Dr Dean Ornish

Mindfulness meditation: Key to a longer, stress-free life?

Oliver Ubeda, Synapse: During my first year of pharmacy school, I attended an alternative medicine Saturday elective where Dr. Dean Ornish spoke about the benefits of meditation and the effect it has on lengthening our chromosomal telomeres.

Telomeres are portions of repetitive DNA at the ends of our chromosomes that protect our chromosomes from deteriorating.

Meditation was the focus of research at UC Davis and UCSF by Nobel Prize winner Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD, and others as part of the Shamatha project.

The 2011 study found that meditation increased activity of telomerase — enzymes that can rebuild and lengthen our chromosomal telomeres…

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Getting High: On Drugs, Medication Or Meditation?

Huffington Post: We all seek that rush or high, the feel-good factor that turns us on and makes us feel that we can succeed and even conquer the world. Getting high is one of the great pleasures of life and that is why so many people find different ways to do it, whether through alcohol, the use of recreational drugs, such as marijuana, or prescription drugs, such as pain killers, all of which aim at altering our consciousness enough that our present reality becomes workable and even enjoyable.

In 2007 66% of high school seniors regularly drank alcohol, 31% smoked dope, while 10% used other opiates. Among adults, according to data from the 2006 National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) 112 million Americans (45% of the population) reported illicit drug use at least once, 15% reported use of a drug within the past year, and 8% reported use of a drug within the past month. Vicadin is one of the most widely prescribed painkillers and it is used and abused by teenagers and adults alike.

This adds up to a lot of people and, as we all know, reported statistics are often very short of the mark. Most of us have “inhaled” at least once. Although pot is a party drug and in some cases considered sacred weed, there are also many known side effects, such as addiction (Ed remembers his friend Judy saying, “I’m not addicted; I’ve just been smoking grass for 20 years.”), mental disturbance, and erratic behavior. Vicadin is now likely to be banned, along with Percocet, because it is detrimental to the liver, while alcohol is damaging not only to the liver but also to relationships.

In his twenties in NYC, Ed was a part of the generation that took drugs freely and often. It was a time of Be Ins and Love Ins, when Ed hung out with Tim Leary and Ram Dass who promoted LSD, with poet Allen Ginsberg, and the author of One Flew Over The Cookoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey. Then he met Swami Satchidananda, who said that if the LSD pill can make you a saint then you should be able to take a pill to be a doctor, a lawyer, or a scientist, because being a saint is much more difficult than those! Satchidananda then introduced Ed to yoga and meditation.

“I was blown away with meditation as it didn’t have the side effects of dope — no laziness, munchies, or coming down. I realized this was a great alternative as I was getting just as high, but without the negatives. My mind was clear, alert and and focused.” Ed then went to India to train and his teacher there, Swami Satyananda, said how taking LSD was like shooting a bullet to Nirvana but not knowing how you got there, while meditation was like learning the route in detail.

The word meditation and the word medication have the same prefix derived from the Latin word medicus, meaning to care or to cure, indicating that meditation is the most appropriate medicine or antidote for stress; a quiet calmness is the most efficient remedy for a busy and overworked mind.

Our new book BE THE CHANGE – How Meditation Can Transform You and the World helps us to understand how we can become free without drugs — a natural high without the hangover!

Five Reasons Why Meditation is the Best Natural High

1. Rather than adding toxins into our system, meditation is a way to clean out.

2. Meditation purifies our nervous system and mind in such a way that we see our present reality with greater clarity. Creativity is enhanced and solutions to difficulties arise so we can be with whatever is happening, rather than trying to hide from it.

3. The madness of the mind is likened to a drunken monkey bitten by a scorpion. With meditation, this begins to calm down and we can make friends and peace with our mind, so we can be free of the craziness.

4. Meditation opens our heart to love, joy and compassion, and there certainly isn’t anything as high as the power of love!

5. Meditation gets us high on life. It enables us to enjoy life to it’s fullest, to enjoy breathing, walking, a sunset, and the simple beauty of being alive!

What high moments have you experienced? Do let us know, as we would love to hear from you! You can receive notice of our blogs every Thursday by checking Become a Fan at the top.

