immune system

Meditation slows progression of AIDS

Fitbrains.com: A recent study found that meditation may slow the progression of AIDS in just a few weeks. Researchers believe that meditation may help boost the immune system in combating the progression of the disease. This finding needs replication in a larger sample of patients, but it could offer a cost effective and relatively pleasant method to help people battle the terrible and progressive fatal condition. Read more here.

The stress lowering program known as “mindfulness meditation” was used. This type of meditation employs an open and receptive awareness of the present moment, avoiding thinking of the past or worrying about the future.

Researchers found the more often the patients meditated the higher their CD4-T Cell counts, a standard measure of how well the immune system is fighting the AIDS virus. The CD4 counts were measured before and after the two-month program. Researchers point out that this is the first study to indicate mindfulness meditation stress management training can have a direct impact on slowing HIV disease progression.

A larger issue here is that we are beginning to explore how the brain itself can begin to change the physiology of the body. Indeed I have speculated for some time that the brain has the ability to fix the body, we simply need to learn how. Perhaps we are on the right path!

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Meditation as a tool for good health and longevity

The Healthier Life: When you hear the word ‘meditation’ you may think of a bunch of Hippies trying to elevate themselves off the floor whilst listening to bells chiming and humming ‘Ohm’. Finally this general perception can be challenged scientifically. Latest research indicates that meditation is more than an antidote to the stress of modern living; it’s an important tool for health and longevity. Read more here.

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Compassion meditation may improve physical and emotional responses to psychological stress

Medical News Today: Data from a new study suggests that individuals who engage in compassion meditation may benefit by reductions in inf lammatory and behavioral responses to stress that have been linked to depression and a number of medical illnesses. This study focused on the effect of compassion meditation on inflammatory, neuroendocrine and behavioral responses to psychosocial stress, and evaluated the degree to which engagement in meditation practice influenced stress reactivity. Read more here.

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Stress can be good for your body (BBC)

BBC News: Getting stressed now and again may be good for your health, research suggests.

A short burst of stress, such as that caused by giving a speech, may strengthen your body’s immune system.

But long-term stress, such as living with a permanent disability, may render you less able to fight infections, say the study authors.

Dr Suzanne Segerstrom and Dr Gregory Miller report their findings in the journal Psychological Bulletin.

Scientists have known for some time that stress can have a negative effect on the body.

Now the American and Canadian pair from the University of Kentucky and the University of British Columbia say some psychological stress can be good for you….

Read the rest of this article…

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The Pursuit of Happiness (CBC News)

Eve Savory, CBC, Canada: Erin Gammel is a shoo-in for the Canadian Olympic swim team. Canadian record holder, champion backstroker – unless something wildly unexpected happens, she’s going to Athens.

But four years ago she was a sure bet for the Sydney Olympics, too.

“Everyone kept telling me you’re a shoo-in,” she says. “And we had the strategy and everything was perfect. And I thought this is it, I’m going to the Olympics.”

She was racing at the Olympic trials in Montreal. She hit the lane rope, lost her concentration and lost her place on the team.

“It was just extremely disappointing. I was depressed. I was just really sad. I was crying and I couldn’t control myself,” Gammel says.

Erin Gammel cried for two years. Help was to come in a way she would never have dreamed, from Dharamsala in Northern India, 5,000 kilometres and cultural eons away…

Dharamsala is the home in exile to thousands of Tibetans who followed the Dalai Lama, after China occupied Tibet.

For 25 centuries Tibetan Buddhists have practised and refined their exploration. For generations they probed their inner space with the same commitment with which western science explored the external world and outer space. The two inhabited separate worlds.

But now, they are finding common ground in a remarkable collaboration.

In March 2000, a select group of scientists and scholars journeyed to Dharamsala. They came to share insights and solutions – to human distress and suffering.

Among them was Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist from the University of Wisconsin. He finds nothing contradictory about doing science with Buddhists.

“There is almost a scientific-like attitude that is exemplified by Buddhist practitioners in investigating their own mind,” he says. “Their mind is the landscape of their own experimentation, if you will.”

The westerners had been invited by the Dalai Lama himself to his private quarters.

For five days, monks and scientists dissected what they call “negative emotions” – sadness, anxiety jealousy craving, rage – and their potential to destroy.

