Pupils focus better after meditating in Maribyrnong, Victoria, Australia

Anthea Cannon: Every teacher’s quest for a calm and focused class may be more than a dream, with meditation scoring results with some of Maribyrnong’s junior students.

In the first study into the effects of Buddhist education, Victoria University PhD graduate Sue Smith found grade 3 to 6 students were happier, had improved concentration, coped with anxieties and felt greater kindness toward themselves and others.

Dr Smith said the study of 12 schools showed Buddhist-inspired meditation had an important place in education without being religious.

“Consistently the children were marking themselves in the positive category after…

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The business of meditation

Herald Sun: Meditation is now moving into the boardroom with studies showing that it improves concentration, workers are now being encouraged to tune in and chill out.

Once a week, a handful of Blake Dawson lawyers and support staff take the lift to a hushed conference room in Sydney’s George Street.

They are not meeting for a tough legal pitch.

They are there to do a voluntary lunchtime group meditation. They’re not alone.

Businesses such as NAB, Victoria Police, Diabetes Australia, Origin Energy and the CEO Institute have also run meditation sessions.

These are corporate heavies who are as far away from ohm-chanting, saffron-robed monks as you can get. What’s going on?

Growing calm

Meditation is a growing business trend that may be coming soon to an office near you.

It is cropping up in human resources programs across the country to promote calm as we work overtime, skip lunch, do meeting marathons, save our annual leave, lose sleep over job security and monster mortgages, and multi-task like mad in the global recession backwash.

With all those pressures to contend with, we’ve become a mighty anxious lot.

So anxious, in fact, that one in five Australians took medication to alleviate stress in the past fortnight, according to 2008 data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

What’s more, workplace stress costs the national economy $10.11 billion annually through absenteeism or sluggish productivity, and leads to the loss of 3.2 days per worker each year, according to research by health fund Medibank Private.

Bosses are starting to realise that investing in stress-reduction programs, such as meditation, makes fiscal sense, too.

After all, employers are responsible for implementing stress management in the workplace under the Workplace Health and Safety Act 2004, and if they don’t look after staff, it can hurt them in the hip pocket.

The average cost of a stress-related work claim in 2009 in Victoria, for instance, was a hefty $51,000, says WorkSafe Victoria.

Stress busting

Kate James, director of corporate coaching company Total Balance, works with banks, advertising agencies, government corporations and not-for-profit organisations in Sydney and Melbourne.

She says meditation at work is on the rise.

“I get double the enquiries for meditation sessions compared to five years ago,” she says. “The global financial crisis had an impact, and people are now looking at alternatives for happiness and wellbeing.

For personal clients, I’ve had to add workshops to meet demand.”

The fact that results can be seen after just one session makes meditation a popular stress-reduction technique, James says.

“Even just 10 minutes of meditation at the start of the day is great for recharging energy and
improving concentration.”

She says you don’t need to be spiritual, recite a mantra or meditate in a group. Once the basics are in place, you can meditate alone for free whenever you like. She says you get better at meditating by simply doing it.

Anyone can benefit, including the toughest, most self-sufficient staff.

“Those working in the law are well known for their mental resilience, but meditation can help them manage stress and maximise wellbeing,” explains Kate Wisdom, Blake Dawson’s wellbeing coordinator.

“Meditation sessions are about positive psychology, a preventive approach to stress.”

Office yoga

Like meditation, workplace yoga can have a destressing effect. Thuy Ly, a business analyst with Axa, attends a weekly 60-minute yoga class with about 20 colleagues.

The class has been taught on-site for the past 18 months.

“It takes me away from my desk and away from thinking about my to-do list,” she says.

“As I sit in front of a computer most of the day, I’m conscious of ways I can improve my sitting posture.

“Yoga releases tension by stretching my muscles and it’s helped me understand the importance of taking a break to improve concentration.”

Given that we spend up to a third of our waking lives at work (yes, that much), it pays to keep stress levels down.

Left unchecked, job stress has been shown to be a substantial contributor to mental illness, cardiovascular disease and musculoskeletal problems.