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Ed and Deb Shapiro’s new book, BE THE CHANGE, How Meditation Can Transform You And The World, forewords by the Dalai Lama and Robert Thurman, with contributors such as Marianne Williamson, astronaut Edgar Mitchell, Byron Katie, Michael Beckwith, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jane Fonda, Jack Kornfield, Ellen Burstyn, Ed Begley, Dean Ornish, Russell Bishop, Gangaji and others, will be published November 3rd 2009 by Sterling Ethos.

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The flexible approach (Sydney Morning Herald, Australia)

Jacqueline Maley, Sydney Morning Herald, Australia: Celebrities have embraced it. Bookstores are bursting with literature about it, and converts evangelise about its benefits. The practice of yoga has taken off in the West, 5000 or so years after the philosophy was codified by the Indian scholar Patanjali.

Although many students of yoga report myriad benefits to their physical and mental health, it has yet to be embraced by mainstream medicine as a valid form of treatment.

But Dr Craig Hassed, a senior lecturer in the department of general practice at Monash University, says yoga is “one of the most, if not the most, comprehensive approach to lifestyle management of all the traditional healing systems”.

Yoga is an effective tool in maintaining the mind/body balance, which is integral to general health, he says.

“Positive emotional states are associated with greater resistance to disease, better recovery from illness and a better ability to cope with illness,” he explains.

On the other hand, he says, negative emotional states have been proven to lead to a lower resistance to infection and higher risk of illnesses, such as heart disease, auto-immune disorders and inflammatory arthritis…

As proof of yoga’s benefits, Hassed points to a pivotal 1990 study by Dr Dean Ornish in the United States. Ornish tracked two groups of heart disease patients over a period of five years. The first group took medication only, and the second group took medication and also adopted a lifestyle based on yoga principles – incorporating exercise, meditation, diet and relaxation.

The five-year follow-up study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1997, showed the medication-only group had experienced 2 times as many “major cardiac events” (ie heart attack or death) as the yoga-lifestyle group.

“He was the first person to prove heart disease is reversible,” Hassed says.

And he did it using yoga principles.

Professor Avni Sali, the foundation head of the Graduate School of Integrative Medicine at Swinburne University in Melbourne, believes the “stillness”, or meditation part of yoga, usually practised after postures have been completed, is the most beneficial part of the yoga program.

Sali has conducted studies to show yoga meditation can reduce levels in the blood of the stress hormone cortisol.

“If your stress hormones are down and your immune system is working better, you are less likely, theoretically, to get cancer,” he says.

Hassed says the reduction in stress levels, by means such as meditation, can also assist in controlling diabetes, which can be exacerbated by stress. He emphasises, however, yoga can never be a replacement for insulin.

Yoga can also be useful for treating adult diabetes.

“[Type 2] diabetes is very much an illness of modern Western lifestyle, so yoga is a powerful intervention for lifestyle diabetes,” he says.

Yoga meditation is also the basis of research conducted by Dr Ramesh Manocha, a research fellow at the Natural Therapies Unit at the Royal Hospital for Women in Randwick.

Manocha focused on sahaja yoga, a method of meditation developed by Shrimataji Nirmala Devi in India in the 1970s.

He has just finished a seven-year doctoral research project “aimed at the answering the question: does meditation work in any way – body, mind, spirit, whatever?”

“You have this discrepancy,” Manocha explains, “the public has a very positive perception about meditation but when you actually look at the scientific literature, the scientific literature doesn’t agree.”

He set out to investigate the discrepancy by taking about 60 people with severe asthma and randomly allocating them to two treatment groups. One group underwent a standard, government-approved stress management program, involving counselling, breathing techniques and relaxation. The other group were taught sahaja yoga techniques.

The findings, published in the medical journal Thorax, were that the emotional state of the sahaja group – measured using psycho-metric questionnaires – was two times better than that of the stress management group.

The sahaja group also demonstrated significantly lesser degree of irritation in the lungs. The other group showed no change.

“There was significant evidence indicating that the actual physical disease was . . . influenced, and it wasn’t just the participants’ subjective impressions which were changing,” he says.

At the Sydney Menopause Centre, Manocha has also used sahaja to treat a group of women suffering hot flushes. The women had about a 70 per cent reduction in their hot flushes over eight weeks, he says.

Last year, he tried the technique on a group of children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

“In six weeks, we had them sitting down for 20 minutes at a time and relating better to their friends and family,” he says. Three of the children were able to stop their medication after attending the clinic.

Dr Luis Vitetta, the deputy head and director of research at Swinburne’s Graduate School of Integrative Medicine, supervised another study involving yoga and children. One group of children was given reading to do and the other was led through yoga exercises.