One of the participants, Daniel Goleman, author of the book Destructive Emotions, says, “As we were leaving the U.S. to come here the headline was a six-year-old who had a fight with a classmate and the next day he came back with a gun and shot and killed her. It’s very sad.”

Why would the scientists seek answers in Tibetan Buddhism?

Because its rigorous meditative practices seem to have given the monks an extraordinary resilience, an ability to bounce back from the bad things that happen in life, and cultivate contentment.

Richard Davidson’s lab is one of the world’s most advanced for looking inside a living brain. He’s recently been awarded an unprecedented $15-million (Cdn) grant to study, among other things, what happens inside a meditating mind.

“Meditation is a set of practices that have been around for more than 2,500 years, whose principal goal is to cultivate these positive human qualities, to promote flourishing and resilience. And so we think that it deserves to be studied with the modern tools of science,” Davidson says.

A little over a year later, in May 2001, the Dalai Lama returned the visit to Davidson’s lab in Madison, Wis.

His prize subjects – and collaborators – are the Dalai Lama’s lamas, the monks.

“The monks, we believe, are the Olympic athletes of certain kinds of mental training,” Davidson says. “These are individuals who have spent years in practice. To recruit individuals who have undergone more than 10,000 hours of training of their mind is not an easy task and there aren’t that many of these individuals on the planet.”

The Dalai Lama has said were he not a monk, he would be an engineer.

He brings that sensibility – the curiosity and intellectual discipline – to the discussion on EEGs and functional MRIs.

But this isn’t really about machines.

And it isn’t about nirvana.

It’s about down-to-earth life: about the distress of ordinary people – and a saner world.

“The human and economic cost of psychiatric disorder in western industrialized countries is dramatic,” says Davidson. “And to the extent that cultivating happiness reduces that suffering, it is fundamentally important.”

The monk and the scientist are investigating – together – the Art of Happiness.

“Rather than thinking about qualities like happiness as a trait,” Davidson says, “we should think about them as a skill, not unlike a motor skill, like bicycle riding or skiing. These are skills that can be trained. I think it is just unambiguously the case that happiness is not a luxury for our culture but it is a necessity.”

But we believe we can buy happiness�if we just had the money. That’s what the ad industry tells us. And we think it’s true.

People’s theories about what will make them happy often are wrong. And so there’s a lot of work these days that shows, for example, that winning the lottery will transiently elevate your happiness but it will not persist.

There’s some evidence that our temperament is more or less set from birth. So and so is a gloomy Gus�someone else is a ray of sunshine – that sort of thing.

Even when wonderful or terrible things happen, most of us, eventually, will return to that emotional set-point.

But, Davidson believes, that set point can be moved.

“Our work has been fundamentally focused on what the brain mechanisms are that underlie these emotional qualities and how these brain mechanisms might change as a consequence of certain kinds of training,” Davidson says.

His work could not have been done 20 years ago. “In fact, 20 years ago, we had dreams of methods that allows you to interrogate the brain in this way, but we had no tools to do it.”

Now that we have the tools we can see that as our emotions ebb and flow, so do brain chemistry and blood flow. Fear, depression, love � they all get different parts of our brain working.

Happiness and enthusiasm, and joy – they show up as increased activity on the left side near the front of the cortex. Anxiety, sadness – on the right.

Davidson has found this pattern in infants as young as 10 months, in toddlers, teens and adults.

Davidson tested more than 150 ordinary people to see what parts of their brains were most active.

Some were a little more active on the left. Some were a little more active on the right.

A few were quite far to the right. They would probably be called depressed. Others were quite far to the left, the sort of people who feel “life is great.”

So there was a range. Then Davidson tested a monk.

He was so far to the left he was right off the curve. That was one happy monk.

“And this is rather dramatic evidence that there’s something really different about his brain compared with the brains of these other 150 people. This is tantalizing evidence that these practices may indeed be promoting beneficial changes in the brain.”

Here, the Olympic athletes of meditation meet the Cadillac of brain scanners.

Khachab Rinpoche, a monk from Asia, came to Madison to meditate in perhaps the strangest place in his life: the functional MRI.

It let’s scientists watch what happens inside his brain when he switches between different types of meditation.

