North Dakota medical center uses meditation room for healing

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Indian Country Today: The patterns of sacred colors pressed in glass on the doors of St. Alexius’ Meditation Room are rounded, reminiscent of Chippewa art and decoration, as well as geometric motifs, like the Lakotas’.

The colors and patterns also are appropriate for a room used by Muslim medical staff for prayer, since there is no depiction of the human form, which is forbidden in Islam.

The colored doors and side windows designed by artist Butch Thunderhawk allow light into the simply-furnished room. Rows of chairs line soft sand-colored walls. Natural materials complete the space – a wood plank ceiling and slate floor. The back of the room curves into a gentle bow to suggest the circular themes in Native American spiritual practices and the ceiling is inset with a large louvered ventilation cover. The ventilation was built in so that the room can be used for smudging and the use of incense or the ritual pipe.

Smudging, or using the smoke from smoldering herbs and plants such as cedar, sweetgrass and sage, is associated with healing and prayer, said the Rev. Julian Nix, a chaplain at St. Alexius for 21 years.

The smoke is gently fanned across the people present with a feather or fan of feathers, representing healing purification and the rising of prayers, Nix said. Religious practices that use incense or smudging, anything involving fire, were difficult to do in patient rooms, both for space and for the risk of fire, he said.

The Meditation Room is a separate space just off the solarium on the main floor at St. Alexius Medical Center in Bismarck.

The solarium’s winding paths and standing greenery are meant to give a park-like feel to the space. A large open-air gathering space just outside the solarium is furnished with tables and benches, large potted plants, and a life-size sculpture of St. Vincent de Paul and a group of children, its tawny finish now interspersed with white where snow has come to rest.

Both the solarium and the Meditation Room were created in 2005, designed in collaboration with St. Alexius’ staffers and people from the Standing Rock, Three Affiliated Tribes and Turtle Mountain communities.

The staff was asked what they would like and the solarium – a place for both staff, visitors and families to unwind, pray or just sit in silence – was the result. Consultations with the Muslim doctors on staff, those from India, Buddhists, and elders and others from North Dakota’s tribes wanted a space that could be used for ceremonies and prayer practices that wouldn’t be suitable in St. Alexius’ Christian-themed chapel.

The whole process included educational sessions for the entire staff on the spiritual practices of other religions and cultures, Nix said.

In the solarium, a large man-made tree has been placed under a glassed-in dome, while nooks of seating make the large space feel like an intimate collection of private spaces. The winding floor leads toward a large fireplace. Soothing music is played there, ranging from Native American flute to Eastern “world” soundscapes.

Both spaces were dedicated to recognizing “the whole person, and all the people,” Nix said. Modern medicine has to fit into the lives of the people coming there, he said.

“Healing is not just physical, but (takes place) in the mind and spirit as well,” he said.

The best medical care can be defeated by fear, but thrives in a place where your beliefs can be freely expressed, Nix said.

Original article no longer available.


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Feeling some agitation? Students try meditation

wildmind meditation news

Des Moines Register: Students at Waukee South Middle School are learning the sources of stress.

They’re also learning how to break it.

Students in sixth through eighth grade in the school’s health class are working on a stress unit.

During class, students in Traci Havlik’s health class work on ways to identify stress and address it.

“They have a lot on their plates,” Havlik said.

Like parents, homework and friends, said Sarah Chicken, 13, of Waukee.

“It’s fun to learn about stress and ways to be stress-free,” Sarah said.

So, how?

During the class, Havlik puts students through a variety of activities – including meditation and yoga – to help relieve stress.

“It gives them the tools to better deal with their stress,” Havlik said.

And it appears to be working. Sarah said it’s a class she has started looking forward to … without stress.

“I like it,” she said.

Havlik said teaching the kids those skills is something she hopes they’ll carry with them forever and use when stressful situations arise.

“I think it’s very important for them to at least get an idea of what their stresses are,” Havlik said.

Original article no longer available.


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Students learn about healing programs for inmates

Inside Toronto: Prison inmates can find hope and healing through meditation and yoga, students at a local high school found out this week, in a presentation on the work of Sister Elaine MacInnes and her charity, Freeing the Human Spirit.