There was a reduction in anxious mood in the yoga group, but measurements of cortisol levels in the children were inconclusive.

Vitetta says this only serves to show that yoga is not a quick fix. “You need to do yoga over a long period of time,” he says. “You don’t take yoga as you take a pill.”

Practised over long periods, there is some evidence yoga can help people with cancer, anxiety, depression, Vitetta says. It can even help you quit smoking, by “teaching people a unity of mind and body”.

“Yoga exists in the domain of mind/body medicine,” he says. “The mind/body connection is at the centre of health, whether you want to believe it or not.”

But doctors admit the benefits of yoga are not always taken seriously, especially when it comes to meditation and “mental stillness”.

Hassed says although yoga is becoming more widely accepted as a form of therapy, there is still very little about yoga in medical education. “Relative to its potential health benefits and a growing body of research, it seems to be under-represented in the health care system,” he says.

He argues governments should take notice of yoga, if not for the sake of patients, then for the cost savings it delivers.

During Ornish’s yoga/heart disease project, Hassed says an insurance company worked out that $83,000 was saved per patient, three years after they began the yoga treatment.

Avni believes it is the holistic nature of yoga which prevents it from gaining due recognition. That, and the fact that it receives minimal research funding, because there is no “product” and hence no pharmaceutical company, associated with yoga.

“You can’t put yoga in a bottle and sell it,” he says. “It’s the responsibility of the government to fund it.”
What is yoga

Yoga is a Hindu discipline and philosophy that has been practised in India for more than 5000 years. In the West, “yoga” is used to refer to the exercises only, but yoga is actually an entire lifestyle system, involving meditation, diet and good works. It was codified in the second century in a book called the Yoga Sutras.

HATHA

The generic term for the physical postures and exercise part of the entire yoga philosophy. Hatha is also describe a gentle, traditional style of yoga.

BIKRAM

Also called “hot” yoga, conducted in rooms heated to 38 degrees or more to aid muscle stretching. It is very dynamic and involves the repetition of 26 set asanas, or poses. Not for beginners.

ASHTANGA

A very physical form of “power”, yoga based on the original texts of Patanjali, the founder of yoga. Ashtanga is physically demanding, involving fast movement and breathing.

IYENGAR

Focuses on ideal body alignment and posture. It is rigorous but gentle. Practitioners use props such as straps and wooden blocks to aid flexibility.
Roma’s a picture of health

Roma Blair spent three years in a Japanese prison camp in the Dutch East Indies in World War II. In that time, she gave birth with no doctor present, was given stitches without an anaesthetic and contracted two types of dysentery. Sometimes, she coughed up worms.

After the war, Blair was living in South Africa when her doctor referred her to a local yoga swami to help her with her ongoing health problems.

“I was nervous and in pain,” she says. “I was a very sick lady, but I’m very, very healthy today,” she says.

Blair believes yoga cured her. She was so impressed that when she returned to Australia in 1957, she established the Roma Blair yoga clubs in Sydney.

From 1959, she began filming yoga exercise shows for Channel Nine and featured in magazine lift-outs.

In 1966, she went to India and was made the first female Australian swami by Swami Satyananada.

Since then Blair, 80, has published six books on yoga, made two videos and four records.

Swarmi Sarasvati is also one of the longest-practising yoga experts in in Australia.

Sarasvati practises what she calls “complete lifestyle yoga” which is an integrated yoga, combining meditation, physical exercise and karma yoga (self reflection and doing good works).

She believes yoga can be useful in treating a range of illnesses, from stress-related complaints such as headache, insomnia and heart problems, to breathing difficulties and people with musculoskeletal pain.

Read the rest of the article…

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CDC: Alternative medicine gains popularity (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

Alternative medicine — including yoga, meditation, herbs and the Atkins diet — appears to be growing in popularity in the United States, perhaps because of dissatisfaction with conventional care, the government said Thursday.

More than a third of American adults used such practices in 2002, according to the government survey of 31,000 people, the largest study on non-conventional medical approaches in the United States.

If prayer is included, about 62 percent of U.S. adults used some form of alternative medicine.

The results seem to indicate more people are turning to alternative medicine, though the 2002 survey could not be directly compared to previous studies because of differences in size and survey methods, health officials said.

