meditation & blood pressure

It’s Not Just Quiet Time (Palm Beach Post, Florida)

wildmind meditation newsCarolyn Susman: In a stressed-out world, many find the road to peace comes by way of meditation and relaxation.

An old woman sits on a couch, bent over her rosary beads, fingering and fondling them, and repeating her prayers.

Another spends time saying a Hebrew prayer over and over: The Lord is God. The Lord is One.

Is either of these women meditating?

Neither might think so, but thousands of years of reflection by spiritual masters and mental health experts say otherwise.

“Every major religion has some form of meditation connected with it,” Daniel Goleman, author of Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama, explained last year on CNN. “There’s the centering prayer in Catholicism. There are Jewish meditations. Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism.

“Transcendental meditation has its roots in India. Those forms have been taken out of the religious context and put into a format that anybody, no matter what your religious belief, can benefit from.”

Continuing experiments show the benefit of meditation, and so-called “focused breathing,” for physical and spiritual health – arguably the most famous being Dr. Herbert Benson’s 1975 book, The Relaxation Response.

“We have… shown how the Relaxation Response may be used as a new approach to aid in the treatment and perhaps prevention of diseases such as hypertension,” Benson maintained, a ground-breaking approach at the time.

Just a few years before, in 1968, Beatles John Lennon and George Harrison and their wives had gone to India to study transcendental meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, elevating this elegant form of breathing and concentration to popular acceptance.

Continuing experiments show the benefit of meditation, and so-called “focused breathing,” for physical and spiritual health – arguably the most famous being Dr. Herbert Benson’s 1975 book, “The Relaxation Response.”

“We have shown how the Relaxation Response may be used as a new approach to aid in the treatment and perhaps prevention of diseases such as hypertension,” Benson maintained, a ground-breaking approach at the time,
Just a few years before, in 1968, Beatles John Lennon and George Harrison and their wives had gone to India to study transcendental meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, elevating this elegant form of breathing and concentration to popular acceptance.

In our stressed-out world, the advice “Take a deep breath” has renewed meaning.

One of the most recent studies to attest to the value of meditation –simply defined as deep breathing combined with focused attention to relax the body – is published in the April issue of the “American Journal of Hypertension.”

Conducted by Dr. Vernon A. Barnes, a physiologist at the Medical College of Georgia, the study showed that African-American teenagers, at risk for having high blood pressure, lowered their day-time blood pressures over four months by practicing 15 minutes of transcendental meditation twice daily.

“Allowing your mind to go to that state of inner quietness and be there for a time has an effect on the physiology by reducing stress hormone levels like cortisol and reducing activation of the fight-or-flight response,” Barnes said when the study was released.

Nothing is new here, except that Barnes’ study is fueling the idea that meditation should become a part of classroom learning and an option for children at risk for or suffering with conditions ranging from high blood pressure, to anxiety and depression, to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Balancing emotions

As a society, we are always looking for methods of dealing with emotional and physical illness that can reduce or eliminate drugs.

One of those on that search was Dr. Kamara Elaine Altman of Jupiter, a holistic health counselor and yoga therapist. Thirteen years ago, she went from a public relations career to teaching stress reduction techniques (she has studied with Benson and another renowned stress-reduction clinician, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn).

Altman says she overcame a debilitating fatigue and irritability when she incorporated yoga and relaxation techniques into her life. “When people are under stress, they are irritable, emotionally vulnerable. I would get angry quickly, raise my voice, and I had very little patience. So I think it gave me the tools, time and commitment to relax myself and calm myself and center myself. I was able to balance my emotions better.”

She defines meditation as “the process of liberating your mind from distracting thoughts. The physical aspect of sitting down, slowing down, slows your heart rate and respiration rate. You are occupying your mind so distracting thoughts don’t come in.”

Meditators say the process actually reprograms your brain, accelerating physical healing.

Altman credits meditation and focused breathing with helping her concentrate on what she considers important, her inner peace. “If I find my mind wandering off, I take a centering breath to let go of distractions, not be reactive (to surroundings) and to bring myself into the present moment.”

She can practice focused breathing – relaxing breaths without the intensity of meditation – anywhere, doing a grocery list, at the dentist’s office or sitting in a car.

Especially when she’s caught in traffic, she finds the technique helpful.

“I put my hands on my belly and relax. It reminds me there is nothing I can do. I’m not so reactive.”

