insomnia

Mummy, can we meditate now? How relaxation exercises can help your child to sleep

Like most parents of small children, I was having major problems at bedtime. Things had gone from bad to worse: each night, my four-year-old refused to go to bed, and once she got there, was repeatedly getting up. The whole process could last as long as two hours, leaving us both frustrated and exhausted.

I tried everything: reading longer bedtime stories in an attempt to calm her down; a frog that played classical music. I tried extra trips to the park, trying to tire her out even more in the hope that she would collapse into bed at night. Nothing seemed to work. Until last Christmas, when I slipped a CD of guided meditations (Enchanted Meditations for Kids) into her stocking, along with a bit of wishful thinking.

The CD promised to “help kids sleep more soundly and feel more confident and secure in their home and school life”. I was dubious that a mere CD could help, but was willing to try anything. What does meditation consist of for a small child? The CD consisted of pairs of tracks: the first was a short relaxation, where listeners are told to tighten muscles in different parts of their body and then let go, followed by guided imagery where Elise could imagine herself swimming in the sea with dolphins, or living in her own fairy castle.

At first, I tried playing the CD during the day, but she was too busy playing to take notice of it. So I made it part of the bedtime routine: after the stories I would turn the light off, put the CD on, and leave the room. Elise seemed to enjoy it – when she got up the next morning, she announced she had been making new friends with the mermaids in the night. And five months later, our evenings are much calmer.

It started with the disappearance of the bedtime wrangling, but there have been other benefits, too. Elise is less frustrated with things when they don’t go her way or when she gets something wrong, which before would have been a source of tension and much shouting and screaming on her part. She will sit for noticeably longer drawing or doing jigsaws, where before she would have got annoyed and given up. I have even taken the CD on holiday and she has settled down to sleep in a strange bed without any problem.

Knowing that the fidget-capacity of small children is high, I was pleased to discover that for very young children meditation proper does not necessarily mean sitting still with their eyes closed, as an adult would. If using a mantra, as in Transcendental Meditation (TM), they can say their ‘word of wisdom’ with their eyes open, even as they walk to school or play with Lego.

At five years of age they ‘do their word’ for five minutes twice a day and thereafter add one minute for each year of their age. “The difference is in the childrens’ intellectual grasp of the whole concept, and the simplicity with which it is taught. The nature of the meditation is the same – the mind wants to be still, it just needs the right conditions ” says Colin Beckley of the Meditation Trust.

Being a small child these days is a pretty stressful business. According to Dr Alison Murfett, a chartered psychologist at the Maple Psychology clinic in London, childhood stress is often related to family life such as sibling rivalry, arguments at home or a disorganised environment, loss or bereavement, or school life (bullying, friendships and performance issues – children as young as six are taking SATs). Is meditation the answer?

Much of the scientific research on meditation has been on TM (which uses repetition of a special word or mantra), and the actress Goldie Hawn even wants to introduce TM into British schools.

Derek Cassells, headteacher at the Maharishi School in Lancashire (the only school in the UK to teach “consciousness-based education”) says the children there are happier, have more self-confidence, have better relationships with their peers and their teachers, and are more alert. In schools where meditation is on the curriculum, it is claimed there are no problems like bullying or drugs.

Research found that after one year of practising TM, children showed significant improvements in maths and reading. A study from the University of Michigan found that in year-six students, regular meditation had a significant positive effect on self-esteem and emotional competence. Beckley says meditation can help young children to experience life on a “quieter screen”. “These days, there is so much sensory stimulation, we need a silent foundation, otherwise our house will topple down. Over-stimulation leads to the body storing stress, and being in a state of constant mild anxiety and restlessness. A quieter backdrop to our experience leads to increased learning.” Never mind the lost art of conversation, Beckley argues that “families have lost the ability to be quiet with each other”.

At the Maharishi School, Cassells teaches the principles of the “science of creative intelligence” alongside the practical aspects of meditation. These principles, “such as ‘the nature of life is to grow’ and ‘order is present everywhere’, allow children to see beneath the surface of life, so that they apply the principles outside them and within their own lives”. Other schools are taking up the idea of introducing meditation to children.

So as Elise drops off listening to her guided visualisations, I enjoy the silence and remember the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “There was never a child so lovely but his mother was glad to get him to sleep.”

Simple steps to calmer children

Make sure that you and your children enjoy some quiet time together each day, away from the noise and distraction of TV, computers, games consoles and mobile phones.

Limit the amount of time your children spend watching television (and Colin Beckley of the Meditation Trust would argue that those under the age of three should not watch any at all).