It can also lead to headaches, an upset stomach, rashes, insomnia and high blood pressure.

Something to particularly watch out for if you work in industries recording the highest levels of stress, such as education, the police force, finance, hospitality, transport, retail and marketing.

Three-minute meditation

Close your eyes. Breathe in through your nose, then exhale slowly through your mouth. Repeat until your pulse slows.

As soon as your mind wanders, draw your attention back to your breath. Imagine blowing away thoughts as they enter your mind.

Australian study

In a 2009 study, Dr Ramesh Manocha, a Sydney GP and researcher at the School of Women’s and Children’s Health at the University of NSW, found that after eight weeks of silent meditation, occupational stress was reduced by 26 per cent.

“The way you think and feel can influence your health,” says Dr Manocha.

“Organisations are beginning to realise this and are investing in human resources to promote staff mental wellbeing. Workers only need two 10-minute sessions of meditation a day to see health improvements.

The groundbreaking thing is that meditation is no longer seen as a tie-dyed, hippie concept. It’s now mainstream and more accepted.”

“My focus is better”

Nikki Prentice, an assistant general counsel at Blake Dawson’s Sydney office, participated in a voluntary five-session introductory meditation course offered by her firm in 2009 and can now achieve sharper and longer periods of concentration.

“I’m better at recognising and letting go of distracting thoughts and am better at prioritising the task at hand,” she says. “I can focus on research or drafting for longer periods before feeling the need to check my email.”

Restraining from that oh-so-addictive constant email checking syndrome?

And being on the ball for longer periods at work thanks to meditation, rather than thanks to a mid-afternoon sugar hit or caffeine high?

Plenty of us, it seems, could do with a bit of help on that front.

A worthwhile outcome for a few sessions of learning to breathe in a more relaxed manner and sitting still for 40 minutes or so.

Prentice was as surprised as anyone that meditation has helped her to beef up her mental stamina.

She knew that meditation could come in handy for unwinding and destressing, but to find that meditation is also helping her to achieve her goals in such a tangible way has been an added bonus.

Prentice was no meditator before her course. In fact, she had only had “a very basic taste of meditation” courtesy of yoga classes before embarking on the introductory course.

Instead of finding it a drag and becoming annoyed at having to squeeze it into a crammed appointment schedule, she found the sessions an enjoyable respite from the working day.

Yet she is quick to add that getting the mind 100 per cent sharp by meditating is an elusive concept. “It would take a lot of practise to experience mental silence,” she concedes.

Still, for her, there’s no doubt the meditation course has given her a desirable skill for her career toolkit: a better ability to focus.

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Soothing saffron for thin blue line (The Sydney Morning Herald)

Linda Morris, Sydney Morning Herald: Offering religious guidance will be just one of the jobs of the newest chaplain in the NSW Police Force. Teaching Buddhist meditation techniques to strung-out officers and support staff will be another.

The Venerable Ban Ruo Shi, the abbott of the Hwa Tsang Monastery in Homebush, is the first Buddhist to be invested in the force.

He joins 102 part-timers, including a Muslim cleric and Jewish rabbi, as well as five full-time Christian chaplains, who provide advice and guidance to police and support staff.

The Venerable Ban Ruo, 34, was invested during a multi-faith service at police headquarters in Parramatta on May 29.

He was fitted for a police uniform this week and will wear it with a patch and insignia showing the dharma wheel as symbols of his faith.

A senior police chaplain, Alan Lowe, said the Venerable Ban Ruo could be called to attend train derailments and serious road accidents, ministering to rescue workers or families of those injured and killed. The Buddhist chaplain might also attend sieges and terrorist attacks.

“On a day-to-day basis he would be touching base with people at their place of work, mainly at police headquarters, where there are a number of Buddhists among the unsworn staff,” Mr Lowe said.

“We’ve for some time felt we could provide more services if we had a Buddhist on board and there was a number of unsworn personnel who were asking for someone who could provide pastoral support in times of crisis when things are going wrong in their lives.”

The Venerable Ban Ruo sees no conflict between his faith’s position of non-violence and ministering to front-line police.