The top alternative therapies included prayer (43 percent of adults), natural products (19 percent), meditation (8 percent) and diets such as Atkins, Ornish, or the Zone (4 percent).

More people also are using natural products such as herbs or enzymes to treat chronic or recurring pain, said Richard Nahin of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health.

“Many conditions are not easily treated with conventional medicine,” Nahin said. “It may be the public is turning to complementary and alternative medicine because it’s not getting relief from conventional medicine.”

But people should not be turning away from conventional treatments that are proven safe, said Dr. Stephen Straus, director of the alternative medicine center.

“People are making individual decisions to neglect those therapies and we have concerns about those choices,” he said.

Health officials said they were concerned that 13 percent of those surveyed said they turned to alternative medicine because regular medicine is too expensive.

“It needs to be explored _ we need to find out whether they were insured or not,” Nahin said.

Health officials also were surprised that 6.6 percent of those surveyed used the supplement kava kava, which has been associated with liver disease.

“People make the assumption that because something is natural that it’s safe,” Nahin said. “But a number of studies have shown that natural products can be unsafe when used inappropriately or with other drugs.”

He said people considering using alternative medicine should consult their doctor first.

Alternative options

The 10 most commonly used forms of alternative medicine in the U.S., according to a 2002 government survey:

– Prayer for own health: 43 percent

– Prayer by others for patient’s health: 24 percent

– Natural products (herbs, botanicals, enzymes): 19 percent

– Deep breathing exercises: 12 percent

– Prayer group participation: 10 percent

– Meditation: 8 percent

– Chiropractic care: 8 percent

– Yoga: 5 percent

– Massage: 5 percent

– Diet-based therapies (Atkins, Pritikin, Ornish, Zone diets): 4 percent

Source: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Original article no longer available.

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Yoga, more popular than ever, flexes body and mind (Seattle Times)

Tyrone Beason, Seattle Times: Ever since Oprah featured a segment on yoga and Madonna beat back her nasty side with namastes, Americans can’t get enough of the ancient Indian practice.

Though 5,000 years old, yoga has boomed in recent years, with private instructors, gyms, community centers, even churches offering classes to help people wind down, focus, get limber and stay fit.

Yoga Journal magazine estimates that 15 million people in the United States practice yoga, twice as many as five years ago.

The nationally recognized instructor Aadil Palkhivala said when he opened Yoga Centers in Bellevue, Wash., 12 years ago, his was the only such facility in the area. Today there are dozens of yoga studios – “within walking distance,” he joked.

So what’s behind the yoga craze?

For starters, Americans are more passionate about fitness in general, instructors say. At the same time, yoga’s exotic image has transformed into one that appeals to mainstream, Western tastes.

More important, yoga seems to work.

Yoga emphasizes stretching, building core body strength, controlled breathing, enhanced circulation and deep relaxation.

For these reasons, doctors in this country have started to recommend yoga for their patients based on its value as a fitness routine alone. Coupled with meditation, it is also used to reduce stress and high blood pressure, bolster the immune system and even treat depression. Many cancer and AIDS patients, as well as pregnant women, practice yoga. More vigorous types of yoga – which induce increased heart rates and sweating – have become popular among people who want to lose weight.

“There are very few people, from kids on up to seniors, who wouldn’t benefit from it,” said Dr. Peter McGough, chief of the University of Washington Medicine Factoria Clinic.

McGough noted yoga’s positive effects on musculoskeletal disorders – such as arthritis – in particular.

But while studies in India, Europe and the United States point to yoga’s potential benefits in a number of areas, even some yoga supporters concede more research is needed to track its long-term effects.

Yoga has become so commonplace that it’s easy to lose sight of its roots and original purpose. The word itself is a Sanskrit expression that refers to a “yoke” or “union.” As both a philosophy for living and a physical exercise, yoga unites the mind, body and spirit, bringing mental clarity, health and balance, its adherents say.

The ultimate goal of a yoga student is to reach a state of enlightenment, or ecstasy, through disciplined meditation.

But most Americans practice some form of hatha yoga, which focuses on breathing exercises and striking complex poses, or “asanas,” that encourage flexibility, balance, strength and good energy flow through the body. Traditionally, hatha yoga serves as a foundation for other, more cerebral types.

“Hatha yoga is just the bait,” Palkhivala said in his soothing, breathy delivery. “The mind is much more subtle and the emotions even more subtle.” As students learn the physical techniques and begin to feel the benefits, he said, some may want to venture deeper.