Watch the breath: lie down and put a small teddy on the child’s tummy so that they can be aware of the movement of the abdomen as they breathe in and out.

Sign up, along with your child, for meditation classes given by a trained instructor.

Try foot massage: according to the Ayurveda system of traditional Indian medicine, massaging the feet of babies and small children can relax them, help them to become more aware of their bodies, and promote bonding.

[Michelle Teasdale, The Independent]
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3 Mini Meditations To Help You Through Your Day (Or Night)

HUFFINGTON POST: What stops you from sleeping through the night? Is it when things are not going your way or they look topsy-turvy and you just want to scream; when your life appears chaotic and you are not sure if you are coming or going; or when it feels like everything is piled on your shoulders?

Life should be an exciting and outrageous adventure. Isn’t it a wonder how a spider weaves a web or a bee makes a hive? Did you ever notice the small, everyday miracles, like the fact that you can breathe in and out? But how many of us get to experience this miracle? Sometimes life just feels too awful. We want to feel good, we want to be happy, in fact happiness is our birthright. But so often there are just too many difficulties to deal with. And although we may know that meditation chills us out, if we are feeling stressed or irritable then it just doesn’t seem so appealing.

So here are three mini-meditations, moments to just stop and breathe and remember why you are here. A moment to check yourself out, to look within, and to find what is really meaningful to you. You can get it together even when you think it is all falling apart.

Read the rest of this story…

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Teaching the mind to treat insomnia

Web MD: Changing bad sleep habits and clearing the mind with meditation may offer drug-free alternatives to traditional insomnia treatments. Two new studies suggest that cognitive behavioral therapy to change people’s attitudes and actions about sleep and using meditation to encourage relaxation can help insomniacs get a better night’s sleep without pills. Read more here.

Researchers say that contrary to popular belief, insomnia is not a nighttime-only affliction but a 24-hour problem of hyperarousal. By teaching people how to relax and clear their minds during the day, they sleep better at night.

“Results of the study show that teaching deep relaxation techniques during the daytime can help improve sleep at night,” says researcher Ramadevi Gourineni, MD, director of the insomnia program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, in a news release.
Meditation to Treat Insomnia

Gourineni’s study examined the effectiveness of practicing meditation as an insomnia treatment in 11 people with insomnia.

The participants were divided into two groups. One group was trained in kriya yoga, in which meditation is used to focus internalized attention, and the other received general health education.

Two months later, the results showed that the meditation group experienced improvements in sleep quality and quantity, according to their sleep diaries. They also took less time to fall asleep, woke fewer times, and had fewer symptoms of depression.

Although the effects and study size were small, researchers say the findings suggest that meditation may be an effective alternative insomnia treatment.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Tames Insomnia

The second, larger study looked at the effects of a cognitive behavioral therapy-insomnia (CBT-I) program designed to treat insomnia in 115 people with insomnia. The program included evaluating the person’s habits, attitudes, and knowledge about sleep.

During the treatment sessions, participants learned about sleep scheduling, creating the proper environment for sleep, reducing stimuli that may interfere with sleep, relaxation training, and mindfulness training.

“CBT-I teaches strategies to ‘reset’ the bodily systems that regulate sleep,” researcher Ryan Wetzler, PsyD, of Sleep Medicine Specialists in Louisville, Ky., says in a news release. “Since these systems also play a role in regulation of mood, pain, and other bodily processes, skills developed through CBT-I may also have a positive impact on mood, anxiety, pain, and other associated medical or psychiatric conditions.”

The results showed that 50%-60% of those whose main insomnia symptom was trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or both experienced improvement. Those who completed five or more cognitive behavioral therapy sessions also had improvement in other sleep quality measurements and needed less medication for their insomnia.

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Wildmind’s top ten blog posts of 2008

fireworksIt’s been a busy year. We’ve redesigned the site, reorganized our news section, and added many hundreds of new posts on the theme of meditation and spiritual practice. So now it’s time to pause and look back with some fondness and appreciation at the most popular blog articles that were published on Wildmind in 2008. But before we do so, we’d like to thank you, our 1.5 million dear readers, for taking an interest in what we do and for posting interesting and insightful comments. All the best in 2009!

