benefits of meditation

Meditation for software engineers

buddha head and computer

I’ve noticed that there are a lot of technologists and software developers on the Wildmind Community and among Buddhists generally. I don’t think it’s just by chance. Coders tend to have life habits that make us susceptible to certain problems of mind, but yet may predispose us to the skill that can address these problems: meditation. I’d like to outline those problems, highlight why we might be predisposed to meditation, and make a suggestion as to how we can improve our practice.

Although software engineering is a craft – not unlike carpentry or gardening – it’s a craft where no manual labour is involved. The raw material is pure thoughtstuff and the end product is invisible. So we are obliged to live most of our working lives in the world of abstract ideas, never laying our hands on our work. Another useful way to describe software development is that it is an editorial process. We are always working on a draft, building it out and then honing it down, over and over until we have something that is fit for purpose. And then we start again for the next release. This is a creative process and for that reason it’s intense and personal. We begin to identify with the code we produce. A third characteristic of this kind of work is that we spend a great deal of time trying to solve problems – either by studying an overall solution to a customer’s needs, or by debugging our first attempts at that solution. We move from problem to problem and use the same skillset – logic, experience, concentration – to work through each one.

Let’s look again at this combination of factors: we spend much time in abstractions; the work is intense and creative but requires collaboration with other intensely creative people; and we approach the world as a series of puzzles to solve or problems to fix. This internal regime of mind can lead to problems both inside and outside the office.

Abstractions are necessary for navigating a complex world. Without the ability to generalize from particulars and build up a mental model of reality, we could not function as human beings. But for long periods of time this is all software engineers do. We begin to mistake our abstractions for reality (whatever that might be), and in fact we fall in love with those abstractions and identify with them as completely as we identify with our hard-won solutions to complex engineering problems.

Meditation can be a process by which we return to direct experience. Some kinds of sit allow us to observe our thoughts and other mental constructs as they come and go, while we guide our attention to simpler sensory experience such as sound or the tactile sensations of the breath. By experiencing this first-hand, we can rediscover the limited nature of our abstractions and so use them better. An abstraction that is no longer fit for purpose – because things have changed over time, or because it was too simplistic – is a liability in code and in life. In code, we know that we must re-shape these structures to deal with new requirements, and we know that even if this can be a painful process, we will get into ‘technical debt’ if we don’t do it. The less identified we are with the old idea, the easier we can change or discard it, the better our code will be, and the happier we can work. Outside the office, we need to let go of old abstractions and make way for new ones all the time. We can do this if we practice agile self-development: discard ideas that have outgrown their use, confront the pain of change as early as possible in the knowledge that if we don’t, we will get deeper and deeper into emotional debt.

People who don’t work in the software trade and only have TV and movies to go by have been taught to believe that nerds are solitary creatures who work alone (in basements) and usually have personal hygiene issues. Many offices have examples of this stereotype and if this is true of your office, you’ll know who those people are precisely because of the fact that they stand out as exceptions. Most software developers are of course perfectly normal and sociable – and this is just as well because any software project of any reasonable size needs a team and that team will have to embody communication and emotional skills if it is to deliver. Software development is a high-pressure team sport. When deadlines are looming (that’s what deadlines always seem to do – they loom!) tempers can become worn but the need for tight collaboration becomes even more important. It’s crucibles like these that demand of us the kind of qualities that a constant meditation practice can help to develop: steadiness, patience, the ability to not take things personally, and the capacity to deal with stress without exploding or imploding.

Finally, there is our approach to problem solving. This is a very transferable skill in the sense that we can use it outside of the workplace. There’s nothing wrong with this as long as it doesn’t become the only tool in our box. Life is not a software project, or if it is, it’s the worst-managed project in the history of engineering: The requirements are never clear from the start and in any case they change by the minute; the interfaces to other modules are completely inconsistent and come and go as they please; there are multiple clients, managers and bosses; the team itself changes every other day and nobody ever really agrees on a design. You can apply all the logic, experience and concentration you like, but you’re still just firefighting. The kind of problems that life throws at us cannot be traced and debugged. And more often than not, they can’t be solved either. They have to be accepted – even loved. Try that approach in the office! There is no issue tracking system that allows a problem resolution status of Accepted and Loved. In the similar but opposite way, what we find in our todo list outside work cannot always be set to Resolved or Reassigned. And yet we very often act on the habit of our working hours, and try to fix everything that comes our way, or pass it along as somebody else’s problem.

But if our choice of career can bring all these problematic ways of thinking, it also brings with it the basic tools we need to mitigate them, and first among this is concentration. I’ve recently heard a good metaphor for what goes on when an engineer is mentally working on a solution: we are building a house of cards. Each layer is built upon the one underneath, but in a gentle way so as not to destroy what we have carefully constructed so far. This is why interruptions are so frustrating. When somebody taps you on the shoulder when you are in the middle of house-building, the cards can come crumbling down in an instant. Sometimes it’s not another person who taps on our shoulder, but another thought. What will I have for lunch today? Why don’t I check the online news? In order to be productive, we have learned to some extent the importance of extended periods of concentration, and how to maintain them. When you walk around the average software house, the reason you see so many headphones and earbuds in place is not because engineers are anti-social. They are just defending themselves against the crazy but widespread policy of open-plan office space, with all the noise and distraction that this entails. Concentration, which is central to meditative practice, is something that we know how to access.