In her personal relationship, she finds it helpful, too, with the man she is dating.

“He could do something that in the past would have been irritating.” she says. “I can listen now and let it be.

And I’ll do my breathing and think, ‘Is this a good time to discuss this?'” Perspective and inner peace were also the goals sought by therapist Miriam R. Davis of West Palm Beach when she sought out meditation to ease her mind more than 30 years ago.

Davis, a single mother at the time, describes her state as one of “constant mind chatter that allowed me no peace.”
She went to England to study with The Beatles’ guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and practiced the technique twice a day, 20 minutes at a time.

“I began to clear my mind. It’s not positive thinking: it’s not a way to change your thinking by thinking more. It involves watching your thoughts without being drawn into them,” she explains.

“By dwelling inwardly for extend ed periods,” she says of her meditating, “I came to realize the poverty of always looking outside myself for happiness, understanding and wisdom.”

Today she uses meditation and relaxation techniques with clients who are anxious, depressed or have high blood pressure or chronic pain.

Tools for managing stress

I was introduced to a form of meditation when a perceptive rheumatologist years ago handed me a book about the Catholic technique of centering prayer — very similar to meditation — when I visited him with complaints of strange muscle cramping that others couldn’t diagnose.

This doesn’t shock Davis. “Meditation and relaxation are powerful tools for managing stress,” she says, “and stress can lead to extreme body tension that can affect your health.

So much so that Benson, the “Relaxation Response” author and a Harvard Medical School associate professor, has just released a book that discusses how depression, anger and hostility can adversely affect your heart.

One of the goals of “Mind Your Heart, A Mind/Body Approach to Stress Management, Exercise and Nutrition for Heart Health” (Free Press, $12) is to maintain calm and “allow blood to flow more easily throughout the body.”

Stress can damage the heart, Benson points out. But with meditation, yoga and focused breathing, it is possible to prevent and reduce heart damage, and even avoid and manage other illnesses.

Local meditator: Dr. Jean Malecki

When you have to deal with anthrax and terrorism, having an inner sanctuary is essential.

Dr. Jean Malecki, Palm Beach County Health Department director, has nurtured that private place since she was studying pre-med in college, “I majored in pre-med and minored in religion and philosophy. I’ve been studying it for a long time. I spend a lot of my free time pursuing it,” she said.

“Some people call it prayer. Others call it meditation. It’s a time of quiet, silence in your surrounding. It’s time set aside from the normal day when you think, contemplate. I usually do it in the early morning hours, and it brings me a lot of energy and satisfaction. I couldn’t do what I do every day if I didn’t have that connection.”

Original article no longer available…

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Meditation Lowers Blood Pressure in Teens (Health Day)

Black teens at risk of becoming hypertensive adults lowered their pressures with just two 15-minute meditation sessions a day, a Georgia physiologist reports.

The results held even four months after the four-month study ended, said Vernon A. Barnes, a physiologist at the Medical College of Georgia and lead author of the study, published in the April issue of the American Journal of Hypertension.

“We set up school sessions that were supervised,” he said. Then the teens were instructed to meditate for another 15 minutes at home.

“More than 70 percent said they were compliant,” Barnes said, reporting that they did indeed complete the two meditation sessions.

His study focused on 156 inner-city black teens in Augusta, Ga., who all had blood pressure in the “high-normal” range. Half were in the group practicing transcendental meditation; the other half got information at school about how to lower blood pressure, such as following a low-salt diet and getting more physical activity.

Those who did meditation achieved lower pressures, Barnes said. “The drop in blood pressure was 3.5 in systolic [the top number that indicates the pressure inside blood vessels that the heart is pumping against] and 3.4 in diastolic [the bottom number that indicates pressure while the heart is at rest].”

The group that got only information had no significant change in pressure from the beginning of the study to the end, he said.

On average, he said, the TM students’ blood pressures were about 129 systolic at the start and dropped to about 125 at four months and at the four-month follow-up. The diastolic pressures started out at about 75 [a normal level], he said, and were down to a little more than 71 at the study end and to 72.9 at the four-month follow up. A pressure of below 120 over 80 is termed optimal.

The improvements were maintained at the follow-up after the formal stop of the study, Barnes added. Similar studies have found the same long-lasting benefits in adults, he added.

