognise which thoughts are worth giving attention to. “We must gently unhook attention from the tendency to ruminate and worry.” Reacting to a negative thought or feeling amplifies it. “A mindful perspective would note, ‘That’s an interesting observation’. If the person cultivates a different non-judgmental attitude to a negative thought, it starts to recede by itself,” he says.

Research has shown that this technique can improve focus, which is why doctors, who have heavy workloads, have found it so useful. More recently, schools such as Methodist Ladies College have used it to help students focus during VCE study and exams.

Dr Hassed says Ms Etty-Leal has adapted mindfulness techniques for children so that the practice is taught through play, games and activities. “Shehas a special way with children.”

Ms Etty-Leal says mindfulness is essential for primary-age children, particularly with the increasing incidence of syndromes such as attention deficit disorder. “If children are unable to settle and manage emotions such as anxiety, then they are not learning.”

Children face many distractions, she says, such as mobile phones and digital technology, which makes it difficult to think deeply. “Neural pathways can become scrambled and less effective, which disrupts learning. When moments of sustained focus, silence and stillness become rare experiences, some children even find them uncomfortable, associating them with negative feelings such as boredom and disconnection.”

Ms Etty-Leal runs sessions at many secondary schools, including an eight-week annual program at Geelong Grammar. She has also undertaken training at Geelong Grammar in positive psychology, developed by US psychologist Martin Seligman, which she finds complementary to her mindfulness program.

More than a decade ago Ms Etty-Leal was a high school art teacher who dealt with a bout of depression by learning to meditate. She went on to complete meditation training with Ian Gawler, a cancer survivor who runs healing retreats, and established her own consultancy in 1999.

Over the years she has refined her techniques using images, props, quotes, poetry, music and stories to keep students aged from four to 18 interested. “There has to be some novelty. You want to imbue the meditation class with a sense of fun and joy. You have to really engage them.”

South Australian psychologist Carmel Wauchope plans to use Ms Etty-Leal’s meditation capsules as a base for her PhD research on the effect of mindfulness on adolescent anxiety and depression. She says at least 200 high school students will be tested before, during and after completing a meditation course based on Ms Elly-Leal’s program.

Ms Wauchope trains her clients in mindfulness in her practice, Astute Education. “I’m amazed by the results, particularly with young people with drug and alcohol issues. They say that meditation is better than using drugs because of the kind of space it puts them in, away from stressors. It is exceptionally useful for a range of situations.”

Ms Wauchope decided to undertake the study after learning of the positive findings of a study at the University of South Australia.

In 2008, Michael Proeve, who was then working at the university as a senior psychology lecturer, was involved in a study of master’s psychology students who had taken an eight-week mindfulness program. “The trainee therapists found it had a stress-management effect and that they were more ‘present’ and attentive with their clients,” he says.

Psychiatrist Kaveh Monshat is testing the benefits of mindfulness as part of his PhD research. He is working with Dr Hassed to devise an online program called Mindful Awareness Education and Training (MATE), which will be offered through the website later this year.

He has already asked 13 young people aged 16 to 26 to critique a demonstration website. Half of those had previously been diagnosed with a mental illness.

Those interviewed believed young people would prefer an online mindfulness program as it is private and takes less time than face-to-face contact.

Mindfulness has long been used by psychologists but has gained momentum in the past five years following studies by Oxford University researcher John Teasdale and others, which showed its use halved the relapse rate in people with recurrent depression. It is also used to treat eating disorders.

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Meditation: a new teaching aid for young children

Serene students at Mona Vale’s Sacred Heart Primary School have been enlightened by a new program that combines meditation with education.

Designed by two of the school’s teachers in line with the New South Wales syllabus, the program focuses on relaxation techniques for primary students and aims to improve focus in the classroom.

Program developer and primary teacher Susan Rudd said students were delighted by the new teaching approach.

‘‘They absolutely love it, I don’t think I have met any child that hasn’t enjoyed meditation and those that find it difficult initially, over a course of a few weeks, are gradually able to do it,’’ Ms Rudd said.

The program became a part of the curriculum after students aged five to 12 ditched recreation for relaxation and joined a lunchtime meditation class.

Ms Rudd said meditation was particularly useful for children with anxiety, hyperactivity or ADHD disorders.

‘‘It allows them to increase their concentration by focusing on their breathing and finding stillness,’’ she said.