Another positive predisposition to Buddhist meditation that engineers may have is an openness to certain fundamental concepts that underpin it. One of these concepts is anatta, or no-self. Bodhipaksa has described this beautifully in Living Like a River and in many blog posts. One of the most helpful images he has used is that of the car with hundreds of people inside scrambling for control of the steering wheel. There is no single driver, but a decentralized – even chaotic – process of control-passing from one process to the next. This concept is deeply counter-intuitive to many people who encounter it for the first time through Buddhism. But to anyone familiar with computer architecture, it makes perfect sense.

An engineer’s tinkering curiosity will serve well when meditating. We’ve used the system of consciousness for long enough – sooner or later we’re going to want to understand how it actually works. I’ve heard Shinzen Young make an analogy between meditative concentration and the microscope, in the sense that if we learn how to concentrate we can look more deeply and in more detail into our experience. He might just as easily have used the idea of the symbolic debugger. Meditation can be the tool that permits us to understand how our minds work and follow its loops, uncovering problems in the software and allow us to refactor as we go.

So we have some factors in our favour, but I think we can take things further. There is a change we can make in our in order to transfer our professional skills onto the meditation cushion. As a group, we need to become emotionally smarter by learning the skill of self-compassion.

There is a phenomenon known as the Imposter Syndrome that is quite prevalent in Silicon Valley and other centres of engineering excellence. A lot of people walk into these cathedrals as employees and feel unworthy, less smart than their peers, and expecting to be uncovered as frauds. These are smart people who are carefully selected, but yet feel that they have slipped through by mistake and that sooner or later they will be found out. I don’t know to what degree I personally suffer from this syndrome, but I’ve seen something strange happening when I’m trying to solve a problem: I feel physically and emotionally unwell until the problem is solved. When I examine the source of that stress (using mindfulness meditation as the debugger) I find fear. The fear that I am not smart enough to fix the problem or solve the puzzle. The fear that I will be found out. This fear becomes the overriding motivation to solve the problem, but paradoxically it creates obstacles and only delays the inevitable solution. I wonder how many of my colleagues go through the same thing. This isn’t a very smart way to manage one’s emotions, inside or outside the office. A more kindly approach would serve better. If we can be more gentle with ourselves then over the long run we will end up being more productive, easier to work with, and happier.

The Wildmind Community is almost half-way through 100 days of daily meditations on Lovingkindness. If you find the above description of the life of a software engineer to be accurate, or if it at least sparks that engineer’s curiosity in you to experiment with meditation, then consider this an invitation to join us.

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Mindfulness meditation might ease irritable bowel syndrome.

Ellin Holohan: A simple meditation technique can help ease the torment suffered by people with a chronic bowel disease, a new study has found.

The research, done at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, found that women with irritable bowel syndrome who practiced “mindful meditation” had more than a 38 percent reduction in symptoms, far surpassing a nearly 12 percent reduction for women who participated in a traditional support group.

Moreover, meditation helped reduce psychological distress and improved quality of life, the study found.

One of the study authors said the practice, based on a Buddhist meditative technique, “empowers” patients to deal with an illness that is difficult to treat.

“It’s not easy to treat IBS [irritable bowel syndrome], even with the best standard medical approaches,” said study co-author Olafur Palsson, an associate professor, clinical psychologist and research in the gastroenterolgoy department at the university. “It’s chronic and, over time, it’s hard to treat because it is complicated.”

Mindful meditation helps practitioners relax by focusing on the moment, paying attention to breathing, the body and thoughts as they occur, without judgment.

“It’s a different way of using the mind and being aware,” said Palsson. He noted that more than 200 hospitals around the country offer the mindfulness meditation training program.

The technique takes discipline to learn, but “becomes second nature after a while,” said Palsson, adding, “this is not a clinical treatment, it’s more educational.”

The findings were to be presented Saturday at Digestive Disease Week meeting in Chicago. Research presented at medical meetings should be viewed as preliminary Read the rest of this article…

because it has not been subjected to the scrutiny that typically accompanies publication in medical journals. In addition, the number of participants in the new study was small, and the findings need to be confirmed in larger studies.

Irritable bowel syndrome is a common chronic illness that can start as early as adolescence and become a lifelong condition. Symptoms include abdominal pain, cramps, diarrhea and constipation. Cases range from mild to severe. It differs from inflammatory bowel disease, a more serious condition with a similar name.

In the United States, the disease is more common in women and about one in six people has the condition, according to the National Institutes of Health. The condition is believed to stem from a genetic predisposition and is triggered by stress, a gastrointestinal infection or gastrointestinal surgery.

Treatments include anti-spasmodic medications to relax the colon, and drugs to reduce constipation and diarrhea. Patients are advised to avoid drinks and foods that stimulate the intestines, such as alcohol, caffeinated beverages, some grains, chocolate and milk.

But the disease varies from one person to another, and one regimen does not help everyone, according to health officials.

For the study, 75 women between 19 and 71 years old, with an average age of nearly 43 years, were randomly divided into two groups. One group participated in a mindfulness meditation training session and the other in a traditional support group, both for eight weeks.

Ahead of time, the groups rated the treatments’ potential benefit, or “credibility,” about the same, the study said.

But at the end of eight weeks, the meditation group had a 26.4 percent reduction in “overall severity of symptoms” compared to a 6.2 percent reduction in the support group. By the end of three months, the disparity persisted as improvement increased to a 38.2 percent reduction in symptoms for the meditation group vs. a 11.8 percent reduction for the therapy group, the study found.

The study authors also noted that mindful meditation was inexpensive and widely available.

One expert praised the research results as original and powerful.

“It’s a small sample, but I’m impressed. It’s not so easy to do this with treatments that are not well-defined,” said Dr. Albena Halpert, a gastroenterologist and assistant professor of medicine at Boston University Medical School. “There have been other studies that looked at psychological treatment options, but this is the first looking at mindfulness, and the results are robust.”