“Every day, 36,000 Canadians wake up in prison cells,” Cheryl Vanderburg, Freeing the Human Spirit’s program co-ordinator, told her teenage audience at Bishop Marrocco/Thomas Merton Catholic Secondary School, Wednesday morning, Nov. 10.

“More than half the people in prison are victims of child abuse. The majority have unstable job history. Every day, I go into prisons and I see kids like yourselves. They’ve done something stupid and gotten caught.”

Vanderburg was a guest speaker during the high school’s annual Peace and Justice Week.

For the majority of prisoners, they want to change. They’ve come from difficult circumstances, said Vanderburg, a yoga instructor.

“We carry a lot of stress in our bodies. Our aim is to help prisoners release some of that stress.”

Freeing the Human Spirit is a charity founded in 2004 by MacInnes, a Zen master and Roman Catholic nun. It works in 22 prisons across Canada and receives letters of thanks from inmates regularly.

“Once your spirit is free, you can make better choices and get on with your life,” wrote one in a letter that Vanderburg read to students.

MacInnes was scheduled to visit the school on Wednesday morning, but the 86-year old Toronto resident came down with the flu. Instead, students learned about MacInnes’ quest to bring inner peace to prisoners by teaching them yoga and meditation through the 2005 documentary, The Fires That Burn: The Life and Work of Sister Elaine MacInnes.

Born into a musical family in Moncton, New Brunswick, MacInnes joined Our Lady’s Missionaries in 1953 after moving to New York to study violin at Julliard.

MacInness found herself in Japan on her first missionary assignment where she climbed Mount Hiei, met a monk and went on to join an order of Rinzai Buddhist nuns at Enkoji in Kyoto, a place she called home for eight years. There, she practiced “zazen,” sitting meditation.

In 1976, through her work opening a Zen centre for the Catholic Church in Manila, MacInnes began teaching meditation to political prisoners, including Horacio “Boy” Morales, an esteemed rebel at the helm of the New People’s Army against dictatorship.

It was this work that attracted the attention of the Prison Phoenix Trust, a charitable organization in Oxford, England that teaches yoga and meditation to inmates. In 1993, she became its executive director, helping prisoners come to terms with their tremendous stress.

Her work overseas earned her the Order of Canada in 2001. Three years later, upon her return to Canada, she founded Freeing the Human Spirit.

The third day of the Peace and Justice week programming kicked off with the Freeing the Human Spirit presentation in the auditorium, followed by a talk by representatives from the White Ribbon Campaign, the world’s largest effort by men working to end violence against women.

This year’s focus of the 21-year old initiative was healthy relationships, said school Chaplain and Religion Teacher Elaine Orsini.

Representatives from METRAC, which works to prevent and eliminate violence against diverse women, youth and children, were on hand to lead an interactive discussion about relationships with Grade 9 and 11 students on Monday, Nov. 8. The week also included a visit from Free the Children and a showing of Social Justice documentaries.

“The purpose is to make students aware of the need for peace and justice,” said Orsini of the program, spearheaded by the school’s religion department and sponsored by the student council, “to bring people in to motivate students to become more aware so they can move into action.”

Peace, says Orsini, “has to begin within our own hearts, our homes and our own schools – that’s always been my message.”

Link to an archive of the original article…

See also our review of Sister Elaine MacInnes’s book, The Flowing Bridge.

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Virginia mother and wife of Mumbai victims seeks to help children in conflict areas

Virginia resident Kia Scherr walked quietly through the jasmine-scented halls of Mumbai’s Oberoi Trident high-rise hotel as Indian staff members gently smiled.

On Nov. 26, 2008, her husband, Alan Scherr, 58, and their 13-year-old daughter Naomi were killed when gunmen opened fire in the hotel’s oceanfront restaurant. The Scherrs were among six Americans killed in the Mumbai attacks, which left 166 people dead and more than 230 wounded.

Now Kia Scherr has come to India to meet President Obama during his three-day visit to Mumbai and New Delhi. She said she wants to thank him in person for the condolence letter he wrote her after the attacks, which were carried out by 10 gunmen from Pakistan.

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East meets west. There’s some wariness at first. But they end up liking each other.