They want to know how his brain may differ from ordinary people, and whether that change is related to the inner contentment the monks report.

So they test how subjects react to unpleasant sounds and images flashed into the goggles they wear in the MRI.

Normally when we’re threatened one part of the brain is tremendously active, but in the monks, “the responsivity of this area is specifically decreased during this meditation in response to these very intense auditory simuli that convey strong emotions,” Davidson says.

It’s very preliminary work, but the implication may be that the lamas are able to move right through distressing events that overwhelm the rest of us – in other words, one of the keys to their happiness.

It may tell us something about our potential. “Our brains are adaptable, our brains are not fixed. The wiring in our brains is not fixed. Who we are today is not necessarily who we have to end up being,” Davidson says.

Tibetan Buddhism is said to be one of the most demanding mental endeavours on the planet. It takes 10,000 hours of meditation and years in retreat to become adept. Few of us can imagine such a commitment.

But that doesn’t mean the benefits of meditation are out of our reach.

Zindal Segal is a psychologist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto. He uses meditation to treat mood disorders.

It’s based on Buddhist teachings and its called mindfulness.

Michael Herman, senior partner with the law firm of Goodman and Goodman, meditates in his office.

“Very few of us can sit for 10,000 hours to be able to do this but the interesting thing is that we don’t need to. These capacities are available to all of us,” Segal says. ” We’re talking about paying attention, we’re talking about returning wherever our minds are to this present moment. These are things that we all have. We don’t have to earn them, we just have to find a way of clearing away the clutter to see that they are already there.”

Meditation is now out of the closet. The word is, it eases stress, drops blood pressure, helps put that bad day at the office in perspective.

Meditation is being mainlined by the mainstream, from corporate offices to factory floors.

These days it’s not unusual to find hospitals like St. Joseph’s in Toronto offering meditation programs. Some 360 people pass through the eight-week course every year.

Like most, this program has taken the simplest form of Buddhist teaching and adapted it for busy lives.

“Meditation is a skill, and like any skill it needs to be practised. So we use the breath as the place where we start to practise but eventually what we want to be able to do is to be able to use the awareness of the breath in our daily lives,” Segal says.

“When we have the ability to do that we can then use the breath when we’re standing in line at a bank, or if we’re having an argument with a spouse, as a way of grounding ourselves in the middle of something that is disturbing.”

Something disturbing, like the mind movie Erin Gammel couldn’t escape: the day when she failed to make the Olympic team.

“I just remember my hand getting caught in a lane rope and thinking to myself, it’s over,” Gammel says.

She lost her focus, her place on the team, and her heart to swim.

“It affected my entire life. I cried at the drop of a hat. I wasn’t improving and it didn’t look like anything was really improving. And I felt everything I did I seemed to fail at,” she says. “That was part of the depression and the sadness because I felt like I was failing at the time. Nothing was going well.”

Until she hooked up with the National Swim Team’s sports psychologist, Hap Davis. Davis had been fascinated by scientist Richard Davidson’s work.

He had a hunch that reliving the trauma was suppressing that part of Erin’s brain on the left that Davidson had found was so active in happy people.

He devised a rescue plan – a breathing meditation that she was to do before and after repeatedly viewing the video.

“If a person can ground themselves and feel centred with meditative breathing they can get to the point where they can look at it and view it with a critical mind, with a mind that is capable of being open to the experience and looking objectively at what took place,” Davis says.

“You know what it felt like during the race. It felt like I stopped absolutely dead. But in the video I look and it looks like just a little glitch. Nothing.”

It’s more than two years since they’ve needed to study the tape – because it worked. Erin’s joy of swimming returned; she’s winning race after race.

“She’s more resilient emotionally. She’s more stable emotionally. She’s more consistent in terms of performance,” Davis says.

“Meditation isn’t necessarily about happiness but it makes you happier. I guess that is how you would say it. And I feel more confident. That I know how to work with this stuff and work with bad things that happen in my life,” Gammel says.

Once again there’s one more race to win – the trials to make the team that goes to Athens.

“This is my year. That’s what I keep telling everyone. This is my year to make the Olympic team because making it through all those times there it’s just going to happen, I know it is. lt’s just going to happen,” she says.