Halpert said she was surprised that both groups rated the potential benefit of the treatment option they were to receive equally.

“You can call it the placebo effect or whatever you want, but you have to believe in a treatment for it to work,” said Halpert. “It’s interesting that people would think it [mindfulness training] would have the same benefit as a support group.”

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Meditation makes people more rational decision-makers

Elizabeth Weise: Meditation, the ancient practice of mindfulness employed by all major religions, can actually reprogram the brain to be more rational and less emotional, researchers in Canada and the United States say.

The researchers looked at a classic psychological test called the Ultimatum Game. In this test, researchers propose this scenario: A friend or relative has won some sum of money and then offers the test subject a small portion of it – will they accept the money?

Surprisingly, despite the fact that it’s a windfall, multiple tests over 30 years show that only about a quarter of people say yes. The rest reply that it’s not fair because the person offering the money has lots and that they should get more.

People who practice Buddhist meditation behaved differently. Researchers found in their test that more than 50% of Buddhist meditators took the rational offer of free money, rather than rejecting it because it felt unfair.

The researcher involved 40 control subjects and 26 expert meditators. These were not Buddhist monks or nuns Read the rest of this article…

but simply people who practiced frequent Buddhist meditation “while maintaining a secular life incorporating a career, family, and friends.” according to the paper.

The study is in this month’s edition of the journal Frontiers in Decision Neuroscience.

When the researchers did MRI imaging of the Buddhist meditators brains, they found that they used different areas of their brain than other people when confronted with what could be construed as an ‘unfair’ choice, which allowed them to make decisions based more on facts and less on emotions.

Neuroimaging showed that Buddhist meditators engaged different parts of the brain than expected, the researchers found. Previous work showed that when people rejected the offer, there was activity in the anterior insula portion of their brains. This is linked to the emotion of disgust and plays a role in emotions related to violations of social norm violations, rejection, betrayal, and mistrust.

But meditators showed no significant activity for the anterior insula when offered a portion of the money. In fact they increased activity in the posterior insula, which has been linked to rational decision-making.

As the researchers note in their paper:

Siblings, schoolchildren, and CEOs have all been known to worry more about their competitors’ rewards than their own – with unhappy social consequences for everyone else. This study suggests that the trick may lie not in rational calculation, but in steering away from what-if scenarios, and concentrating on the interoceptive qualities that accompany any reward, no matter how small.

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Meditation improves endothelial function in metabolic syndrome

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(From a press release) Meditation may help improve endothelial function in patients with metabolic syndrome, potentially reducing cardiovascular risk, new research suggests.

Presented here at the American Psychosomatic Society 69th Annual Scientific Meeting, a randomized trial in a group of African American patients with metabolic syndrome showed significant improvement in endothelial function in those randomly assigned to a year-long meditation program compared with their counterparts who underwent a program of health education alone.

“We found there was a significant difference between the consciously resting meditation group and the health education group in the flow-mediated dilation, which measures endothelial function,” principal investigator Kofi Kondwani, PhD, National Center for Primary Care, Morehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia, told Medscape Medical News.

A risk factor for coronary heart disease, the clinical manifestations of metabolic syndrome include hypertension, hyperglycemia, high triglycerides, reduced high-density lipoprotein, and abdominal obesity. A diagnosis of metabolic syndrome is contingent on an individual having three or more of these risk factors.

According to the investigators, the etiology of metabolic syndrome is complex, but psychological stress appears to play a role, possibly through overactivation of stress hormones. They also note that endothelial dysfunction, which is also influenced by stress, is a major consequence of metabolic syndrome.

In addition, metabolic syndrome is a major health concern in the African American population — particularly among African American women — and is increasing in prevalence, paralleling the US obesity epidemic.

Particular Problem for African Americans

According to Dr. Kondwani, it has been shown that meditation can be effective in reducing psychological stress and improving some cardiovascular risk factors. However, he added, whether it can improve endothelial function in the setting of metabolic syndrome is unknown.

He noted that although metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease are important health issues in general, the major health disparities that exist in the African American population make it a particular concern in this population.

“If we could find some simple, easy, cost-effective approach to reduce some of these risk factors — whether it is blood pressure or endothelial function — that could be adopted in the community on a large scale we may be able to have a positive impact on the health of African Americans,” he said.

A joint initiative between Morehouse Medical School and Emory University, the study randomly assigned 65 African American patients age 30 to 65 to undergo consciously resting meditation (CRM) (n = 32), a 12-month meditation program developed by Dr. Kondwani, or a 12-month health education program (n = 33). At study outset there were no significant differences in demographic characteristics or cardiovascular risk factors between the 2 groups.

The CRM group received three 90-minute sessions of initial instructor-led training. They returned once a week for the following 3 weeks, then once every 2 weeks for 2 months, and finally once per month for the remainder of the study. In the interim they were assigned “home rest” assignments that involved meditating for 15 to 20 minutes twice a day.

Improvements in Blood Pressure, Weight, Triglycerides

The study’s primary outcome measure was endothelial function assessed by brachial artery flow-mediated dilation (FMD) at baseline and 6 and 12 months. A secondary outcome was arterial stiffness, measured by pulse-wave velocity.

Trend tests were performed to assess changes in outcome measures and metabolic syndrome factors across the 3 study time points. The investigators found that FMD significantly improved from baseline in the CRM group (2.10 ± 0.79; P = .009) but that improvement was smaller in the health education group (1.36 ± 0.80; P = .09). Dr. Kondwani said there was no difference in arterial stiffness in the groups.