TM is a simple mental procedure, performed while you are sitting comfortably with eyes closed. Advocates say it puts practitioners in a “unique state of restful alertness” that helps dissolve stress and fatigue as it boosts creativeness, orderliness and other good characteristics.

Exactly how it might lower blood pressure isn’t known for sure, Barnes said. It may decrease sympathetic nervous system tone and levels of the stress hormone cortisol, among other actions, and that could lead to blood pressure reduction.

High blood pressure affects one in four adults in the United States and is a major risk factor of heart attack and stroke, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. High blood pressure has its origins in childhood, Barnes said, and blacks are at an increased risk for getting it.

“Based on our study, we would say that transcendental meditation should be considered as an option” to reduce the number of at-risk teens who go on to develop hypertension, Barnes said. Practiced over the long term, he said, it might ward off high blood pressure in adulthood.

Anecdotally, the students reported other benefits they attributed to their meditation habit, he said, including improved academic and athletic performance.

“This is a seminal study,” said Robert Roth, director of communications and a veteran meditation instructor at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa. “Dr. Barnes’ study is solid and convincing.”

The cost of implementing meditation programs in schools, he said, “is next to nothing.” His university approaches outside sources for funding. One example of a successful program, he said, is in a Detroit-area middle school, “where 160 children and teachers have meditated every day for seven years.”

Article no longer available.

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Clear the mind, treat the body (Courier-Journal, Kentucky)

Linda Stahl, The Courier-Journal, Kentucky: Meditation is gaining support for relieving stress and easing symptoms.

• Eat a balanced diet.
• Get 30 minutes of aerobic exercise a day.
• Meditate.

More and more people are adding meditation to their healthy lifestyle checklist.

June Pittleman of Louisville did just that when she started experiencing nausea, headaches and dizziness but regular medical diagnostic tests didn’t reveal any source of the problem.

Gradually, as she practiced meditation, the symptoms abated.

Now her physicians know meditation is part of her daily life. So recently, when she was at the hospital for an outpatient procedure and her blood pressure shot up and a nurse asked Pittleman’s doctor what to do, she told the nurse to have Pittleman meditate for 30 minutes.

In a half-hour, Pittleman’s blood pressure went from 200/120 to 120/80, she said, and she could be discharged.

“The nurse had a strange expression on her face when she came back to tell me my doctor wanted me to meditate,” said Pittleman, who recently related the story at the Siddha Yoga Meditation Center in the Highlands, one of the local places where people can learn meditation.

Erin Delaney, who practices meditation at the center, said she and her artist-husband, Dionisio Ceballos, feel meditation helps them deal with the stresses of life, including the stress of raising a young child.

While the Siddha Yoga Meditation Center has a decidedly spiritual aspect, other settings where people learn and practice meditation are more secular in nature.

Patti Metten, a physical therapist who works out of her home on Eastern Parkway, is also a transcendental meditation instructor who leads classes in her living room.

Ben Perry, a restaurant manager in Louisville, helps a group of friends meditate together as they sit in chairs in the basement of his Clarksville home two nights a week. Perry, 35, who started learning about meditation as a teenager, uses a technique called guided imagery.

Rita Hayes, communications manager for Norton Healthcare, participates in Perry’s meditation group. She uses meditation to control the symptoms of her multiple sclerosis and said her neurologist is supportive.

Hayes believes her combination of traditional medicine and meditation is a winning one. “I was diagnosed when I was 23,” said Hayes, now 36, “and I’m still ambulatory and don’t use any walking aids.”

“The mind is far more powerful than we could ever imagine,” she said.

One of her techniques is to visualize her immune system and imagine repairing it.

Indeed, a University of Wisconsin-Madison study released last year showed, for the first time, that meditation can produce lasting beneficial changes in immune-system function and brain electrical activity.

In recent years, a new medical field — psychoneuroimmunology — has emerged, and a growing number of scientists are studying the mind-body connection.

Following a particular spiritual path to seek inner peace has led many people to meditation, but many others learn and practice meditation as a stress reducer and health benefit and detach it from any religious belief system.

Felicia Ray, 57, decided to learn meditation after discussing it with her physical therapist, Metten, who treated her for a back injury.

Ray, who lives in Valley Station and works as a substitute teacher in the Jefferson County Public Schools, said, “I tend to be tense, so I thought it could help me to focus myself and give me a little inner peace.”