“Meditation has been around for 2500 years so it’s not like a new practice,” Davis says. “But science is catching up to an old tradition and the evidence seems to be emerging that meditation can change the pattern of brain chemistry or blood flow in the brain.”

And now there’s proof meditation can change the brains of ordinary people and make them healthier.

Promega is a biotech company in Madison, Wis., where the researchers from the Brain Imaging Lab recruited typical stressed out workers – office staff, managers, even a skeptical research scientist, Mike Slater.

“Things were chaotic and crazy. We had a newborn. We had three deaths in the family. So it was a pretty topsy-turvy time,” Slater says.

All the subjects had activity in their brain measured�and half – including Mike Slater – were given an eight- week course in meditation.

Then everyone – meditators and controls – got a flu shot, and their brains were measured a second time.

The meditators’ brain activity had shifted to that happy left side. Mike Slater was almost too successful.

“I was pretty happy all the time and I was worried that maybe I was masking some stuff that might really be irritating me so I stopped it and my wife noticed an increase in my irritability, so, you know, I have both sides of the experiment now. It calmed me down and I stopped doing it and my irritability increased,” he says.

That wasn’t all. Their immune systems had strengthened.

“Those individuals in the meditation group that showed the biggest change in brain activity also showed the biggest change in immune function, suggesting that these were closely linked,” Davidson says.

Davidson and his team had shown meditation could shift not just mood – but also brain activity and immunity in ordinary people.

And they’d answered a potential flaw in the monk study.

“Someone may say, well, maybe these individuals are that way to start out with. Maybe that’s why they’re attracted to be monks,” Davidson says. “And we actually can’t answer that on the basis of those data, but with the Promega study, we can say definitely that it had to do with the intervention we provided.”

There are reasons to believe the insane pace and many aggravations of daily life can be dangerous to the health of our minds and our bodies.

We can’t push the delay button on a busy world and we can’t bail out.

But perhaps meditation is a way to encourage a sense of well-being – a deep breath in the centre of the whirlwind.

“As the Dalai Lama himself said in his book The Art of Happiness, we have the capacity to change ourselves because of the very nature, of the very structure and function of our brain,” Davidson says. “And that is a very hopeful message because I think it instills in people the belief that there are things that they can do to make themselves better.”

Read the original article…

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Study Shows Positive Impact of Meditation on Brain, Antibodies (Epoch Times)

Katherine Combes, The Epoch Times: A University of Wisconsin-Madison research team has found, for the first time, that a short program in “mindfulness meditation” produced lasting positive changes in both the brain and the function of the immune system. The findings suggest that meditation, long promoted as a technique to reduce anxiety and stress, might produce important biological effects that improve a person’s resiliency.

Richard Davidson, Vilas Professor of psychology and psychiatry at UW-Madison, led the research team. The study, conducted at the biotechnology company Promega near Madison, will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

“Mindfulness meditation,” often recommended as an antidote to the stress and pain of chronic disease, is a practice designed to focus one’s attention intensely on the moment, noting thoughts and feelings as they occur but refraining from judging or acting on those thoughts and feelings. The intent is to deepen awareness of the present, develop skills of focused attention and cultivate positive emotions such as compassion.

In the UW study, participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups. The experimental group, with 25 subjects, received training in mindfulness meditation from one of its most noted adherents, Jon Kabat-Zinn, a popular author of books on stress reduction who developed the mindfulness-based stress reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. This group attended a weekly class and one seven-hour retreat during the study; they also were assigned home practice for an hour a day, six days a week. The 16 members of the control group did not receive meditation training until after the study was completed.

For each group, in addition to asking the participants to assess how they felt, the research team measured electrical activity in the frontal part of the brain, an area specialized for certain kinds of emotion. Earlier research has shown that, in people who are generally positive and optimistic and during times of positive emotion, the left side of this frontal area becomes more active than the right side does.

The findings confirmed the researchers’ hypothesis: The meditation group showed an increase of activation in the left part of the frontal region. This suggests that the meditation itself produced more activity in this region of the brain. This activity is associated with lower anxiety and a more positive emotional state.