The researchers also found favorable and statistically significant trends in 3 metabolic syndrome risk factors in the CRM group but not in the health education group: diastolic blood pressure (change, -6.24 ± 2.75 mm Hg; P = .03), weight (-2.52 ± 1.16 kg; P = .03), and triglyceride levels (-32 ± 15 mg/dL; P = .04).

Dr. Kondwani also pointed out that certain psychological factors, including some measures of depression, significantly improved in both study groups. This indicates that “that just because an intervention has an impact on patients’ psychological well-being doesn’t necessarily mean it is going to change their physiology.”

These findings, he added, suggest that physicians should not hesitate to encourage their patients to learn meditation. “It will not hurt and invariably it will help. They also shouldn’t get hung up on the type of meditation. It’s highly likely that even if patients weren’t trained in meditative practice but just sat quietly for 20 minutes twice a day there would be benefit,” said Dr. Kondwani.

Dr. Kondwani said that his group hopes to replicate the study’s findings in a larger trial with 150 participants in each arm.

“Wonderful” Form of Stress Management

Commenting on the study for Medscape Medical News, Lorenzo Cohen, PhD, a professor in the Department of Behavioral Science and director of the Integrative Medicine Program at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, said it is well known that psychological stress has a profound effect on many biological functions.

“In our work we know that stress can directly impact certain cancer-related biological systems. We believe it is very important to provide different forms of stress management to patients to help relieve the psychological stress they experience due to life-threatening illness and that one wonderful form of stress management is meditation,” Dr. Cohen said in an interview.

He added that it was not surprising to him that meditation had a positive effect on endothelial function or other measures of metabolic syndrome.

“We know that metabolic syndrome is related to inflammatory processes and we know that stress can increase inflammatory processes. We also know of course that meditation decreases these processes so it would make sense that it has the potential to be a useful adjunct to the treatment of this syndrome,” said Dr. Cohen.

Dr. Cohen noted that in recent years meditation has gained a great deal of acceptance by the medical community and patients alike and is widely accessible.

Ideally, he said, it is useful to have an instructor teach patients how to meditate in order to optimize practice. However, he added, the tools of the information age, including Web-based programs and audio materials, can also be “quite useful.”

He said in his experience there has been some resistance among patients because of a belief that meditation is associated with religion. However, he added, once they are informed that it is taught in a secular manner, this concern is assuaged.

Dr. Kondwani reports he is the founder of Consciously Resting Meditation.

Bodhipaksa

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of metabolic syndrome is complex, but psychological stress appears to play a role, possibly through overactivation of stress hormones. They also note that endothelial dysfunction, which is also influenced by stress, is a major consequence of metabolic syndrome.

In addition, metabolic syndrome is a major health concern in the African American population — particularly among African American women — and is increasing in prevalence, paralleling the US obesity epidemic.

Particular Problem for African Americans

According to Dr. Kondwani, it has been shown that meditation can be effective in reducing psychological stress and improving some cardiovascular risk factors. However, he added, whether it can improve endothelial function in the setting of metabolic syndrome is unknown.

He noted that although metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease are important health issues in general, the major health disparities that exist in the African American population make it a particular concern in this population.

“If we could find some simple, easy, cost-effective approach to reduce some of these risk factors — whether it is blood pressure or endothelial function — that could be adopted in the community on a large scale we may be able to have a positive impact on the health of African Americans,” he said.

A joint initiative between Morehouse Medical School and Emory University, the study randomly assigned 65 African American patients age 30 to 65 to undergo consciously resting meditation (CRM) (n = 32), a 12-month meditation program developed by Dr. Kondwani, or a 12-month health education program (n = 33). At study outset there were no significant differences in demographic characteristics or cardiovascular risk factors between the 2 groups.

The CRM group received three 90-minute sessions of initial instructor-led training. They returned once a week for the following 3 weeks, then once every 2 weeks for 2 months, and finally once per month for the remainder of the study. In the interim they were assigned “home rest” assignments that involved meditating for 15 to 20 minutes twice a day.

Improvements in Blood Pressure, Weight, Triglycerides

The study’s primary outcome measure was endothelial function assessed by brachial artery flow-mediated dilation (FMD) at baseline and 6 and 12 months. A secondary outcome was arterial stiffness, measured by pulse-wave velocity.

Trend tests were performed to assess changes in outcome measures and metabolic syndrome factors across the 3 study time points. The investigators found that FMD significantly improved from baseline in the CRM group (2.10 ± 0.79; P = .009) but that improvement was smaller in the health education group (1.36 ± 0.80; P = .09). Dr. Kondwani said there was no difference in arterial stiffness in the groups.

The researchers also found favorable and statistically significant trends in 3 metabolic syndrome risk factors in the CRM group but not in the health education group: diastolic blood pressure (change, -6.24 ± 2.75 mm Hg; P = .03), weight (-2.52 ± 1.16 kg; P = .03), and triglyceride levels (-32 ± 15 mg/dL; P = .04).

Dr. Kondwani also pointed out that certain psychological factors, including some measures of depression, significantly improved in both study groups. This indicates that “that just because an intervention has an impact on patients’ psychological well-being doesn’t necessarily mean it is going to change their physiology.”

These findings, he added, suggest that physicians should not hesitate to encourage their patients to learn meditation. “It will not hurt and invariably it will help. They also shouldn’t get hung up on the type of meditation. It’s highly likely that even if patients weren’t trained in meditative practice but just sat quietly for 20 minutes twice a day there would be benefit, “said Dr. Kondwani.