She said her goal is to maintain her health as she ages and avoid numerous doctor’s office visits. So far, so good, she said.

“It’s very simple, very easy. I do it for 20 minutes before breakfast and before dinner,” she said.

Louisville psychiatrist Gary Weinstein said meditation can take many forms. “Some people repeat a chant or mantra; some people concentrate on their breath. Usually people just sit quietly, but for others there is moving meditation, such as tai chi.”

He said he is finding people more open to meditation as a treatment tool, “particularly those who want to participate in their own treatment and take responsibility.”

He uses meditation selectively with patients to treat a variety of conditions. Among those who can benefit are people who are obsessive worriers, and people who have trouble focusing on the present and instead worry about the past or the future, he said.

Alice Cash, who has a doctorate in musicology, leads chemical-dependency recovery patients at Baptist Hospital East in a form of “sound” meditation called toning.

“Vocal toning is a way to quiet the chatter that the mind produces,” she explained.

While doing their toning, patients sit in a chair with their feet flat on the floor, stand or lie down. Participants make a long vowel sound with an exhaled breath.

“At SMU (Southern Methodist University) in Dallas, they found that 10 minutes of toning equaled five to 10 milligrams of Valium,” said Cash, who developed her techniques in sound meditation as former director of music and medicine at the University of Louisville School of Medicine.

She also works with patients who are depressed, anxious, pregnant or recovering from cancer. This Saturday, she will lead a workshop on toning and chanting for a Man to Man-Louisville prostate cancer support group offered by Baptist Hospital East.

Jewish Hospital’s Garon Lifestyle Center Cardiac Rehab Program offers some meditation instruction to patients. Nurse coordinator Pam Oshana is finding patients and their physicians more accepting of the idea that meditation can help control stress, a major risk factor for heart disease.

During the last 20 minutes of any visit to Garon, the patients are encouraged to go into a quiet room with big easy chairs and dimmed lights and participate in visualization, progressive muscle relaxation and deep-breathing exercises.

Some people are reluctant or feel awkward, Oshana said, but she is finding more people are open to the idea of doing meditation for stress management than once was the case.

Some of that may be because of media attention that has been given to such figures as Dr. Dean Ornish, a nationally recognized heart-disease specialist, who has long made meditation an essential part of his program for reversing heart disease.

Trudy Ray, a 20-year meditator who moved back to Louisville in recent years to care for one of her parents, said she saw signs of greater local acceptance of secular meditation as a tool for health management when she brought in a meditation expert for a weekend workshop last year and attracted 298 participants.

She plans to do it again in June.

Contrary to popular belief, not everyone who grows up in Asia learns meditation.

Dr. Shiela Thyparambil Mathew, who recently retired from her Louisville anesthesiology practice, grew up in southern India in a Christian family and didn’t have any exposure to the Eastern philosophies that support meditation as a practice.

But in the late 1990s, she decided to see what she could learn and studied with Dr. James S. Gordon, a psychiatrist who directs the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, D.C.

Eventually, she led meditation training sessions for Norton Healthcare employees and for patients of the Norton Cancer Resource Center.

She has come to believe that a variety of meditation techniques, including guided imagery, movement to music or sitting and looking at something beautiful, can be helpful and healthful.

[Original article no longer available]
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Meditation Has a Place in Helping Patients Improve Health, Doctors Say

Good housekeeping: In the middle of the night, Dale Lechtman wakes up, all kinds of thoughts crowding sleep out of her mind. But Lechtman uses meditation to handle insomnia. Lying in bed, she focuses on breathing. She takes in air deeply. Then, she expels it through her nose and mouth slowly, as though she were trying to make a feather float on her breath.

In the middle of the night, Dale Lechtman wakes up, all kinds of thoughts crowding sleep out of her mind. But Lechtman uses meditation to handle insomnia.

Lying in bed, she focuses on breathing. She takes in air deeply. Then, she expels it through her nose and mouth slowly, as though she were trying to make a feather float on her breath.

Thoughts relentlessly pound at her mind’s door, but in time, they are no match for Lechtman’s skills. They disintegrate harmlessly into darkness, and finally, the 62-year old nurse from Westminster, Calif., is relaxed enough to resume sleeping.

Lechtman has found that secular meditation – the deliberate quieting and focusing of the mind and body – can be beneficial to her health.