10. Back in February Wildmind welcomed the awesomeness that is Auntie Suvanna (aka Dharmacarini Suvarnaprabha of the San Francisco Buddhist Center). Auntie Suvanna dispenses wit and wisdom in equal measure as she helps mere mortals like ourselves with their problems, both spiritual and mundane. In her debut Ask Auntie Suvanna column she offered solace to a seeking soul who was comparing her breast-size unfavorably with the bodacious curves of female Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. For those of you who have been missing Auntie of late, do not despair. She’s merely taking a sabbatical and waiting for some good questions to come in.

9. In March, Bodhipaksa riffed on a saying by Søren Kierkegaard, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.”

8. In June, guest blogger, Buddhist practitioner, PhD candidate, and general good guy Justin Whitaker discussed The art of friendship

7. In October, our resident teacher and blogger Sunada shared heartfelt advice on Being an introvert in an extroverted world

6. Author, activist, and performer Vimalasara graced our pages back in March, with a fascinating account of Waking up into the moment

5. In his regular monthly “quote of the month” column, new dad Bodhipaksa shares some of what he’s learned through observing his young daughter’s consciousness evolving by discussing a quote by Muhammad Ali, “Children make you want to start life over.”

4. And it’s Bodhipaksa’s “quote of the month” column again, this time discussing Anaïs Nin’s saying, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom” and sharing lessons he has learned the hard way.

3. Bodhipaksa once more, this time with some practical advice on how to use meditative techniques not to wake up but to get yourself to sleep: Meditation and insomnia

2. In March, Sunada reveals how we can see our “difficult” mental states as teachers rather than as problems in Anxiety, depression, anger… Paths to purification?

1. But our most popular post of the year was guest blogger Lieutenant Jeanette Shin outlining her vision of The Buddha as warrior. Lt. Shin was the US military’s first Buddhist chaplain, and she serves in the US Navy. Thank you Lt. Shin!

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Meditation and insomnia

Baby yawning as it goes to sleep

Meditation’s about “waking up” to reality, but can it help us get a good night’s sleep? Bodhipaksa indulges in some pillow-talk about four ways meditation can help with insomnia.

Like most people I’ve sometimes had periods when I’ve found it hard to sleep (or to get back to sleep). In a word: insomnia. It’s not that anything external is keeping me awake, but simply that I’m wide awake with my mind both tired and over-active.

Over the years I’ve tried various things, like reading, getting up and making a cup of tea, etc, that have been useful in breaking into any unhelpful mental patterns that I may have. And often those things work well. Insomnia (in my case at least) generally involves being caught up in a loop of thinking that stirs up emotion, and that cycle of thinking in turn stirs up emotion which causes more thinking. That cycle needs to be interrupted for sleep to take place. Even getting up and making a cup of tea (a stimulant!) can be enough to interrupt the cycle and allow the natural sleep process to kick in. And I’ve found that reading provides an alternative thought-stream (I have the author’s words in my mind rather than my own thoughts) and can help lull me into unconsciousness.

But I’ve also found some meditative techniques that have never failed to work, and I mostly prefer to use these. The times when I’ve chosen not to use them are when I’ve been on a creative streak and I haven’t actually wanted to sleep because my preference has been to “go with the flow” and do the writing (or whatever) that’s been buzzing around in my mind.

The reason that I decided to turn to a more meditative approach is that sometimes wanting to get to sleep will actually keep you awake! What happens is that you lie there awake, but wanting to sleep. At some point you start to drift off, and some dream imagery may start to well up into the mind. Then the part of your mind that’s still awake gets all excited because it sees signs of sleep, and this excitement wakes you up again! This is classic craving, or grasping, in which your mind tries to grab hold of something it wants. But sleep by nature involves letting go, and so the act of grasping will prevent sleep from arising. This happens in meditation too, of course. When we try to recreate enjoyable meditative experiences we often find that we prevent them from occurring — the reason they occurred previously was that we’d stopped grasping and had simply relaxed into our experience.

There are four different meditative approaches that I’ve found to be useful in dealing with insomnia.

1. Mindful breathing

This is as simple as you can get. Basically, just meditate! But there are a few caveats. Not all meditative techniques will help you to sleep. Some will actually cause further stimulation and keep you awake.

So, lying in bed, keep your awareness focused on the sensations of the breath in your belly, observing the rise and fall of the abdominal muscles. It’s important to keep your awareness focused on the belly rather than any other part of the breathing process, because this is the most calming place to observe your breathing. The sensations in the chest, throat, and head are actively stimulating, and so observing the breath in those places would be counter-productive.

Also, pay more attention to the out-breath rather than the in-breath. The classic way to do this is to count at the end of each out-breath. You could also say the word “out” as you exhale. The out-breath is more relaxing, while the in-breath is more stimulating.