Dr. Kondwani said that his group hopes to replicate the study’s findings in a larger trial with 150 participants in each arm.

“Wonderful” Form of Stress Management

Commenting on the study for Medscape Medical News, Lorenzo Cohen, PhD, a professor in the Department of Behavioral Science and director of the Integrative Medicine Program at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, said it is well known that psychological stress has a profound effect on many biological functions.

“In our work we know that stress can directly impact certain cancer-related biological systems. We believe it is very important to provide different forms of stress management to patients to help relieve the psychological stress they experience due to life-threatening illness and that one wonderful form of stress management is meditation,” Dr. Cohen said in an interview.

He added that it was not surprising to him that meditation had a positive effect on endothelial function or other measures of metabolic syndrome.

“We know that metabolic syndrome is related to inflammatory processes and we know that stress can increase inflammatory processes. We also know of course that meditation decreases these processes so it would make sense that it has the potential to be a useful adjunct to the treatment of this syndrome,” said Dr. Cohen.

Dr. Cohen noted that in recent years meditation has gained a great deal of acceptance by the medical community and patients alike and is widely accessible.

Ideally, he said, it is useful to have an instructor teach patients how to meditate in order to optimize practice. However, he added, the tools of the information age, including Web-based programs and audio materials, can also be “quite useful.”

He said in his experience there has been some resistance among patients because of a belief that meditation is associated with religion. However, he added, once they are informed that it is taught in a secular manner, this concern is assuaged.

Dr. Kondwani has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

American Psychosomatic Society (APS) 69th Annual Scientific Meeting: Abstract 1639. Presented March 10, 2011.

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Top ten reasons to start meditating today

Beliefnet: “Meditate Daily” has been hovering on my to-do, someday, or maybe lists for more than ten years, since the late 1990’s. Two years ago the universe conspired to deliver me to the doorstep of the Interdependence Project, where the clarity of instruction and friendliness of the community led nearly immediately to my committing to a daily meditation practice. Though I miss a day here and there, the positive effects of the practice are so profound that when I don’t make it to the cushion I feel it in my bones.

Sometimes people ask me why I meditate, or have specific questions or misunderstandings about meditation, and my answer seems to vary depending on what I’ve experienced that day or how that morning’s session went. But I have noticed that I offer some of the same answers over and over, and so here are my top ten reasons anyone should start a meditation practice today.

1. Meditation makes you calmer. By offering you tools to deal with stress and stressful thought-patterns, meditation helps you develop the option of remaining calm if you so choose.

2. Daily meditation offers you a sense of connection to all things by helping you notice that there is an observer beyond your usual understanding of the term “observer”.

3. Meditating helps you deal better with anger, desire, lust and other potentially intoxicating emotions.

4. Being a regular meditator does NOT mean you no longer experience emotion; your experience of emotion just becomes keener and more subject to choice rather than habit.

5. Meditating regularly leads to an increased sense of empathy and compassion, towards others and towards yourself.

6. Becoming a regular meditator will increase your creativity, creating more space for new ideas to arise and to be noticed, and lowering any resistance you may have to new concepts and ways of thinking.

7. Meditating makes you healthier. Not only does it help you become aware of how to handle pain and illness better, but scientific studies show that “Meditating slows breathing rate, heart rate, and blood pressure and heart rate. Some evidence suggests that meditation may also aid treatment of anxiety, depression, high blood pressure and a range of other ailments.” (Mayo Clinic) Anecdotally and personally I can concur that all of this is true.

8. Daily meditation will make you smarter by growing your brain. A 2005 Harvard Medical School study showed that “Brain regions associated with attention, sensory awareness and emotional processing — the cortex — were thicker in meditators. In fact, meditators’ brains grew thicker in direct correlation with how much they meditated”.

9. Meditation is a great to deal with your psychological “junk”, offering a great option on its own or in combination with any form of therapy. By noticing your thoughts arise, and recognizing that they are just thoughts, you slowly peel away the layers that cover your true self.

10. Meditation is an excellent adjunct to any spiritual or religious practice, and can be a gateway to deeper spiritual revelations and the essential meaning of interdependence. Combined with my study of Buddhist philosophy, my experience of daily sitting practice is that it offers a complete spiritual path that integrates seamlessly with my daily life.

Bonus benefits: Meditating makes you sexier, brings you new spiritually aware and cool friends if you join a group (or visit the IDP podcasts online), and can save you money through the side effect of reduced consumption.

All this and more for just ten to twenty minutes a day. I can honestly say that beginning a daily meditation practice has been one of the most positively life-effecting decisions I’ve ever made. If my ten reasons for why you should start a daily practice gets you meditating even for one, two, or five minutes today, I will be deeply grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of your decision.

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Why chilling out is the new cool Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, Australia)

Sydney Morning Herald: A decade ago it was boozing and sex. Then came drugs and bingeing. Later, dieting and hard-core gym workouts. Lately though, Hollywood stars have been slowing down and waxing lyrical in interviews about stopping to smell the roses. Clearly a bit of calm is needed to cope with a celebrity pace of life.

Initially, yoga was the answer to celebrity wellness. Christy Turlington and Madonna were the first to strike a pose, followed by Gwyneth Paltrow, Sting, Ricky Martin and Meg Ryan.

Now Tinseltown is talking a different tune. “Om” is being chanted in private studios, from mountain tops and on movie sets.

“It’s like entering this blissful feeling of nothingness,” said Heather Graham, who meditates twice a day. Halle Berry began practising while filming Gothika “to get rid of nightmares” and Goldie Hawn got her daughter Kate Hudson addicted to the stress-relieving practice.