With the northern beaches school at its forefront, the program is gaining momentum with Chatswood and St Ives Public schools also using the program.

‘‘It creates a good environment for teaching and for the students to learn the curriculum because it’s a good visualisation skill,’’ Ms Rudd said.

[via The Manly Daily: Please visit the Manly Daily’s site and post a comment on this story]
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Children need more meditation and less stimulation

A remote diocese in Australia is leading the way by allowing regular periods of silent meditation in the classroom

If you want your children to feel more relaxed and less stressed, give them silence, not iPods.

This unthinkable idea came to mind after listening to Ernie Christie and Dr Cathy Day, two educationists from Queensland, Australia. They were addressing an audience at Regent’s College, London, on the benefits of allowing children to experience regular periods of silent meditation in the classroom.

A pilot study in 2005, involving teaching meditation to five- to 17-year-olds, had shown that children are not only capable of meditation, they actually enjoy it. The benefits to children’s wellbeing were so obvious to teachers that it persuaded Cathy Day, director of Townsville Catholic Education Office, to spend precious funds implementing the first Christian meditation programme for all schools in the diocese.

The initiative had two important catalysts: a diocesan bishop sympathetic to meditation, Michael Putney, and the input of Laurence Freeman OSB, leader of the World Community for Christian Meditation. Without their help, Day admitted, nothing would have got off the ground. When an almost pathological “busyness” is the norm, valuing stillness and silence is counter-cultural. When our culture trains us to be winners, to compete and to consume, we all sense society’s imbalance, said Freeman. We need to give children an experience of another way of relating to themselves and to others.

Deputy director Christie agreed. If children are over-stimulated we rob them of…

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something precious: being allowed to “just be” where children discover their own inner sense of who they are. Hijacked by a “doing” culture that measures everything by what we achieve or possess, meditation helps children access a deeper part of themselves – an inner sanctuary away from a world of incessant activity and noise. They learn to honour their own spiritual life.

We all have a spiritual life, irrespective of any faith we hold, said Christie. Meditation can be practised with a diversity of beliefs: children of other faiths take part in the programme. Meditating in a group can give children an early sense of belonging, says Christie. Children with learning or physical disabilities can join in and feel part of the class. But the practice is introduced gradually. The recommended meditation time is one minute per age level; for five- and six-year-olds, it would be five to six minutes.

A video of interviews with teachers, children and parents was admirably honest. Children of varying ages said meditation helped them to feel “relaxed” or more “peaceful”. One boy said it helped his thoughts “just settle”; one girl enjoyed being “quiet”. A child from an indigenous community said he was able “to be himself”. Teachers reported improved behaviour in difficult children. Yet no one suggested it was a “cure all” practice. But at a recent awards ceremony in the second largest school in Townsville, the key speech was on the positive benefits of meditation.

The health benefits of meditation are well documented: it can relieve stress, lower blood pressure and alleviate depression. Psychiatrist Jonathan Champion said research showed most mental health problems have begun by the age of 14. Giving children periods of quietness and reflection to promote wellbeing could save money on healthcare later.

For Day and her team, meditation is an essential part of religious education. In the foreword to Christie’s ground-breaking book, Coming Home: A Guide to Teaching Christian Meditation to Children, Putney says being “still” is very different from being “quiet”. “Be still and know that I am God.” It is in stillness that God speaks to the heart. Meditation as a way to self-knowledge and self-acceptance is an indispensable first step towards knowledge of God. Teachers hope children will discover a love that accepts them unconditionally and an inner spiritual resource they can draw upon later in life.

When religious schools are seen as intolerant of other faiths, the lost “contemplative” dimension of religion that reaches to a divine source beyond individual differences is surely needed. By training teachers in this depth dimension of faith, this remote diocese on the edge of the Australian outback is already creating waves.

[via the Guardian]
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Meditation treament for taboo problem of self-harm

Meditation can forge lasting changes in the brain and, as an Australian experiment in the taboo area of self-harm shows, its positive effect can be life-transforming.

Researchers at the University of Melbourne conducted the ground-breaking experiment, scanning the brain of a young woman who had grappled with the problem of self-harm since her teens.

They saw positive changes in brain activity after she took part in a research-backed course in meditation and relaxation techniques.

Brisbane’s Alison Dower also meditated daily for eight weeks.