As patients and doctors seek answers other than medications to treat illnesses, some are finding that meditation can be strong medicine.

More doctors have opened their minds to the idea of meditation as complementary therapy as more studies emerge linking better health and meditation, said Dr. Roger Walsh, professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Irvine. Walsh has published research on meditation and teaches the practice as an elective to medical students.

Among the latest findings:

-A pilot study led by Walsh suggested that meditation is useful in understanding the effects of anti-depressants and might be useful as maintenance therapy for depression.

Researchers found that meditation – like anti-depressants – fostered a state of equanimity.

This is the ability to tolerate and not be disturbed by potentially provocative or stimulating thoughts, events, encounters or experiences. The study appeared recently in the Journal of Mental and Nervous Disorders.

-A study presented at a recent American Heart Association meeting found that transcendental meditation, or TM, reduced the severity of risk factors in metabolic syndrome.

This syndrome is a collection of conditions that lead to heart disease, such as high blood pressure and increased blood-sugar levels.

People who practiced TM significantly decreased their levels of blood pressure, blood sugar and insulin, said Dr. Noel Bairey Merz, study author and medical director of the Preventive and Rehabilitative Cardiac Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Merz continues to study the effect of meditation on heart disease.

-Preliminary results of a study on meditation and binge-eating disorder showed that meditation can help people “reconnect” with their mind and body to understand when to eat and when to stop.

Mindfulness meditation can help those with the disorder gain control over their eating habits, said Jean Kristeller, professor of psychology and director of the Center for the Study of Health, Religion and Spirituality at Indiana State University in Terra Haute, Ind.

This research joins an increasing body of knowledge based on science rather than on religious beliefs, whether rooted in Buddhism or Christianity. Religious elements can be present in meditation, but it’s also possible to practice meditation without them.

Some meditators in hospital settings say the turning point for meditation in medical practice came after 1975, when Harvard University researcher Dr. Herbert Benson first wrote about the value of meditation in treating illnesses in the book “The Relaxation Response.”

Meditation already is an essential part of the Dr. Dean Ornish program for reversing heart disease, which impressed Lechtman and her husband, Max.

This year, the Lechtmans took weekly beginner meditation classes taught by Martha Jensen at UCI Medical Center in Orange. In these classes, Jensen teaches a range of meditation techniques in sets of four weekly sessions.

Meditation practitioner Cheryl Medicine Song-Procaccini also introduces participants to various meditation techniques in monthly classes at the Cordelia Knott Center for Wellness in Orange, which is affiliated with the oncology and breast centers of St. Joseph Hospital.

At Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, Calif., meditation is part of a stress-management program offered by the hospital’s cardiac rehab services.

People with medical conditions such as cancer or heart diseases take the classes, as well as those who want to deal with stress, according to Jensen and Procaccini.

“Everything we learn in the meditation chair we can use in everyday life,” Procaccini said. “As we strengthen our concentration, we become less reactive to what’s happening to everything outside of ourselves.”

It’s important for beginners to be exposed to different types of meditation to find one that’s right for them, Jensen said.

One person may find walking meditation effective, while another may prefer to use a mandala, a symbol upon which one concentrates. Some choose to chant a mantra or repeat a prayer or word, such as peace or calm.

A common mistake some novices make is to try a type of meditation and not like it, then give up without experimenting with other ways.

Not surprisingly, time – not motivation – is the biggest obstacle to maintaining the practice of meditation, said Dr. Wadie Najm, associate professor of family medicine at UCI. Longtime practitioners recommend meditating twice a day for 20 minutes each time. “It’s not as quick as taking medication,” said Najm, who has recommended meditation to some patients. It requires a time commitment, much as exercise does.

Sometimes, meditation helps the body and mind so much that patients can reduce their dosage of medications, such as drugs to reduce blood pressure or stress and anxiety, Najm said. In a few cases, meditation has proved so effective that it picks up where medication leaves off.

To maintain the state of equanimity that sometimes results from meditation, meditators have to “Meditation is not about getting rid of difficult experiences or feelings. It’s about learning to cope continue practicing throughout life. Even longtime meditators are never completely rid of intrusive thoughts and distractions, but with practice, are better able to deal with them, Walsh said.

“The biggest myth is that if one learns to meditate, one will never feel upset,” Procaccini said. with them. We learn to develop a more accepting outlook, with less resistance to life.”