The research team also tested whether the meditation group had better immune function than the control group did. All the study participants received a flu vaccine at the end of the eight-week meditation group. Then, at four and eight weeks after vaccine administration, both groups had blood tests to measure the level of antibodies they had produced against the flu vaccine. While both groups had developed increased antibodies – as expected – the meditation group had a significantly larger increase than the controls, at both periods.

“Although our study is preliminary and more research clearly is warranted,” Davidson said, “we are very encouraged by these results. The Promega employees who took part have given us a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate a real biological impact of this ancient practice.”

Davidson, who is integrally involved with the HealthEmotions Research Institute at UW, plans further research on the impact of meditation. He is currently studying a group of people who have been using meditation for more than 30 years. His research team is also planning to study the impact of mindfulness meditation on patients with particular illnesses.

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 improves immune-system function, study finds

For the first time, meditation has been shown to produce lasting beneficial changes in immune-system function as well as brain electrical activity, according to a University of Wisconsin-Madison study released Monday.

The study, which looked at a group of 25 employees of a Madison-area company who underwent an eight-week meditation training program, is the latest in a growing body of research into the mind-body connection.

As a part of the study at the end of the eight weeks, flu shots were given to the employees and a group of 16 other employees who did not receive meditation training.

When researchers checked for antibodies to the vaccine at one month and two months later, the meditators had significantly higher levels than the nonmeditators.

On average, the meditators had about a 5 percent increase in antibodies, but some had increases of up to 25 percent, Davidson said.

More importantly, the level of antibodies increased directly in relation to the level of increased brain-wave activity, he said.

To measure brain activity, electroencephalograms were done. Researchers found about 50 percent more electrical activity in the left frontal regions of the brains of the meditators. Other research has showed that part of the brain is associated with positive emotions and anxiety reduction.

The study’s findings will be published in the upcoming issue of the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

While many researchers have presumed that the benefits of meditation endure, there has been a shortage of such research, said Andrew Newberg, an assistant professor of radiology at the University of Pennsylvania who has done several neuroimaging studies involving meditation and prayer.

“The fact they can show long-term or chronic changes… is not completely surprising, but it’s important they were able to show that,” he said. “These kinds of studies, when done by high-quality researchers, are really what has been lacking in the field of alternative medicine.”

The meditation training for the study was done by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a noted meditation author who developed a stress-reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.

Judith Stevens, one of the test subjects, said her training has helped her think more clearly and react less emotionally to stressful situations.

“The road rage went down,” she said, laughing.

She said she now practices meditation for about 10 to 20 minutes, five times a week.

A weakness of the study is the relatively small number of participants and use of EEG, which is considered a relatively crude measurement of brain function.

HDLighthouse.org: Read more

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Finding happiness: cajole your brain to lean to the left

NY Times article by Daniel Goleman (author of Emotional Intelligence) on scientific explanations of how meditation acts as an antidote to stress:

All too many years ago, while I was still a psychology graduate student, I ran an experiment to assess how well meditation might work as an antidote to stress. My professors were skeptical, my measures were weak, and my subjects were mainly college sophomores. Not surprisingly, my results were inconclusive.

But today I feel vindicated.

To be sure, over the years there have been scores of studies that have looked at meditation, some suggesting its powers to alleviate the adverse effects of stress. But only last month did what I see as a definitive study confirm my once-shaky hypothesis, by revealing the brain mechanism that may account for meditation’s singular ability to soothe.

The data has emerged as one of many experimental fruits of an unlikely research collaboration: the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan religious and political leader in exile, and some of top psychologists and neuroscientists from the United States. The scientists met with the Dalai Lama for five days in Dharamsala, India, in March 2000, to discuss how people might better control their destructive emotions.

One of my personal heroes in this rapprochement between modern science and ancient wisdom is Dr. Richard Davidson, director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin. Dr. Davidson, in recent research using functional M.R.I. and advanced EEG analysis, has identified an index for the brain’s set point for moods.

The functional M.R.I. images reveal that when people are emotionally distressed — anxious, angry, depressed — the most active sites in the brain are circuitry converging on the amygdala, part of the brain’s emotional centers, and the right prefrontal cortex, a brain region important for the hypervigilance typical of people under stress.

By contrast, when people are in positive moods — upbeat, enthusiastic and energized — those sites are quiet, with the heightened activity in the left prefrontal cortex.

NY Times: Read the rest of this article…

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