“The desire to self-harm is not particularly strong anymore due to all the work I’ve done,” Ms Dower, now aged 23, said on Wednesday.

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“I don’t know if I’d call it a cure but I would say if it works for you it is a very very potent tool to have.

“I haven’t self-harmed in over 12 months.”

Ms Dower’s initial brain scans revealed a “rightward bias” in her brain activity, known to be associated with a higher incidence of depression and negative emotion.

Professor Nick Allen, from the university’s Department of Psychological Sciences, said the scan following the meditation intervention showed a shift in brain activity “more leftwards … which is a pattern more associated with positive emotions and positive coping”.

“This is, in my opinion, one of the most exciting areas of neuroscience,” Prof Allen said, “that the brain can change in response to experiences and in response to activity”.

This experiment is the focus of a documentary, The Silent Epidemic, to be broadcast on SBS One from 8.30pm on Sunday.

In it, Ms Dower joins with other young Australians to offer a candid and at-times confronting insight into the broader issue of self-harm.

Up to eight per cent of the Australian population are thought to engage in self-harming behaviour. For some it becomes routine, often involving deliberate cutting or scratching of the arms or legs.

“We’re discovering thatit is much more widespread than we thought,” Prof Allen said.

“And it is occurring in contexts where there isn’t another formal mental health problem, therefore we do need some specific treatment approaches.

“The case study with Alison is extremely encouraging, and is a critical first step on that path.”

Prof Allen also said self-harm was a “hard issue for the health system to get its head around” and he understood that many people would find it “impossible to comprehend”.

“But all of us behave at times, in certain ways, that are self-destructive (like punching a wall or insulting a loved one) and these people have become stuck with a much more severe form of it.”

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Qantas loses fight with Falun Gong flight attendant

Qantas has been ordered to reinstate a flight attendant banned from international duties over her practise of Falun Gong.

Sheridan Genrich, from Sydney’s Lane Cove, was demoted to a short-haul attendant after she was threatened by authorities during a 2008 stopover in Beijing and deported because of her spiritual beliefs.

In making his ruling, Fair Work Australia Commissioner Frank Raffaelli said he was unimpressed with the way Qantas had carried out its investigation into Ms Genrich’s case.

“The implication of Qantas’s action is that there is a restriction on the practice of her spiritual beliefs in private, which is contrary to both Australian and international law,” Commissioner Raffaelli said in his judgement, which was obtained by The Epoch Times.

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Tots learn the art of meditation

New meditation, relaxation and art workshops are being offered in Templestowe [Victoria, Australia] for Manningham’s stressed-out tots.

Class instructor Tracey Tucker said it was easy to forget that children could feel stress and anxiety in the same way as adults and these feelings could be relieved by relaxation and breathing techniques and by learning positive thinking methods.

Ms Tucker said the things that are important to children such as school, fights with friends, bullying, homework difficulties, family issues and growing up could be very stressful.

During the classes the kinder and primary school aged children learned about self-awareness, muscle relaxation, meditation and visualisations which could be used throughout their lives, she said.


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Patients cut stress through meditation

Cancer patients are improving their quality of life and reducing stress through meditation sessions offered by The Northern Hospital [Victoria, Australia].

The sessions teach stillness meditation, which helps manage anxiety and stress to provide inner peace, clearer thinking and improved decision-making.

Northern Health chief executive Greg Pullen said the sessions help patients and families reduce stress by teaching relaxation techniques during challenging times.

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Sweet reasons to clear the head

Meditating using chocolate is a sweet way to experience bliss.

Kew East [Victoria, Australia] author Janet Etty-Leal has been using chocolate mindfulness meditation to help teach children awareness and relaxation techniques.

“They come to their senses, they feel it, smell it, taste the flavours and notice all the sensations,” Etty-Leal, 55, said.

Etty-Leal uses novel props, visual aids and games to help children master their minds.

“We don’t just sit or lie down, we do walking meditation, feeling fabrics under our feet,” she said.

“If you’re going to teach it in a dull and serious way, you’re not going to capture their hearts and imagination. When you make it fun and use things they’re not expecting, then they become still and focus.”

Etty-Leal said meditation was helpful for students, including children with ADD, aspergers and hyperactivity. She has written Meditation Capsules: A Mindfulness Program for Children to help adults who want to teach children the skills of mindful meditation.

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