He wants to organise meditation classes and teach relaxation skills and ways to achieve “happiness, kindness and an open mind” for whoever needs help, whatever their faith.

The Chinese-born chaplain studied Buddhism from the age of seven and graduated from Fujian Buddhist University, before moving to Australia in 1994.

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It’s elementary (

Meditation focusing on the elements is practised in traditions as diverse as Buddhism, Taoist meditation, Quigong and Ayurveda.

If you think Earth, Wind and Fire had a pretty good run of disco hits in the 70s, well, you’d be right. But learning about the elements can bring more than a funky beat to your daily life, says Laeticia Valverde. You just need to learn how to connect to them.You could say we have some sort of connection with the elements every day: walking on the earth, breathing the air, having our way lit by the sun, and, of course, drinking water to sustain ourselves. What generations before have recognised is that focusing on the elements has a lot to do with reconnecting to the earth, your spirituality and opening up a world of wonder. Connecting with the elements is an ancient tradition – one that has spanned many cultures and practices.

But unless we’re conscious of this link, we can feel disconnected. Which is where meditation comes in. Meditation focusing on the elements is practised in traditions as diverse as Buddhism, Taoist meditation, Quigong and Ayurveda and is central to many pagan traditions such as Wicca. Many people baulk at the thought of meditation, but it’s simply being able to focus the mind. Regular meditation can bring about clarity to our minds and our lives. Paul Majewski from Meditation Solutions in Melbourne says there are two skills involved in meditating: focus and awareness. “It’s about the quality of attention; it doesn’t have to be mysterious or difficult. By slowing down with meditation we give ourselves a chance to recover and literally come to oursenses.” Swami Vimal Ratna from Satyananda Yoga in Rocklyn, Victoria, believes that “the elements are fundamental to who we are. Connecting with the elements is a necessary process that finetunes our balance with ourselves and nature.” The elements provide an essential purification role, says Swami Ratna. “By focusing on the elements for a time we’re getting rid of the rubbish at a certain level, coming into harmony with our environment and creating a richer, more vital environment around us.” Try meditating on the elements once each week over the next month. Then take the time to relax and try to allow the knowledge that comes to you during your meditation to process and filter through your life.

Get grounded and start with an Earth meditation. Clear the area of any clutter, switch on the answering machine and make sure nobody is able to disturb you.

Because earth represents our physical needs, start off with a relaxing bath, or a shower, with a sprinkling of essential oils (in the bath, or the base of the shower). Dry off and dress in loose, comfortable clothing and settle yourself comfortably on the floor. Then light a green or white candle to represent earth.

Gaze into the flame and think about your physical needs. Are there any aspects that you should address? Are there areas where you overindulge, or perhaps neglect? This could be eating, drinking or even our need to be nurtured, touched and loved.

Visualise yourself having a sufficient amount of everything. Not too little, not too much – just enough to fulfil your needs. Reflect on what you need to change, and how you’re going to accomplish it. Take a deep breath and feel the earth’s power enter your body, rising from the ground through your feet and right through your body. Snuff out the candle and relax.

Over the next week think about what steps you can take to address the issues raised in your meditation. Can you look to eat to just below a level you’d consider full? Can you try to drink two litres of water a day and have three alcoholfree days per week? What about your need to be nurtured, how can you address that? Can you start by showing more affection to your loved ones?

Breath of fresh air
Open up all the windows and doors and allow a fresh breeze to cleanse your home and yourself. Light a lavender or light a blue candle to represent air. Sit in a comfortable position and focus on your mental needs, your communication issues and ideas. Air boosts creativity so consider the areas in which you need more inspiration. It’s time to explore your beliefs, attitudes and values.

Be conscious of your breathing. Hold your hands over your stomach and take a deep breath through your nostrils, feeling the air slowly fill your lungs and expand your rib cage. Hold for a second and then consciously exhale through your mouth, allowing all the air to drain completely from your lungs. Breathe mindfully, focusing on the fresh air coming in and going out of your lungs. Snuff out your candle and think about how you can expand your creativity and boost your mental power.