“There is no question that meditation has recently become more popular,” said Thom Knoles, a Hollywood meditation guru who was based in Sydney for more than 30 years, and lists Graham, film director David Lynch and Australian actress Natalie Mendoza “a very enthused student” among his clients. “Kate Fischer is a great supporter and is planning to train under me to become an instructor in the New Year,” he said.

Lynch says meditation is about fostering bliss, creativity and intelligence: “Garbage goes out, gold comes in. Everything becomes easier. And you start understanding more.”

Even ad guru Siimon Reynolds told S he got his greatest ideas in a 30-minute meditation he took in his office each day.

Regular meditation, say the experts, will reverse ageing, increase energy and improve your health, with a number of different styles and techniques available to help achieve inner peace by calming the mind.

Transcendental Meditation is one of the most popular forms due to its accessibility and measurability. “It’s an effortless technique and it can be practised by anybody, anywhere,” said Knoles. “You don’t have to change into weird clothes, you don’t have to denounce your parents, you don’t have to eat strange food or anything. You learn a technique and you do it twice a day for 20 minutes.”

Buddhism is similar in its philosophy of spiritual enlightenment and encourages students to learn more about the theory behind the practice. “We teach a series of meditations based on virtues that will benefit you and others,” said Lisa Merrill from the Khandakapala Buddhist Centre in Los Angeles. Richard Gere is a strong supporter of Buddhism and has designed a space in his private garden to practise daily. He makes regular trips to Tibet to “relax, meditate and release”, booking into a basic room with limited water supply, shared bathroom and no TV, air-conditioning or newspapers.

Closer to home, the Blue Mountains Insight Meditation Centre has weekend workshops and month-long retreats that provide an escape from the city pace. The centre also teaches ways to incorporate meditation into your lifestyle once you leave.

“We use a systematic training method of attention to develop wisdom and purity of the mind,” said Tara MacLachlan, adding that alternative therapies had become more acceptable. “Meditation can be integrated into anyone’s life. It’s no longer confined to the minority.”

Sounds like it’s worth making time for.

BLISS BENEFITS

* Experience deep levels of rest and eliminate stress and fatigue.

* Increase energy and vitality.

* Experience clarity of mind and increased creativity.

* Feel rejuvenated.

* Improve your health naturally.

* Reduce anxiety.

* Expand your awareness.

* Experience your full mental potential.

* Increase self-confidence.

* Improve ability to concentrate.

* Reverse ageing.

WHERE TO MEDITATE

* Tim Brown is a Sydney-based meditation teacher recommended by Hollywood guru Thom Knoles. 80 Paddington Street, Paddington. Phone 9327 7825.

* The Mahasiddha Buddhist Centre offers chanted meditations, study classes and day courses, with weekly sessions in Paddington, Bondi Beach, Glebe, Manly, Chatswood, Cronulla and Miranda. 85 Old South Head Road, Bondi Junction. Phone 9387 7717 or see http://www.meditateinsydney.org.

* The Buddhist Library and Meditation Centre has a wealth of information and teachings of Buddhism techniques, with regular talks and courses. 90 Church Street, Camperdown. Phone 9519 6054 or see http://www.buddhistlibrary.org.au.
OUT OF TOWN

The Blue Mountains is a hot spot for silent retreats, chanting meditation, courses and more.

* The Brahma Kumaris Centre for Spiritual Learning hosts meditation courses all year, mostly in group sessions. 186 Mount Hay Road, Leura. Phone 4784 2500.

* The Blue Mountains Insight Meditation Centre has everything from weekend workshops to month-long retreats. 25 Rutland Road, Medlow Bath. Phone 4788 1024 or see http://www.meditation.asn.au.

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Meditation: concentration training (Daily Press, Virginia)

Methawee Bhikkhu, Guest Columnist, Daily Press, Virginia: The Buddha said, “There is no meditation without wisdom, no wisdom without meditation. One who has both wisdom and meditation is close to peace and emancipation.”

Meditation requires concentration. There are 40 techniques, or exercises, in concentration training. One technique is the mindfulness of breathing.

This technique is a very convenient practice because everyone has to breathe in and out. It can be used anytime and anywhere, as long as one is constantly aware of the process.

Here’s a brief explanation of the mindfulness of breathing exercise:

Find a quiet place to sit that is conducive to peace. It is helpful to have the right atmosphere. But even if this is not possible, it can still be performed.

Find any posture that enables the body to relax and that is the most comfortable for a long period of sitting. One must be able to breathe easily.

The best posture is cross-legged or sitting upright with the right leg on top of the left one. Hands should be on the lap, with the right hand on top of the left, thumbs touching, or the right forefinger touching the left thumb.

If this is not possible, one can sit upright in a chair or take any other comfortable posture. However, if the sitting brings any tension, it will not be the right practice and it should be corrected before continuation.

Eyes can be opened or closed as long as you are not distracted. One should look downcast with the opened eyes or fix the gaze on the tip of the nose.

After sitting comfortably, one should take deep, long breaths to fill the lungs, breathing out slowly each time. At the same time, try to develop the feeling that the body is not solid and the head is light until the mind is reasonably peaceful. Then, breathe normally but with an awareness of the in-and-out breathing.

When breathing in and out deeply, be aware of one breath in and one breath out deeply. When breathing in and out shallowly, be aware of the one breath in and out shallowly. Do not control the breaths, but be mindful of them.