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As well all know, mathematics is dangerous — especially trigonometry. Rooted as it is in ancient Greek religious practice, young minds exposed to mathematics become open to unwholesome — possibly demonic — spiritual influences. Nah, just joking. The bit about math being rooted in religion is true, naturally, but the possibility that the hypotenuse is the straight line to hell seems far-fetched, to say the least. But Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler believes something very similar about yoga, according to an article in the Clarion Ledger. Yoga comes from the Hindu tradition, but of course dressing in a leotard and stretching your hamstrings doesn’t strike most people as much more than a way of calming down and getting in shape. As the article says, “Mohler’s posture has drawn a mix of bafflement and criticism from those who practice yoga, which is taught in many churches and which many people see as unrelated to its ancient roots in India.”

But coincidentally, Dr. Michelle Belfer Friedman, a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and the director of pastoral counseling at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, has a column in The Jewish Week, offering advice to a woman who’s worried about her husband’s dabbling in yoga and meditation. Dr. Friedman’s advice — basically talk to your husband and get to know what he likes about his new pastime — is very sound.

A less fraught east-meets-west story is to be found in Massachusetts, where a Thai sangha have just been granted permission to build a 60 foot Theravadin temple, complete with a golden spire. The photograph in the article looks lovely, and apparently there were no objections raised at the planning meeting.

And the interfaith harmony goodness extends to North Carolina, where Pitt County Memorial Hospital has just dedicated an ecumenical chapel. The new chapel cost 2.3 million dollars and was built thanks to private donations.

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People of diverse faiths pursue a lofty goal in a peace hike

Mitchell Landsberg:

For the last two years, the Aetherius Society has opened its pilgrimages to all faiths. About 100 people joined last Saturday’s trek up the tallest peak in the San Gabriel Mountains.

The mountain was supposed to impart energy to its pilgrims, but as he neared the top, Ashraf Carrim wasn’t feeling it.

Slumped on a boulder not far from the peak of Mt. Baldy, the Muslim imam from Torrance laughed when asked how he was faring on his hike. “Badly,” he replied. A few feet away, the Rev. Jeffrey Utter of the United Church of Christ was girding himself for the…

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The Dalai Lama on tolerance

When I was a boy in Tibet, I felt that my own Buddhist religion must be the best — and that other faiths were somehow inferior. Now I see how naïve I was, and how dangerous the extremes of religious intolerance can be today.

Though intolerance may be as old as religion itself, we still see vigorous signs of its virulence. In Europe, there are intense debates about newcomers wearing veils or wanting to erect minarets and episodes of violence against Muslim immigrants. Radical atheists issue blanket condemnations of those who hold to religious beliefs. In the Middle East, the flames of war are fanned by hatred of those who adhere to a different faith.

Such tensions are likely to increase as the world becomes more interconnected and cultures, peoples and religions become ever more entwined. The pressure this creates tests more than our tolerance — it demands that we promote peaceful coexistence and understanding across boundaries.

Granted, every religion has a sense of exclusivity as part of its core identity. Even so, I believe there is genuine potential for mutual understanding. While preserving faith toward one’s own tradition, one can respect, admire and appreciate other traditions.

An early eye-opener for me was my meeting with the Trappist monk Thomas Merton in India shortly before his untimely death in 1968. Merton told me he could be perfectly faithful to Christianity, yet learn in depth from other religions like Buddhism. The same is true for me as an ardent Buddhist learning from the world’s other great religions.

A main point in my discussion with Merton was how central compassion was to the message of both Christianity and Buddhism. In my readings of the New Testament, I find myself inspired by Jesus’ acts of compassion. His miracle of the loaves and fishes, his healing and his teaching are all motivated by the desire to relieve suffering.

I’m a firm believer in the power of personal contact to bridge differences, so I’ve long been drawn to dialogues with people of other religious outlooks. The focus on compassion that Merton and I observed in our two religions strikes me as a strong unifying thread among all the major faiths. And these days we need to highlight what unifies us.