What can you read, eat, think or do to help improve your mental function and clarity?

Light my fire
Fire is all about passion, but not sexual passion, rather anything that stirs your soul and gets your blood boiling. Settle yourself in your room facing south and light a red or gold candle. Consider all the passion you have bottled up inside. What is it you really want?

What have you always wanted to do and what has held you back? It’s time to banish all that negativity and conservatism preventing you from realising your dreams and ignite your passion.

Gaze into the flame and feel its warmth spreading through your body, igniting your passion.

Visualise yourself accomplishing your most fervent desire. What will it take to allow you to realise your dreams? What steps are you going to take to ensure it becomes a reality?

Water baby
Water represents our emotions – anger, jealousy, happiness, doubt and so on. Take a deep bath with a handful of sea salt sprinkled in the water. Feel yourself enveloped in its comforting warmth. Dry off and locate west in your room and settle yourself comfortably.

Light an aqua or deep blue candle and consider any repressed emotions that have been holding you back. Consider your emotional needs; do you stifle them to please others? How can you learn to respect your own emotional needs? How can you enhance your insight and compassion to help you express your emotions in a healthy way? Think of what makes you happy, what can you do each day that makes you feel joyful and fulfilled?

Sense of spirit
Spirit is often neglected, as so few of us address our spiritual needs. But spirituality is about more than just our relationship with a higher being. Spirit involves how we interact with family, friends, co-workers, neighbours and anyone close to us.

Light a white candle and Reflect on your relationship with the people who cross your path each day. How can you enhance their life in one simple way when you meet? What do these people bring to your life? Also consider your relationship with a higher being – can spirituality bring something special to your life? Consider the choices that you can make and what differences they can make to the way you live your life.

Make a conscious effort to reconnect with spirit each day. When you wake up go to the window, open the curtains wide and take in the view. Breathe in the air, look at the plants growing in the earth and take note of how the sun is shining on your part of the world – and enjoy.

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Pittman’s race against the clock (Sidney Morning Herald, Australia)

Len Johnson, Sidney Morning Herald, Australia: Jana Pittman has bypassed modern technology and is relying on new-age techniques in her bid to make the starting line in Athens.

For months Pittman has practised meditation, now it is a significant weapon in her fight to overcome a knee injury, and subsequent surgery, and compete in the Olympic 400-metre hurdles heats on August 21.

Pittman had to be convinced of the benefits of meditation, as did her coach, Phil King. The advocate, however, was credible to both – Debbie Flintoff-King is Phil’s wife, whom he coached to a gold medal in the 400m hurdles at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Pittman’s burning ambition is to emulate her.

Flintoff-King is also using her experience as a herbalist to provide another avenue for the athlete. She said Pittman was taking herbs which worked on the liver, which would be under stress at the moment, and the lymphatic system.

After some persuasion, Flintoff-King convinced Pittman to go to a one-day meditation clinic conducted by Ian Gawler.

“She wasn’t that keen but she went. I said, ‘Even if you just go to lunchtime’, but she loved it and came back with all the tapes and books.”

Pittman is concentrating on imagery techniques, focusing her mind on the healing process and imagining it proceeding in an orderly flow.

“Had she not done it religiously, it wouldn’t work,” Flintoff-King explained on Wednesday. “But because she’s been doing it for a while, she has confidence in it.”

Flintoff-King had similar experiences herself as she adopted meditation in the lead-up to the Seoul Games. She said it was not something that produced an immediate result, nor was intended to – it was just there when you needed it.

“I did it for two years,” said Flintoff-King, “and I could probably count on one hand the number of times it really worked.

“One was when my sister passed away [just before Seoul].

“For Jana, she’s such an A-type personality, meaning hyperactive. She hasn’t got any flaws but if she had one it would be lack of focus in some areas.

“I think the meditation helps her think about what she’s doing and disregard things going on around her.

What she has been doing now is imagery, imagining the injury healing.”

Meditation is now part of Pittman’s daily routine, along with the icing, the strengthening exercises, the constant treatment.