For a beginner, counting the breaths will help to control the mind and stop wandering thoughts. If the mind is very restless, start to count the breathing in pairs — In-Out 1, In-Out 2 — up to 10 breaths. Or try to fix one’s attention at the tip on the nose, where the breath touches, or on the upper lip without following the movement of the breath through the body.

There are many benefits to meditation.

Meditation gives us a clear mind and clear comprehension to carry out our duties in daily life in a peaceful way, without conflict in the family, at school or in the work place. Meditation helps us to maintain physical health and mental clarity with equanimity.

Meditation enables us to face all kinds of problems and difficulties in our daily life with confidence. It teaches us to adjust ourselves to bear with the numerous obstacles encountered in life and in the changing modern world.

Meditation helps to conquer mental defilements that pollute the mind. If you practice meditation, you will learn to behave like a true human being even when you are upset or disturbed by others.

Meditation helps us cultivate loving kindness, compassion, inner peace, sympathetic joy and equanimity. It prevents us from attaching ourselves to hatred, greed, craving, selfishness, jealousy and all unwholesome or negative thoughts as well as moderating excessive and extreme positive mental states.

Methawee Bhikkhu is a missionary monk from Thailand who is part of Wat Pasantidhamma Buddhist temple in Carrollton.

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Parents find children benefit from meditation (Register-Guard, Oregon)

Scott Maben, The Register-Guard, Oregon: Imagine a young child sitting still, quietly contemplating life and thinking peaceful thoughts. Even for just five minutes.

It’s a dream scenario for any parent overwhelmed by that eternal energy source running around the house.

But occasions of serenity are a reality for families who practice the ancient rite of solemn reflection. Many find that meditation is effective in helping children to calm down, relax, cope with sadness, anger or fear, and even fall asleep.

“It gives them a way to comfort themselves in times of grief and sorrow,” New England teacher Lisa Desmond says in her new book, “Baby Buddhas: A Guide for Teaching Meditation to Children.” For the past seven years, she has taught meditation to children ages 18 months to 3 years.

“It helps children with learning difficulties, attention deficits and chronic or life-threatening illnesses build self-esteem and confidence through acceptance and understanding,” Desmond writes.

Sharing meditation time with children also helps establish a foundation for spiritual growth and understanding later in life, said the Rev. Oswin Hollenbeck of the Eugene Buddhist Priory.

“They see what’s important to their parents, and that’s really how they develop their values,” Hollenbeck said.

Doreen Hock, a Eugene veterinarian and member of the Eugene Buddhist Priory, has meditated with her 8-year-old son, Dash, for more than two years.

“When he was really little, he would choose to do it,” Hock said. “He’d do it on his own. He said he did it once on the playground in first grade.”

Now that he’s older, Dash is more self-conscious about meditating in public, his mother said. And when he’s wound up or emotional, he tends to shy away from meditation. Still, the practice has had a favorable influence on her son, Hock said.

“There’s this change in the look on his face, where he’s so much more present,” she said. “Dash can be argumentative; he’s an 8-year-old boy. But I’ve seen all that cultural stuff melt away, and what’s left is that spacious, open presence.”

Meditation as well as chanting, which the two also do together, has helped shift the boy’s energy level and lessen his competitive edge, Hock said.

“He’s more aware of his heart and the energy there,” she said.

Starting early

In some Eastern cultures, children are taught to meditate as soon as they are able to sit upright, around 1 or 2 years old. They are not schooled in doctrine at such a tender age, but they are shown the value of sitting quietly with their family.

“It’s not something you would expect a child to do on his own,” Hollenbeck said. “If the adult meditates, the child will meditate, even if it’s just for a little while. Then you’ve set up a situation where they’re not feeling forced to do it.”

Teaching a child to meditate, unrestrained, still might sound like a futile exercise. Not so, said yoga master Kun Ori, director of the Yoga Gallery in Eugene. Meditation is about learning to listen to one’s inner voice to find a peaceful, happy message, and that can be more easily accomplished as a child, Ori said.

“For adults, there is too much stress and responsibility, too much doubt and fear, which interrupt the listening to their inner voice,” she said. “In the case with children, they do not have too much preconception. They pay attention to their inner self more. They are connected so deep.”

The essence of meditation and brain development emerges even in simple interactions between parents and their babies or toddlers – hand exercises, exploring sounds and pictures – to help the child develop senses and motor skills.

“A mother who is hugging and talking more – that can open kids’ sensations more,” Ori said.

Sally Soufer of Ashland, who has attended recent workshops at the Yoga Gallery, has practiced meditation for 30 years and shared methods with her three children. Often it has involved simple things within a child’s limited attention span, such as breathing exercises or the simple use of a mantra, Soufer said.

“You can do the ‘looking meditation,’ where you just look into each other’s eyes for one to five minutes,” she said. “It’s just very centering and focusing.”

With practice, meditation can bring about dramatic and positive improvement in a child’s behavior and outlook on life, Soufer said.

“They realize in themselves a very peaceful center. They can access a place of peace and calmness within themselves, and they can go back to that place anytime they want just by breathing and relaxing.”

Gaining control

Her older children are in their 20s now. But her youngest, Jeffrey Star, 13, is drawn to an educational method called “brain respiration,” the use of physical and mental exercises to eliminate stress and improve brain power, developed by Korean peace activist and spiritual leader Ilchi Lee.

As a result, Soufer said, Jeffrey has gained confidence, improved in school and learned to control what used to frustrate him. “It’s very important for him to get good grades,” she said. “He could get agitated and anxious. I reminded him he could breath out what was bothering him, breath in peace, breath out tension – just releasing and relaxing using breath. It’s such a simple thing, but it’s so powerful.”