HOW TO MEDITATE

There are many ways to meditate. Here is one to try. If you are unable to complete this for 20 minutes, do not worry. Relax and do as much as you can:

Choose a quiet place.

Sit, as if on a throne, with dignity and stability. Allow breath to move gently through your body. Let each breath be like a sigh, bringing calmness and relaxation.

Be aware of what feels closed and constricted in your body, mind and heart. With each breath, let space open up those closed-in feelings. Let your mind expand into space. Open your mind, emotions and senses. Note whatever feelings, images, sensations and emotions come to you.

Each time a thought carries you away, return to your sense of connection with the Earth. Feel as if you were sitting on a throne in the heart of your world. Appreciate moments of stability and peace. Reflect on how emotions, feelings and stories appear and disappear. Focus on your body and rest for a moment in the equanimity and peace.

Sit this way for 10 minutes.

Slowly stand up and take a few steps, walking with the same awareness as when you were sitting.

-Source: “The Meditation Year,” by Jane Hope (Storey Books)

LEARN MORE

“Meditation for Optimum Health,” by Jon Kabat-Zinn and Dr. Andrew Weil (Sounds True): This two-CD set is a first-timer’s guide to the principles and practice of meditation. Call (800) 333-9185

“The Relaxation Response,” by Dr. Herbert Benson (Quill): The classic primer on the link between meditation and health. Not a guide on how to meditate.

“The Meditation Year,” by Jane Hope (Storey Books): A beautifully rendered seasonal guide that describes various ways to meditate.

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Meditation now being used for health benefits

Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, Indiana: Five adults gathered in a northeast Miami library one recent evening to learn a meditation technique that spans centuries and continents, from India to Aventura, from the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to the Beatles.

Carlos and Sylvia Ranalli weren’t there for spiritual reasons. They were hoping transcendental meditation, or TM, could help them calm, focus and relieve stress.

They’re indicative of a nationwide trend, as meditation is now taught in health clubs, schools, offices, even prisons. The technique was featured in a recent Time magazine, which reported that 10 million Americans practice some form of meditation. In South Florida, professors are investigating the relationship between meditation and the ability to negotiate.

In contrast to its religious roots, today’s meditation is buoyed less by spiritual figures than by scientific studies documenting health benefits.

”If you go back 30 years, what was meditation? Meditation was a thing a bunch of hippies did,” said Doug Kruger, regional representative for the Science of Spirituality.

”Now, it’s not uncommon to walk into large corporations and see meditation classes,” he continued. “It’s become much more popular in the West, but it has lost its spiritual side.”

At the recent TM lecture, instructor Mike Scozzari, a graying man in a pressed shirt, handed out packets of photocopied medical studies and newspaper articles on meditation.

Trained in Spain and Switzerland with TM founder Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Scozzari said he has been teaching meditation since 1972.

TM is one of dozens of meditation techniques — some concentrate on breathing, others call for focusing on a specific place or a third eye, while some try to solve an impossible riddle (for instance, what is the sound of one hand clapping?). But TM is the most widely researched form, and also one of the most popular, practiced by 1.5 million Americans.

Maharishi, who taught TM to the Beatles, received a degree in physics before he started teaching meditation in 1955. Two years later, he founded the TM movement, which comes from ancient Hindu traditions, in Madras, India.

With a background bridging science and spirituality, Maharishi urged researchers to probe meditation. And he emphasized that TM must be standardized — each instructor teaches the same set of skills.

Maharishi’s appeal to science is evident in the way Scozzari opened his talk, by calling TM a ”mechanical technique,” not a religion.

Often, Scozzari said, this is a concern. He remembered one woman who signed up for lessons, then canceled after her pastor told her not to go.

Despite the real link between meditation and some religions, Scozzari compares meditation to math.

TM is a mantra-based meditation technique, which means that one meditates by repeating a meaningless sound assigned by the instructor. Repeating the mantra allows the mind to stop working and settle naturally into a rhythm.

”You lose awareness of your surroundings, who’s at the door and who’s on the phone,” he said.

You can do it anywhere, eyes closed, in any comfortable position. In contrast to other types of meditation, TM doesn’t involve concentration. If you work hard, you’re doing something wrong, Scozzari is fond of telling students. “In this method, you change what you think with, you don’t change what you think about.”