Palkhivala says yoga has become popular as more and more people grapple to find a real purpose in their lives, something to aspire to. They’re seeking spiritual fitness, as well as elastic hamstrings. He believes it’s important for people to shop around for an instructor who can teach not just physical techniques but yoga’s deeper principles.

“There is an urge to find something greater than the humdrum repetition of an unfulfilling existence,” he insisted. “People are beginning to ask the question, ‘So what?’ ”

Whether or not people reach an end to spiritual suffering through yoga, its physical effects alone keep people coming back.

“What yoga does is it moves the body in all different directions,” without the repetitive motion of say, an aerobics routine, said Joseph Rodin, director of Northwest Yoga Festival, a four-day event featuring lectures, yoga classes and performances at Seattle Center that kicks off tomorrow. “It takes your body through its full range of motion.”

Doctors and physical therapists agree yoga benefits a variety of age groups, body types and physical conditions, but they are reluctant to rank it higher than other forms of exercise.

Some people get more pleasure from – and are therefore more likely to stick with – aerobics, pilates or sports, which also promote fitness and stress relief.

New yoga styles are springing up all the time to accommodate different needs, including some people’s desire for a routine that gets the blood pumping.

One of the hottest – literally and figuratively – is bikram yoga, which uses high room temperatures to loosen muscles and promote the release of toxins through sweat.

Whereas the iyengar style of yoga taught at Palkhivala’s studio emphasizes meditation and holding individual poses for long periods to perfect form, bikram yoga involves a set of 26 poses that flow from one to the other. The faster pace and saunalike conditions offer a stimulating cardiovascular workout.

At The Sweat Box on Seattle’s Capitol Hill, “Hot Yoga” instructors crank up the heat to 105-110 degrees Fahrenheit for each 90-minute class in the bikram style.

It may sound excruciating, but the studio’s co-founder, Frankie Oser, said more than 2,300 students have taken classes in 3 1/2 years of business, and many of those are repeat customers.

Oser said Hot Yoga helps deliver more blood to muscles, speeds the breakdown of glucose and fatty acids, improves coordination, makes muscles less prone to injury, reduces heart irregularities and burns fat.

It’s a total body experience, Oser said, “from head to toe, inside and out. … Your whole body is worked out every time you come in.”

McGough advises people with pre-existing medical conditions or who are on certain types of medication – blood-pressure drugs, for example – to consult a doctor before joining a particular yoga class, just to make sure the style is appropriate for them.

While yoga instructors usually ask students about medical concerns before classes begin, most are not equipped to do in-depth screenings. It’s up to the student to bring up any issues.

A person who has especially tight hamstrings, for example, may want to avoid yoga routines that call for strenuous forward bends, because this might lead to injury.

Another aspect of yoga classes that may attract people is the lack of competitiveness.

While yoga students strive to be more self-aware, they also work at being less self-conscious in relation to those around them.

But to eliminate the social pressure altogether, some yoga students prefer one-on-one sessions.

Many instructors offer classes in studios built onto their homes or in neighborhood storefronts. In settings like these, the feeling is more intimate and the embarrassment of making a mistake is minimal, since nobody’s watching.

Jo Leffingwell, a former Seattle theater actress, exercised patience and grace as she coached this reporter through a series of warm-up stretches, breathing exercises and iyengar poses, followed by 10 minutes of meditation and a lesson in yoga teachings, at her studio in Seattle.

Leffingwell explained that just as a person’s mind has tendencies and cravings that lead to an imbalanced life, that person’s body has tendencies that can lead to physical imbalance, discomfort and pain. It could be shortness of breath, an inability to twist in one direction, or simple tightness in the back or legs resulting from a lack of exercise, stress or a previous injury. Yoga, she said, “shows you what the tendencies are in your body and brings you back to a more balanced state.”

She encourages her students, as they bend and flex into position, to take their time and truly “experience the posture.” If you can’t bend over and touch your ankles on the first few visits, or balance your body on one leg, that’s fine.

“What you’re trying to do is be present in your body, moment by moment,” she said.

Leffingwell explained that an essential part of yoga study is learning sutras, or words of wisdom about yoga, the self and the universe, many of which have been passed along for thousands of years.

One prominent idea embodied in both the physical and mental aspects of yoga is the belief that inside each person is a being that “sees” everything clearly. Some might think of it as the conscience, or intuition.