The other methods I use are based on an observation that there are three things that keep me awake: thinking that is comprised primarily of “inner chatter,” thinking that is composed mainly of vivid mental imagery, and physical arousal where there is restlessness in the body.

2. Dealing with inner chatter

Sometimes we can’t sleep because we’re talking to ourselves so much — internally, of course. There may well be some inner imagery (see the technique below) but mainly we’re caught up in hearing inner discussions.

If you have a lot of inner self-talk, try making the voice or voices in your head become very s-l-o-o-o-w a-a-a-n-d d-e-e-e-e-e-p, like a vinyl record that’s been unplugged. The trick is to notice the stream of inner chatter and to take control of the flow, slowing it down. You may have to do this a few times, but you’ll notice that as the voices slow down you’ll almost immediately start to feel more sleepy.

3. Dealing with vivid inner imagery

Sometimes our stories are primarily visual. There will of course be an inner soundtrack that accompanies the movie we’re showing ourselves, but it’s the images we’re mainly caught up in and that are keeping us awake.

I’ve found that the most effective approach under these circumstances is to make the imagery go dark, and then to fade in some images of natural scenes. I prefer to visualize leaves on trees, moving slowly in a breeze. The slowness is important. It’s also important that the images be of something relatively unstimulating and restful, which is why nature images work. But a mundane scene, like rain dripping off of leaves, is more effective than inspiring mountain scenes, which are likely to keep you awake.

I often make the weather bad. As I mentioned, rain dripping off of leaves is effective. The fact that it’s raining means that the imagery is duller than usual, and the lack of stimulation is the key to getting back to sleep.

With the techniques of slowing down mental chatter or calling to mind calming (and even dull) imagery, what you’re doing is taking charge of your mind. Rather than letting an uncontrolled stream of images and dialog run through your mind, keeping you awake, you’re deciding what you’re going to think about.

4. Dealing with physical restlessness

Lastly, one of the things that can keep us awake is physical restlessness. This can happen to me when I’ve been exercising too late in the evening. Even though my mind is tired my body is very much awake. If you find that you have a lot of physical energy, then imagine that your body is becoming very heavy, and that you’re being pressed down into the mattress. I sometimes pretend to myself that gravity is variable, and that someone has turned the gravity dial up to “high.”

This uses the same principle as slowing down your inner chatter or making your mental imagery dark and restful. When you’re naturally tired the body feels heavy. When you reverse this process, imagining that the body is heavy, you become tired.

You may have to use all four methods. I use method one to start with, and then the others as required. It has always worked! Sometimes I’ve been lying there thinking, “Nope, it’s not going to work this time,” and then suddenly it’s time to get up and I realize that I’ve slept the whole night through.

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Relieving stress could be just a breath away (Ledger-Enquirer, Georgia)

Hilary E. MacGregor: New Age flute music plays softly as people file into an apartment in West Los Angeles, remove their shoes and seat themselves quietly on Oriental carpets on the floor. A picture of a bearded guru in white robes sits at the front of the room with a tiny offering of fresh flowers. There are 14 students, and they have come here to learn to breathe.

Known as the “Art of Living,” this intensive breathing course will last six days. The class has drawn people ranging in age from their 20s to their 60s. There is a builder, a businessman, a masseuse, an acupuncturist and a Jacuzzi engineer. It includes some who are seeking relief from asthma, chronic pain and depression, and others who have come because they heard about it from a friend. One man came after seeing a flier at a Whole Foods market.

Students of the program say the breathing technique can bring greater awareness, a fuller and happier life, less stress, greater mental focus, and a bevy of other health benefits. But there is scant research so far to support those claims.

Now, a handful of doctors and psychiatrists in this country are touting the benefits of the special breathing technique taught in the course to help relieve depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, insomnia and anxiety.

One of those is Dr. Richard Brown, an associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. After Brown published a book in 1999 about holistic approaches to depression, people from the “Art of Living” contacted him and explained their program. Impressed with what he heard, Brown later began recommending the program to many of his patients.

“Many of them were transformed,” Brown says. “I didn’t expect that.”

Brown eventually took the course, then started teaching the program to, among others, fellow mental health professionals in New York. He’s also become the program’s main spokesman in the medical community.

Earlier this year, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a survey on Americans’ use of alternative and complementary medical therapies and found that 12 percent of adults reported that they had done some type of breathing exercises in the past year.