Take Judaism, for instance. I first visited a synagogue in Cochin, India, in 1965, and have met with many rabbis over the years. I remember vividly the rabbi in the Netherlands who told me about the Holocaust with such intensity that we were both in tears. And I’ve learned how the Talmud and the Bible repeat the theme of compassion, as in the passage in Leviticus that admonishes, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

In my many encounters with Hindu scholars in India, I’ve come to see the centrality of selfless compassion in Hinduism too — as expressed, for instance, in the Bhagavad Gita, which praises those who “delight in the welfare of all beings.” I’m moved by the ways this value has been expressed in the life of great beings like Mahatma Gandhi, or the lesser-known Baba Amte, who founded a leper colony not far from a Tibetan settlement in Maharashtra State in India. There he fed and sheltered lepers who were otherwise shunned. When I received my Nobel Peace Prize, I made a donation to his colony.

Compassion is equally important in Islam — and recognizing that has become crucial in the years since Sept. 11, especially in answering those who paint Islam as a militant faith. On the first anniversary of 9/11, I spoke at the National Cathedral in Washington, pleading that we not blindly follow the lead of some in the news media and let the violent acts of a few individuals define an entire religion.

Let me tell you about the Islam I know. Tibet has had an Islamic community for around 400 years, although my richest contacts with Islam have been in India, which has the world’s second-largest Muslim population. An imam in Ladakh once told me that a true Muslim should love and respect all of Allah’s creatures. And in my understanding, Islam enshrines compassion as a core spiritual principle, reflected in the very name of God, the “Compassionate and Merciful,” that appears at the beginning of virtually each chapter of the Koran.

Finding common ground among faiths can help us bridge needless divides at a time when unified action is more crucial than ever. As a species, we must embrace the oneness of humanity as we face global issues like pandemics, economic crises and ecological disaster. At that scale, our response must be as one.

Harmony among the major faiths has become an essential ingredient of peaceful coexistence in our world. From this perspective, mutual understanding among these traditions is not merely the business of religious believers — it matters for the welfare of humanity as a whole.

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, is the author, most recently, of “Toward a True Kinship of Faiths: How the World’s Religions Can Come Together.”

[via the New York Times]
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Hospitals rethink spiritual spaces, create meditation rooms

They have space for prayer rugs and windows facing east – but no pews or religious symbols. They are called meditation rooms, sanctuaries where families can pray for patients, and doctors can pause for spiritual refreshing.

At least three area hospitals have plans to open meditation rooms – or expand and revise what were once known as chapels – for nondenominational observance. Reasons range from the changing needs of hospital staff, with more Muslims seeking a place to follow daily rituals, to the evolving view of medicine that the body and soul can heal together.

“When people are facing the ultimate spiritual and existential crisis such as illness, they need a quiet place to go,” said Chaplain Connie Johnstone, manager of spiritual care for Kaiser North Valley hospitals.

Some hospitals don’t call the rooms chapels because that label invokes the Judeo-Christian tradition, she said. Hospitals have staff from a wide variety of faith backgrounds, she added, including many Muslims who need a place to pray five times a day.

“These rooms should meet the needs of all faiths,” Johnstone said.

Kaiser Permanente, for the first time in the Sacramento area, is constructing four meditation rooms in three hospitals. The first, at Kaiser Medical Center on Morse Avenue, opens in two weeks. UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento will open a large interfaith space in its new pavilion wing, scheduled to open in the fall. Sutter Health’s new hospital for women and children in Sacramento will open in 2013 with a 40-seat meditation room.

“Muslim prayer rugs and Jewish prayer shawls will be available,” said Lisa Nordlander, director of spiritual care services at Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento. She said the current room is outdated. “The new room will be more inclusive. We’ll also have banners from different faith traditions.”

Hospital officials say they are opening and expanding meditation rooms in response to a demand by visitors and staff, as well as growing awareness of the role spirituality plays in healing.

“More than ever we are looking at treating the entire person,” said Samuel Brown-Dawson, coordinator of clinical pastoral services at UC Davis Medical Center. “People of all faiths – and people of non-faith – need a place where they can sit down and reflect, many as they are trying to make a decision,” he said.

Calling them meditation rooms is much more common on the West Coast, say experts. “In the Midwest and the East Coast, they’re still called chapels,” said Wendy Cadge, a Brandeis University associate professor of sociology who has written about the trend.

Instead of having traditional religious symbols, such as a cross and an altar, many meditation rooms have nature motifs. “Some of them look like art galleries,” she said.