The problem for many people, Leffingwell said, is that they make decisions that contradict their own higher instincts. They get swept away by a jumble of thoughts, memories, fears, frustrations, expectations and desires, and life loses focus and meaning.

While many experts are pleased that people are introducing themselves to more physical types of yoga, they say the greatest path to a healthy life is connecting with that inner being.

“Yoga helps bring out what you are,” Palkhivala said. “You have to face it, and sometimes it’s not pleasant.”

But if mastering yoga poses and getting a good workout are all you’re looking for, that’s OK, too, he said.

“The house is huge,” Palkhivala said, referring to all the yoga choices people have available to them. “Where you want to live in it is your choice.”

YOGA TIPS FROM THE EXPERTS

– Shop around and find an instructor whose technique and teaching style suit you. This is very important, instructors say. Many yoga teachers are poorly trained or don’t work well with clients. If you don’t have a good feeling about the first class or two, move on.

-Take it easy. Yoga is about self-awareness, but also patience. You shouldn’t expect to be able to perform every asana, or yoga pose, after a couple of tries. Some require a high level of flexibility, so you may have to work your way up to them. Trying too hard at the beginning also may lead to muscle and joint injury. Focus instead on breathing deeply and understanding how your body moves and where the most tension occurs. Let the instructor know about any past injuries and health concerns before the class begins.

-Don’t worry about your neighbors. Yoga is not a competitive sport, so if the student next to you can fold himself in half while standing, don’t be discouraged. Focus on your own ability level and progress.

-Go with your emotions. Yoga is ultimately about transcendence and liberation – from pain, memories, anxiety, this month’s household budget, everything that keeps you from being at peace with yourself. Think of yoga as a way of identifying obstacles in the mind and body and working through them.

YOGA GLOSSARY

-Yoga (YOH ga) – Sanskrit for “yoke” or “union,” in this case, a union of mind, body and spirit. There are eight progressive “limbs” in yoga ranging from moral discipline, self-restraint, posture, breath control, sensory inhibition, concentration and meditation to ecstasy, all leading to “liberation.”

-Asana (AH suh nuh) – A physical posture, or yoga pose.

-Hatha (HAH thuh) – The method of yoga most practiced in the United States, focusing on asanas and breathing skills. Many styles of yoga fit under this umbrella, from slower-paced iyengar yoga to flowing ashtanga yoga to bikram or “Hot Yoga.”

-Ashtanga (Ahsh TONG guh) – A type of yoga that uses a fast-paced series of postures in a nonstop sequence, providing a solid workout. A variation is called “Power Yoga.”

-Bikram (BEE krum) – Another flowing style of yoga that incorporates temperatures over 100 degrees to help loosen muscles and cleanse the body through sweat. Also called “Hot Yoga.”

-Viniyoga (VEN ee yo guh) – A milder category of yoga that is tailored to the emotional and physical needs of the student.

-Iyengar (I YEN gar) – This popular yoga features a slower pace, focusing on precision and proper alignment. Students breathe methodically and hold each posture for extended periods, working to refine them over time. Students can use props, such as blocks and straps, to help achieve their postures.

-Ananda (Ah NAHN da) – A more spiritual form of hatha yoga that uses breathing, postures, silent affirmations and meditation.

-Namaste (Nah mas TAY) – A traditional yoga salutation meaning, “I bow to you.” It’s one person’s humble recognition of another’s soul. To give the greeting, press the hands together at the chest, as in prayer, close your eyes, and bow your head. It’s OK, but not customary, to say the word aloud.

-Pranayama (Prah nah YA ma) – Breath-control exercise.

-Mantra (MAHN trah) – A sacred sound that has a transforming effect on the person saying it.

-Om – A common mantra, just one syllable but spoken in a deep, resonant, elongated breath.

-Sources: Yoga Journal, Joseph Rodin, Aadil Palkhivala and Jo Leffingwell

RESOURCES

-Yoga Journal has an online site with interviews and practical information on various types of yoga, as well a directory of yoga studios at www.yogajournal.com.

RECOMMENDED READING

-“Autobiography of a Yogi” (Self-Realization Fellowship Publishers, $6), by Paramahansa Yogananda.

-“The Healing Path of Yoga: Time-Honored Wisdom and Scientifically Proven Methods That Alleviate Stress, Open Your Heart, and Enrich Your Life” (Three Rivers Press, $17), by Nischala Joy Devi, Dean Ornish and Shaye Areheart.