GOOD RESULTS

It worked for Alexandra Peters of Sunny Isles. She was stressed and struggling after moving from New York to Miami with her baby daughter over a year ago, and meditation helped her return to her ”intuitive” self, she said.

When Susi Deneroff comes home from work ”frazzled to death,” she meditates for 20 minutes by repeating a mantra, and then feels reinvigorated.

”Meditation saved my life,” said Deneroff, who has a family history of heart disease, but is 60 and healthy.

Adeyela Albury, who investigates sexual harassment claims for Miami-Dade Public Schools, started taking a meditation class with her daughter when the 12-year-old started having panic attacks. Since then, the daughter’s grades have improved, and Albury’s high blood pressure has decreased.

”It allows me to be loving but detached,” she said. “Once you learn the technique, you literally can lock in within a second to center your mind and body.”

RESEARCH

Science has tried to put a finer point on it, with rigorous studies — hundreds on transcendental meditation — beginning in the 1970s.

A 1972 paper by Harvard Medical School researchers, part of the packet Scozzari hands out, reported that metabolism and the need for oxygen drop during meditation. These findings, along with monitoring electrical activity of meditators’ brains, show meditation is a distinctly different state from sleep.

It also seems to have long-term benefit. Studies measuring the biological markers of aging — blood pressure, vision and hearing — found that meditators were younger than their chronological age.

Earlier this month at a cardiology conference in Orlando, researchers presented studies on the effect of TM on blood pressure. Among 150 black men and women divided into groups taught health education, TM or muscle relaxation, blood pressure dropped the most in the group that meditated. One suggested theory: meditation reduces stress-related hormones believed to contribute to high blood pressure.

”If the mind can contribute to heart disease, then the mind can contribute to healing heart disease,” said Dr. Robert Sneider, the study’s principal investigator.

It’s meditation’s effect on mental health that interests Clark Freshman, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law, who meditates regularly. Freshman is investigating how meditation affects the ability to negotiate successfully. The link, he said, is that people who report being in a ”positive mood” are more successful negotiators, and people are often in a ”slightly better mood” after meditating.

”It’s not quite a high, it’s just a sense of complete ease,” Freshman said. “It’s a calmness and pleasantness, unlike anything I’d ever felt before.”

The meditators meeting at the Aventura library used similar terms. One suggested ”restful, blissful.” One said he no longer feels the desire for cigarettes or alcohol. Another described it as ”orgasmic.” They all agreed.

[Original article no longer available.]
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Putting Meditation Under the Microscope (Hartford Courant)

Hartford Courant: Marietta Sabetta decided that the way to make a stand against her moderately high blood pressure was to sit still.

The 52-year-old Seymour woman asked her doctor if she could try lowering her blood pressure by taking a meditation class at Griffin Hospital.

On most Wednesday evenings since last March, she has followed instructor Lauren Liberti through a series of mindfulness exercises, beginning with simple yoga positions and leading to a meditation session that might, on a given night, involve simply focusing on the breath.

“My doctor thought it was a great idea,” Sabetta said. “It feels comfortable and peaceful, and it’s very, very strengthening emotionally.”

And her blood pressure? It’s down to normal, she says, thanks to meditation.

It’s been more than three decades since Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard University and his colleagues found that meditation induces a calming state that is the opposite of the revved-up, heart-pounding “fight or flight” reaction to stress. Because everyone agreed that stress was bad, hard evidence that meditation fought stress established meditation as a healthful practice.

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Since then, meditation has moved from the ashram to the living room. Time magazine recently reported that about 10 million Americans say they practice some form of meditation. While meditation — from guided imagery to mindfulness exercises — is widely used in health care, researchers now are looking beyond meditation’s stress-relieving virtues to see how it may help rewire the brain’s circuitry and treat or prevent a host of specific ailments.

Richard J. Davidson, a research professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin and director of the university’s Keck Laboratory for Functional Brain Imaging and Behavior, is one of the leaders in this still-embryonic field. He said it is growing rapidly, thanks to recent advances in brain imaging and brain science.

“It’s an approach rooted much more [than in the past] in the neuroscience research tradition,” he said. “It is research that emphasizes the emotional benefits of meditation and corresponding changes in brain and peripheral biology that may be associated with the cultivation of certain kinds of positive emotions that meditation is said to increase.”