At Kaiser on Morse Avenue, interfaith religious leaders offered input on the design of the space. Once a labor and delivery room, it will seat 14. Stained glass – with an image of a bridge symbolizing healing – decorates the wall. A bowl in which worshippers can place written prayers sits on a shelf. Instead of a traditional altar, there is space for meditation mats and prayer rugs.

“We saw these rooms as a chance to put into action one of the key values Kaiser holds – diversity,” said Johnstone.

Other public spaces are now installing meditation rooms, said Cadge. They can be found in prisons, universities and airports. Sacramento International Airport opened a a “quiet room” in Terminal A that is managed by the Interfaith Service Bureau.

“It’s a quiet place where passengers who are anxious about flying can go,” said airport spokeswoman Gina Swankie.

But most meditation rooms can be found in hospitals. “Our whole philosophy is to support the mind, body and spirit,” said Johnstone said. “This is an integral part of that.”

[via Sacramento Bee

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The quest to sort out competing and comparable religions

Whether one is a Sikh, a Catholic nun, a Buddhist monk or a Sufi Muslim, the brain reacts to focused prayer and meditation much in the same way.

Kathleen Parker, Washington Post: As thousands prayed across the nation Thursday in celebration of the National Day of Prayer, the Rev. Franklin Graham held his own vigil in the Pentagon parking lot.

Oh well, it doesn’t matter where one prays, right? All prayers lead to heaven. Or do they?

Not if you’re Graham, who lost his place at the Pentagon altar after he mocked other religions, specifically Islam and Hinduism. A plea to President Obama to reinstate him apparently fell on pitiless ears.

Graham’s offense was expressing his belief that only Christians have God’s ear, that Islam is evil, and that Muslims and Hindus don’t pray to the same God he does.

“No elephant with 100 arms can do anything for me,” Graham said in a USA Today interview, referring to one of the five main Hindu deities. “None of their 9,000 gods is going to lead me to salvation. We are fooling ourselves if we think we can have some big kumbaya service and all hold hands and it’s all going to get better in this world. It’s not going to get better.”

It’s not? If the whole world prays for a common good, will no good come of it? If so, then what’s the point of a National Day of Prayer? Oh ye of little faith.

Perhaps Graham was feeling cross after his rejection. As honorary chairman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, a private evangelical group, Graham was to have led a prayer for the U.S. military. His son is on a fourth tour in Afghanistan.

But Graham’s views didn’t sit well with secular Americans or even non-evangelical Christians, who protested that the government is endorsing a certain flavor of Christianity. A Wisconsin court apparently agreed and ruled the day unconstitutional, appeals pending.

Graham isn’t alone in his views. A survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors, conducted by an evangelical polling firm, found that 47 percent agree that Islam is “a very evil and a very wicked religion.” But such opinions may be confined mostly to an older generation. Evangelicals under 30 believe that there are many ways to God, not just through Jesus.

David Campbell, a professor at Notre Dame and co-author (with Harvard’s Robert Putnam) of “American Grace: How Religion Is Reshaping Our Civic and Political Lives,” conducted surveys showing that nearly two-thirds of evangelicals under 35 believe non-Christians can go to heaven, vs. 39 percent of those over 65.

When it comes to whose prayers carry more weight in the heavenly realm, well, who really knows? But new brain research supports the likelihood that one man’s prayer is as good as any other’s.

Barbara Bradley Hagerty, the award-winning National Public Radio religion reporter, participated in a peyote ceremony in Arizona, meditated while wearing a brain scanner at the University of Wisconsin and donned a “God helmet” in a neuroscientist’s lab in Canada in her quest to discover the secrets of prayer and, possibly, proof of God.

In her book, “Fingerprints of God,” Hagerty tries to answer a question that has plagued her for years: Is there more than this? She couldn’t accept mainstream science’s answer that we are “a collection of molecules with no greater purpose than to eke out a few decades.” Instead, she sought out spiritual virtuosos (people who practice prayer, religiously), as well as neurologists, geneticists, physicists and medical researchers who are using the newest tools of science to discern the circumstantial evidence of God.

Her research led to some startling conclusions that have caused no small amount of Sturm und Drang among those who believe theirs is the one true way. She found that whether one is a Sikh, a Catholic nun, a Buddhist monk or a Sufi Muslim, the brain reacts to focused prayer and meditation much in the same way. The same parts light up and the same parts go dark during deep meditation.