Jeffrey also was inspired to write a brief handbook on how to “save the world.” His tips include: relax, be peaceful, go organic, recycle, be unconditionally kind, play, nap and stand up for what you believe. He invites others to share their ideas and has given half a dozen public presentations on the topic.

“He has a real fiery personality, and things would really set him off,” Soufer said. “He’s either grown out of it, or he’s come to that place where things don’t bother him so intensely anymore.”

At the Eugene Buddhist Priory, a small group of children ages 3 through 8 gathers monthly for dharma school. The sessions include brief spiritual meditations as well as other activities – storytelling, crafts – that reinforce principles such as compassion and kindness.

“For us, the meditation is in order to be in touch with our true heart and nature. It’s in all beings. Children have it, animals have it, we all have it,” Hollenbeck said.

The quiet time is especially valuable in these times, when people – children included – lead increasingly busy lives and are bombarded with information, he said.

“In meditation, relaxed awareness or relaxed focus is important. It is a way of quieting the body and the mind,” he said. “And it has physical benefits, it has emotional benefits, it has psychological benefits.”

Original article no longer available…

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Meditation as medication (CBS News)

The Saturday Early Show, CBS: More and more people are turning to alternative or non-traditional methods to treat medical conditions.

One such technique, meditation, is gaining popularity as a legitimate medical therapy.

Meditation is the practice of focusing your attention and mind on something that makes your feel calm and relaxed and gives you clarity about your life, says medical contributor Dr. Mallika Marshall.

For thousands of years, people have recognized that meditation has wonderful health and psychological benefits.

The medical community is becoming much more accepting of meditation as a legitimate treatment for many different medical problems, such as anxiety, stress and depression. It’s being used treat all kinds of chronic pain. People are using meditation to try to quit smoking. It’s also being used for alcohol and drug addiction. And the National Institutes of Health is even recommending meditation for high blood pressure. Studies have show also that it can help women who suffer from PMS, menopausal hot flashes and even infertility.

Meditation helps your enter a relaxation state that can lower your heart rate, your blood pressure, slow down your breathing and relax your muscles. Some experts have compared it to a “reset button” for your body.

Meditation is something that most people can safely try on their own, though there are many techniques out there — so you may want to read up on different ways to meditate.

Here is a basic meditation technique to get started. Sit or lie in a comfortable position with your eyes closed. Simply focus on your breathing, focusing all your attention on sensation of air moving in and out of your body. The other thing you can do is repeat a single word or phrase either silently or by whispering. Do this for about 20 minutes every day if you can.

In the beginning, your mind will wander and come back to the present, but don’t despair, simply refocus your mind and try again.

Since meditation involves sitting quietly for a period of time and simply breathing, it may be difficult for people who have breathing problems or can’t stay still. People with certain conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or psychosis may not be able to concentrate. And don’t forgo traditional medical treatments in favor or just doing meditation. It should be used to complement any other treatments your doctor has recommended for you.

Original article no longer available…

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Seven helpful hints for meditating (Warwick Beacon, Rhode Island)

Claudia Botthof, Warwick Beacon, RI: Daily demands of everyday living can be draining and stressful, leading to insomnia, digestive problems, headaches, irritability, depression, ulcers and some cancers. Social relationships can suffer because there is just no more room for understanding and caring about somebody else’s problem. Unless you take care of yourself you cannot take care of somebody else. Finding the “inner peace” within yourself let’s you deal with everyday problems with new energy and a new outlook on life.

Meditation has been around for centuries and is used to quiet the mind and to promote self-knowledge and self-mastering. Through focusing and maintaining attention, the mind is brought to the present – not in “what happened yesterday” or “what will happen tomorrow.” Meditation provides solitude, the ability to be comfortable by oneself, and calmness of the mind and body. Meditation produces brainwaves that relax the mind to a point where it can reduce blood pressure, muscle tension and control breathing patterns. With daily practice meditation can be the tool to deal with daily stress efficiently.

Meditation requires the active mind to be able to focus on an object, image, phrase, word, sound or one’s own breath. Even though the mind is alert, yet it is calm and focused. Meditation is usually done in an upright sitting position with one foot placed on top of the other. The hands or fingers are creating a closed circuit presenting certain symbols and emotions. There are different breathing patterns such as “Breath of Fire,” “Alternate Nostril Breath” and “Cooling Breath.” Each type of breath will have a different effect on the body and mind. The “Ohm” sound has four different parts “ah/oh/mmm/silence.” It is considered the “Sound of all Sounds, the Sound of the Universe, the Sound of Creation and the Beginning of Life.” The benefits include but are not limited to releasing tension and dispel negative energy, feeling at total peace and being filled with new energy.

Meditation can be done without any attachment to any religion and is usually part of yoga. As yoga provides benefits to the body and mind, adding meditation further enriches the total being. The experience of yoga and meditation is unique to each individual and comes in many forms.

Here are some helpful hints to get started:

  • Before meditation do some form of exercise such as yoga, or walking to release restlessness.
  • Do some breathing exercises before meditation this will calm the mind.
  • Do yoga in the morning or at night, preparing the mind for the day or releasing tension before the night.
  • Use the same place and same time in a quiet environment.
  • Build up the time of stillness and meditation. Start with 5 minutes daily and build up to 45 minutes, three times a week.
  • When sitting check your body for muscle tension and let go.
  • When the mind wanders and emotions come up, acknowledge them and bring your focus back to your point of focus.

As with every skill in life, meditation takes time to learn and to master. Give yourself permission to practice the skill of meditation. Take some time for yourself each day to find your inner peace, so you can be there for all the other people when they need you.

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