-“Yoga RX : A Step-by-Step Program to Promote Health, Wellness, and Healing for Common Ailments” (Broadway, $17.95) by Larry Payne, Richard Usatine, Merry Aronson.

-“The Tree of Yoga,” (Shambhala, $13.95) by B.K.S. Iyengar.

Original 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.

[Original article no longer available.]
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Quiet the mind, heal the body

Hilary E. MacGregor, LA Times: Inside a church community room, beginning meditators close their eyes, straighten their spines in their folding metal chairs and try to rein in, for just 10 minutes, the thoughts that race like wild horses through their minds.

A woman in the back row yawns. The woman next to her fidgets. Another student sneaks a peek.

“My mind still wanders,” Jeremy Morelock, 33, says of the Buddhist meditation class he has attended for three months in search of stress relief and spiritual growth. “I have these imaginary conversations with people, and then I think, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa … concentrate!’ “

Regular meditation practice is supposed to quiet the mind and allow the body to tap into its own innate healing mechanisms. Yogis and monks have preached the powers of meditation for thousands of years, and the counterculture generation of the ’60s embraced transcendental meditation — a still-thriving form of internal mantra-chanting — as a method to alter consciousness.

But many people today are taking up meditation for reasons that have little or nothing to do with spiritual enlightenment and a lot to do with improving their health. Scientists are using MRI and other advanced technologies to study the physiological changes that occur in meditating Buddhist monks. These researchers are starting to demonstrate, with the type of laboratory science that can influence even skeptical physicians, what those who engage in this ancient practice have believed for many centuries: Meditation works.

A growing body of research has shown that meditation has clear benefits. Now, doctors and other health-care professionals are recommending meditation as a way to treat a variety of ills, from depression to high blood pressure and hyperactivity. In some cases, meditation — or as it’s sometimes called, “relaxation techniques” — is prescribed when other treatments, such as prescription drugs, haven’t worked, or as a complement to drug therapy. Recent research has shown that meditation can help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as reduce pain and enhance the body’s immune system.

Meditation is free, accessible and portable. It has no negative side effects — a fact that makes doctors feel comfortable recommending it. Meditation requires only that you be able to sit quietly for 10 minutes or more, while focusing on your breath or a word or phrase. Anyone can do it. And while millions of Americans already are meditating in some fashion, many more would likely benefit.

“I believe that meditation is the most important thing a person can do for their health,” said Dr. David Simon, medical director and chief executive of the Chopra Center at La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, Calif., the wellness clinic founded by New Age author and physician, Dr. Deepak Chopra. “The most powerful pharmacy on Earth is not Savon or Rite Aid, but the human body,” Simon said.

With so much evidence, why aren’t more people doing it?

As with many lifestyle changes, most notably diet and exercise, getting started and sticking with meditation can be difficult. Meditation takes time and discipline. Desperately seeking health or sanity, many stressed-out people yearn for some quiet time amid the chaotic frenzy of their daily lives. Finding 10 uninterrupted minutes and a quiet place to sit down and shut your eyes can be a stumbling block. It’s problematic to zone out in a cubicle at work, or at a restaurant during lunch. And home life can be hectic in these wired and wireless times.

No one knows for sure how many of those who begin meditating continue the practice. Gen Kelsang Lekma, a Buddhist nun who has taught meditation for a decade in Los Angeles, said the dropout rate is fairly high: Only about half the students who begin a typical 13-class series will complete it, she estimates, and perhaps two out of 10 students who begin meditating will still be doing so after a couple of years.

Students abandon the practice for a variety of reasons, Lekma said. Some don’t like it or can’t get the hang of it, and others lack the discipline to practice it regularly, usually daily. Some students are attracted to meditation out of a desire to learn something about Buddhist philosophy, but eventually lose interest.

How a person comes to meditation may also have an impact on his or her willingness to stick with it. For example, an increasing number of physicians are recommending meditation as a form of therapy to patients with heart disease, high blood pressure and even infertility. Dr. Herbert Benson, a Harvard University professor and president of the Mind/Body Medical Institute in Chestnut Hill, Mass., said that in his clinical experience, about 60% to 70% of those who begin a meditation-type practice primarily for medical reasons (sometimes at the recommendation of their doctor) adopt the teachings.