Davidson was the lead author of a recent, much-publicized study that measured brain activity in subjects before, immediately after and four months after they completed an eight-week training program in mindfulness meditation. A group of 25 meditators, taught to cultivate deep awareness of thoughts and feelings, showed heightened brain activity in an area associated with “positive effect,” or happiness, compared with a group of 18 non-meditators. After the study, both groups got flu shots. The meditators produced up to 25 percent more antibodies to influenza. The results suggest that the brain changes might be related to a boost in the immune system.

Davidson and his colleagues also have been using brain-imaging technology to examine the brains of some of the world’s most experienced meditators — Tibetan Buddhist monks, who are being studied with the blessing of the Dalai Lama. (Davidson helped organize a Sept. 13 meeting between leading scientists and the Dalai Lama at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.)

The work has not yet been published, but Davidson wrote last year that one monk showed intense activity in a part of the brain associated with happiness, scoring higher than nearly 200 other individuals who had been observed.

Other studies being conducted across the country are examining how various forms of meditation might help treat or prevent a number of illnesses. These include, for example, heart disease in specific populations, binge eating and recurrent abdominal pain. Other projects are evaluating meditation as a way to improve the quality of life for patients with cancer and various stages of HIV and to reduce seniors’ susceptibility to shingles.

Much of the research is being sponsored by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health. Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, said the field is expanding, thanks, in part, to the role of the NIH. Katz said the NIH has determined that practices like meditation need to be backed up with credible science, “which means that you have [scientific] outcomes that can hold their head up in public,” he said. Good science, said Katz, also makes believers of health plans, which can fold proven practices into the services they will provide to members.

Doctors who now encourage patients to meditate acknowledge that it’s often trickier than prescribing drugs.

Dr. Stephen Sinatra, a Manchester cardiologist, said that he’s not that fussy about what kind of meditation his patients take up, as long as it suits them. For example, if they’re Catholic, he’ll ask if they are adverse to prayer. “If they say, `No,’ I tell them to just say `Hail Mary, full of grace’ over and over again,” he said.

One of his patients, Jilline Miceli, 64, formerly of South Windsor and now of Bonita Springs, Fla., was diagnosed with congestive heart failure three years ago and became a heart transplant candidate in 2001. She credits meditation — along with drug treatment, yoga and her family’s and friends’ prayers — with helping to get her off the transplant list.

Dr. Karen Prestwood, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington, regularly teaches a mind-body skills group at the health center that meets for two hours a week for 10 weeks. She uses both what she calls passive forms of meditation — such as mindfully noticing thoughts that arise — and active forms, like “chaotic breathing,” which involves breathing techniques and body movement.

Lucille Meinsler of Hartford, an administrative program coordinator in the health center’s psychiatry department, took the class that began last March. Meinsler settled on using a compact disc with a narrated, guided meditation. “I found it was too hard to sit there and think,” she said of silent meditation. But her guided meditation practice — which she tries to do every other day — has helped curb sleeplessness brought on by menopause. She finds it also helps her focus in her waking life.

Prestwood observes that plenty of patients have no interest in meditation. “They would rather take a pill,” she said.

Ultimately, whether meditation is prescribed, and if so, what kind, may be dictated both by the patient’s preferences and also by the particular ailment. Davidson of the University of Wisconsin said future research may show that a particular form of meditation works best to help treat or prevent a given illness. Benson, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard who also is founding president of the Mind-Body Medical Institute, said he believes that all effective forms of meditation induce what he calls the relaxation response, characterized by lowered blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate and metabolism.

“That is simply a doorway that clears the mind,” he said, noting that the relaxation response is the starting point for advanced meditative states that may be able to address specific health problems.

Davidson cautions that the in-depth study of meditation is new. It’s too early to make any claims about physical healing. The research underway isn’t simply about proving how healthful meditation is. Some techniques, when tried out against certain maladies or as an adjunct to other therapies, will undoubtedly fail. And there is the danger, as with any self-care practice, that patients may blame themselves for not meditating well enough if their disease gets worse.

“I think there are going to be certain kinds of diseases that are completely unresponsive to anything you do with your mind,” he said, adding that certain kinds of cancer are probably among those illnesses. “This needs to be approached extremely carefully and with the utmost responsibility.”

Meditation classes are offered in area community centers, adult education programs, yoga studios, schools and through many religiously affiliated groups and centers.

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