Apparently, we have a “God spot” and “God genes.” And though some are more generously endowed than others, spiritual experience is a human phenomenon, not a religious one. Different routes to the same destination.

Understandably, these are not glad tidings to some. Centuries of blood have been shed for the sake of religious certitude. But transcending the notion that only some prayers are the right ones might get us closer to the enlightenment we purportedly seek.

Hagerty is optimistic that science eventually will demonstrate that we are more than mere matter. In the meantime, it would seem eminently rational to presume in our public affairs that God does not play political favorites with His creation.

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The Mind and Life conference

Marissa Kimsky, Emory Wheel: While scientists are searching for a cure-all pill for mental disorders, new research shows that the cure may not be in a bottle, but could rather be found in Tibetan meditation.

Hundreds gathered in the Woodruff Physical Education Center to hear discussions on this pioneering research on meditation and mental disorders. This research was presented in a dialog in the 15th Mind and Life conference: Mindfulness, Compassion and the Treatment of Depression.

Mind and Life was organized by a scientist and an entrepreneur in 1987 to establish a dialog between Buddhist philosophers and scientists. It has proven to be extremely successful, encouraged countless studies on the benefits of meditation. The organization has inspired an initiative to teach Buddhist monks science, and it encourages a common goal between researchers and Buddhists to improve minds, lives, societies and the world.

Emory, one of the leading institutions for meditation research in the country, hosted the conference for the first time on Saturday, prior to the installation the Dalai Lama as a presidential distinguished professor on Monday.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama entered the room and immediately showered the crowed with affection. He lowered into a bow and clasped his hands together, blessing the audience.

The Dalai Lama was an extremely active participant throughout the conference, asking several scientifically in-depth questions and suggesting new directions for future research projects.

Co-founder of Mind and Life Adam Engel reflected as he opened this conference.

Twenty years ago, when the conference series began, the Dalai Lama had a request of the scientists.

“First investigate the positive effects of meditation,” the Dalai Lama said. “If you find it successful, please teach it to your society in a purely secular manner in order to benefit everyone.”

This has been the goal of the researchers for the past 20 years. Researchers Richard Davidson, Helen Mayberg, Charles Nemeroff, Charles Raison and Zindel Segal presented findings from multiple successful neuroscience projects geared towards improving the mind and mental balance. Buddhist scholars at the conference, including the Dalai Lama, John Dunne and Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi, connected these studies to Buddhist philosophy.

This was not necessarily an easy task for the Buddhist scholars.

“Speaking to the Dalai Lama on Buddhism is like speaking to Jesus on Christianity,” Dunne said.

Throughout the conference, both Buddhist scholars and scientists agreed that depression could be characterized by the sufferer’s inward focus.

Buddhism strives to accomplish the opposite — to turn one’s perspective outwards through compassion and mindfulness meditations.

Both of these forms of meditation were investigated by scientists in their experiments. Psychological and physical evidence showed that individuals suffering from depression were able to overcome the symptoms through compassion meditation.

Davidson used samatha, a Tibetan Buddhist form of mindful meditation, in his studies and found that it improves concentration. The functional MRI brain scans taken during this practice showed more activation in the frontal-parietal areas, regions of the brain designated to higher cognition.

Raison foresees using meditation to prevent more than just depression. He also thinks it can help prevent diseases associated with stress, such as depression, anxiety, heart failure, high cholesterol, cancer and diabetes. “Our interest is in looking at meditation as a potential strategy to protect against the emotional and medical diseases that arise from stress,” he said.

Dean Robert Paul and University President James W. Wagner also spoke at the event. Paul said he sees Emory’s research moving towards developing meditation as a prescription within preventative psychiatry, the medical practice of preventing mental disorders.

Mind and Life is also working to facilitate inter-religious dialog. Currently centering prayer, a contemplative Catholic tradition is also being investigated by other Mind and Life researchers and the conference strives to integrate various other contemplative traditions into the studies as well. Dunne believes that the research benefits not only neuroscience but an enormous array of disciplines.

“Mind and Life research also helps build a greater research network on contemplative based interventions,” Dunne said.

Original article no longer available…

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