Studies of yoga, which places a lot of emphasis on breath, have demonstrated its effect on reducing blood pressure, relieving anxiety and boosting the immune system. Eastern exercises such as tai chi and qi gong also incorporate focused and deep abdominal breathing.

But it is difficult to design a research study that would weigh the health benefits of purposeful breathing techniques by themselves.

The Art of Living is a meditation and yoga practice started by Indian guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (he is no relation to Ravi Shankar, the Grammy Award-winning sitarist who rose to international fame when Beatles star George Harrison became his student). The 48-year-old Art of Living founder once studied with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the guru famous for teaching Transcendental Meditation. Art of Living’s Shankar says the centerpiece of his breathing program known as the Sudarshan Kriya came to him in 1982, during a 10-day period of solitary silence.

As Shankar tells it, during his time of solitude, he perceived that the different rhythms of breath had a connection with different states of mind. He came to believe that this practice could help people with their suffering, and so began to teach the breathing technique to others.

Today, the Art of Living Foundation claims that its volunteers have taught 2 million to 3 million people in 142 countries. The course includes 16 to 20 hours of instruction in a simple breathing technique that can be practiced daily at home. About 50,000 people have gone through the program in the United States, the foundation says.

John Osborne, president of the Art of Living Foundation in the U.S., believes the course has grown in popularity because it fits the needs of the times. The breathing, he says, offers a powerful way to counter stress, and the course’s spiritual lessons appeal to people who may be feeling a sense of alienation and powerlessness.

The program received a publicity boost after 9/11, when the Art of Living ran a full-page ad in the New York Times a month after the terrorist attacks, offering the course free of charge to New Yorkers. Ten teachers were flown in from around the country, and during the next several months, more than 1,000 people, including firefighters and police officers, took the course.

Before beginning the class in West Los Angeles, all students pay $250, commit to completing the course and sign a non-disclosure statement, promising not to reveal the contents of the course.

The technique “is simple,” Osborne says. He adds somewhat cryptically: “But if done wrong, people might try it at home and they might hurt themselves.”

The teachers, Josette Wermuth, an instructor at Los Angeles High School, and Phylis LeBourgeouis, a lab technician at the University of California, Los Angeles, tell the class to avoid alcohol for the duration of the course and to stick to a vegetarian diet.

There is a strong touchy-feely aspect to the course. The teachers seem to glow with happiness, and they never stop smiling. We begin by walking around the room, looking into one another’s eyes and saying, “I belong to you.” Over the next six days, we sit in small groups and talk about expectations, responsibility, happiness. The intimate philosophical discussions initially make some students uncomfortable.

On the first two days, we learn the “pranayams” three positions of sectional breathing. All three positions hands on hips; thumbs in the armpits, elbows folded out; arms folded above our heads involve inhaling, holding and slowly releasing the breath. Then we do a fourth breath work, called ‘bellows breath,’ in which we shoot our arms overhead to move energy through the body. The deep breathing of the “pranayams,” as well as the bellows breath, is based on ancient yogic techniques.

It is not until the four-hour weekend sessions that we learn the Sudarshan Kriya, the active breathing technique that is the heart of the course and is, according to the Art of Living Foundation, unique.

Before we begin, our teachers tell us our hands might grow numb, our body temperatures might drop. It is the middle of a stifling heat wave, sticky by 10 a.m. Someone opens the windows. Shankar, we are told, has decreed that the Kriya must always be done with fresh air.

With that, Wermuth slips in a cassette tape of the guru. From far away, Shankar begins to guide us through the breathing in his melodic voice. We breathe in cycles, slow, faster, fast, until it feels like controlled hyperventilation.

“The rhythm of the breath is linked to emotions,” Wermuth tells us. “There is a specific rhythm for every shade of emotion.”

At the end, we lie on our backs.

The second day, we do the Kriya, the effect is more dramatic. A few people cry. One man says his hand became immobile; another says he felt temporarily paralyzed from the waist down. Our teachers don’t explain much about why this might be happening. But clearly, something seems to be going on.

Shankar recommends students carry on the breathing practice for at least six months. The daily regimen takes about 30 minutes.

By the end of the six-day course in West Los Angeles, some students already were reporting changes.

Rasik Raniga, a hotel manager who took the course hoping for relief from asthma, claimed he already was able to cut down on the use of his inhaler. Michael Miller, a home builder who said he had been feeling depressed, found himself feeling better after three days. Analilia Silva, a businesswoman who came to the course at the suggestion of a friend, described the change as subtle: “It’s like when you start exercising,” she said. “And you suddenly feel better but you don’t know why.”

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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