Proponents of the practice — from Buddhists to cardiologists — are trying to help more people work meditation into their daily lives. So what are the most effective approaches for starting meditation and ensuring you’ll stick with it?

The first step is to make the commitment, experts said. Learn about why it works physiologically and how it might benefit your health.

Published more than 25 years ago, Benson’s pioneering book, “The Relaxation Response,” showed how 10 minutes of meditative technique a day could increase concentration and counteract the harmful effects of stress, such as high blood pressure and strokes.

Considered by many to be the father of meditation in this country, Benson uses the phrase “relaxation response” to refer broadly to various meditation-type techniques — including prayer, qi gong, yoga and tai chi — that quiet the brain. The practices also counter the “fight-or-flight” response, which is triggered in stressful situations, and the accompanying secretion of norepinephrine, a hormone produced by the adrenal gland that, along with epinephrine, increases metabolism, blood pressure, mental activity and heart rate.

Newcomers need to stick with meditation long enough to make it a habit. Taking a meditation class or attending a meditation retreat can be a shortcut to feeling the positive effects of meditation faster and establishing a routine, experts said.

“Most people find it very difficult to begin a meditation practice on their own,” said Lekma, 37, resident teacher at the Echo Park Buddhist temple. “When you meditate with others, you get some kind of group dynamic going. When you get some people who are experienced, you kind of feed off it.”

Experts caution, however, that meditation won’t produce the immediate “hit,” such as reduced stress or increased energy, that a workout in the gym or other brisk exercise will do. Meditation takes time to learn, and even people who have been doing it for years still have times when their minds wander.

“The first few times you feel like an idiot doing it,” said Dr. Lee Lipsenthal, medical director of the Dr. Dean Ornish Program for Reversing Heart Disease and Lifestyle Advantage in Sausalito, Calif., who has meditated for 20 years and recommends meditation, along with diet and exercise changes, to patients with heart disease. “You are feeling anxious, your head is spinning, you are thinking you could be doing X, Y and Z, until you get the hang of it. That takes nearly six weeks of daily practice.”

Experts also stress the importance of new students choosing a meditation technique that conforms to their own belief system. This should make it easier to stick to the discipline over the long run. For a Catholic, it could be saying Hail Marys. For a Jew, it could be davening. For others, it could mean simply repeating a mantra-type phrase like “peace, love.” Finally, it is important to be patient and start slowly. Lekma, the Buddhist nun, suggests starting with tiny steps, such as a single weekly session with others, followed by a small personal commitment that you could stick to — for example, five to 10 minutes a day.

“People come in with a lot of enthusiasm, but have unrealistic expectations,” Lekma said. “Instead of taking very small steps they say, ‘I want to run a marathon.’ First you have to run half a block.”

A study recently conducted at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles showed how quickly those small steps can make a difference. The study, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and presented at the American Heart Assn. scientific sessions in Orlando, Fla., in November, found that patients with coronary heart disease who practiced transcendental meditation for the first time showed a significant improvement in their blood pressure and insulin resistance (pre-diabetes).

The 16-week study, conducted by Dr. Bairey Merz, of Cedars-Sinai, with Dr. Robert Schneider, director of the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention at the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, is the first to demonstrate this blood pressure effect in heart patients. Meditation was able to produce a benefit roughly equivalent to the use of one type of blood pressure medication, the researchers found.

Mario Farnier, 53, a biomedical researcher, was recovering from a 1999 heart attack when he was admitted to the hospital last August with chest pains and underwent an angioplasty procedure. He enrolled in the meditation study and, by the study’s end, had improved enough that his doctors were able to cut one of his medications by half.

“I must say, I felt good at the time of the study,” Farnier said. He continued meditating with others until the group study ended, but has found it more difficult to continue a regular practice on his own. He still meditates occasionally, shutting his office door for quiet, but finds it harder to make time to meditate than for the regular running workouts he has done for decades. “The more you think you need it, the less time you have to do it,” he said. “If the pressure is there I can’t do it. I say I’ll do it later, but by the end of the day I never do it.”

Most beginners say they continue to need help to carry on the practice. At a crowded Wednesday night meditation class at the Khandakapala Buddhist Center in Los Angeles, Dave Hernandez, a self-employed artist, sat cross-legged on a burgundy cushion and worked to tame his restless mind. “I tried meditating on my own,” he said. “But it’s just like a rocket ship taking off when you are meditating with other people. It’s really high. That high place is just harder to get to when you are on your own.”

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