Flintoff-King said Pittman aimed to complete 20 minutes’ meditation at a time.

“It’s up to Jana. Sometimes you can go in there and 10 minutes is enough. Other times, time has gone by and you wouldn’t even notice, I usually suggest to her to try about 20 minutes minimum.”

Flintoff-King said that because of Pittman’s outgoing personality, anything that made her slow down a little was extremely beneficial.

“All you’re trying to do is clear the head and increase the space between the thoughts,” Flintoff-King said. “That’s a way of looking at it.

“She can just think more clearly. When you’re stressed and worried or hurrying, you forget the minor things. For her, meditation enables her to take a big, deep breath and think clearer.”

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Youngsters take to meditation (Hobart Mercury, Australia)

Meditation classes for children are gaining popularity in Tasmania as young people look for tools to combat stress.Children aged between eight and 12 studied basic meditation techniques during a one-day course at Dromedary yesterday. Course teacher Jacquie Stephens said young people were keen to learn ways of managing internal conflict.

“Just like adults, children have tensions, anxiety and stresses,” Mrs Stephens said. “This is a way they can calm their mind down — a tool they can use in daily life.” Mrs Stephens, who runs the course at the Vipassana Meditation Centre, said children could acquire techniques to help them for life.

“The younger people learn about meditation the better,” she said. “I wish I had learnt this when I was a kid because it would have saved me a lot of stress in my teenage years.” She said children’s minds were open to the concepts of meditation and often grasped techniques better than adults. “They find it easier because they don’t have as much intellectual garbage as we adults do,” she said. “They take to it like ducks to water.”

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Chanting, Meditation and talking to the Dalai Lama

Neil Meaney, ABC Regional, Australia: Having spoken to Geshe Sonam Thargye, when the monks of Tibet were in Shepparton on their “Sacred footsteps of the world tour”, Breakfast presenter Neil Meaney couldn’t resist the opportunity to meet Geshe in person and have a chat at ABC Goulburn Murray’s Wodonga Studio..

Neil asked Geshe how he came to be in Australia.. “I am now an Aussie monk, I have been here 5 years now, I permanently live here now.. I have one sponsor and she lives in Geelong and first I came when I finished study; Buddhism philosophy at the University, and (had a) holiday, came to Geelong and many local people asked if (I could) stay in Geelong and teach philosophy and meditation and I decided I would stay in Australia and within the last year I am an Australian citizen and I enjoy it very much..”

So did Geshe mind staying? “I believe Australia is a beautiful country, with food and education .. a very good country, but not a good country for monk and nuns.. (for) monks and nuns, Monasteries are best.. here not many Monasteries but (my) personality is a more social life and more contact with other people many different age, different culture, and very open mind and I enjoy it very much.. I like to surf Geelong close to beach and very good for me therefore..”

Why is it so valuable to Meditate.. “..because we need a healthy body.. we must exercise running or good food, that’s the cause and effect.. meditate is exercise of the mind, if you good meditate, you become healthy mind, In our lives its very important; body and mind”

“I meditate normally three times a day.. If I not busy, maybe morning one or two hours and then afternoon and before go to bed..”

Have you spent much time with the Dalai Lama? “..I spent time with him this year.. with almost 14 minutes just him and me.. he is a very humble and .. if you go in there you are amazed you know.. he is just normal.. I’m lucky I am very close to him”

Geshe was also again happy to chant for Neil, but said he wouldn’t be at his best “This morning only one half coffee and not good, if I have two coffee more good..”

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Sit still, why don’t you?

The Age, Australia: Stressed? Of course I’m stressed. Even when I’m at ease, I’m tense. So when I take a meditation class at East Kew’s Life Development Centre, I try to clear the mind of preconceptions of something practiced by hippies in the hazy aroma of incense and candlelight.

Meditation has gone mainstream. Once the domain of left-wing guru-seekers, the art of relaxation has moved into the business world and is now sought out by well-heeled executives and upper management as a way of clearing the pressures of the working week. Even Harry M. Miller meditates.

The Tuesday morning class in Kew is a…

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