Jon Kabat-Zinn

Meditation: Aware of present moment (South Bend Tribune, Indiana)

Diane Evans: Review of “Wherever You Go, There You Are,” by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

The idea of uncluttering our minds transcends faiths and cultures. Teachings about meditation can be found in any age, whether in religion or world literature.

In his book “Wherever You Are There You Go,” Jon Kabat-Zinn described meditation as “the systematic cultivation of wakefulness, of present-moment awareness.” It means we pay attention, on purpose, in the here and now, without passing judgment on anything.

Meditation is a path of self-development. It can mean different things to different people. Some may hope to connect to a higher spirit. Others may seek a sense of harmony and oneness with the universe.

There is no single way to meditate, and you don’t have to chant.

Kabat-Zinn, who founded the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, said in his book that the idea is just to stop and be present in the moment.

On the question of posture, it’s whatever works for you. It is common to sit. But you may also stand, walk or lie down.

In his book, Kabat-Zinn offered a wonderful description of what mountains teach us about meditation.

“The mountain just sits, being itself,” he wrote. All around, there may be violent storms. Still the mountain sits. Or it may be spring when birds sing and flowers bloom. Still the mountain sits. The mountain is unmoved by what happens on the surface and around it.

Similarly, we experience ups and downs in our own lives.

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Meditation serves different purposes (Akron Beacon Journal, Ohio)

One time I got a call from a priest, irked because I had written something about meditation in the context of Buddhist philosophy.

“I’ve been meditating for 30 years,” he told me. “This isn’t just an eastern thing.

No, it’s not. The idea of uncluttering our minds transcends faiths and cultures. It’s for all of us. And teachings about meditation can be found in any age, whether in Christianity or Judaism, Native American wisdom or world literature.

“Only that day dawns to which we are awake,” Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden.

In his book Wherever You Are There You Go, Jon Kabat-Zinn described meditation as “the systematic cultivation of wakefulness, of present-moment awareness.” It means we pay attention, on purpose, in the here and now, without passing judgment on anything.

Meditation is a path of self-development. It can mean different things to different people. Some may hope to connect to a higher spirit. Others may seek a sense of harmony and oneness with the universe. Still others may want to relieve stress or get rid of chronic headache pain.

A reader named Bernard, who recently visited our book club forums discussion page at www.ohio.com, asked the fundamental question of how one begins to meditate. Bernard wanted to know if he had to chant.

The answer is that there is no single way to meditate, and you don’t have to chant. Another reader, going by the name Strings, added this perspective: “The best advice I can offer for anyone interested in starting is to eliminate any preformed opinions or ideas, and experience it directly. Simply sit, sit, sit. Then use that same mindfulness throughout your daily life and everything you do.”

Kabat-Zinn, who founded the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, said in his book that the idea is not to try to get anywhere to make something happen, but just to stop and be present in the moment at hand.

You may experience new things. Or you may not.

On the question of posture, it’s whatever works for you. It is common to sit. But you may also stand, walk or lie down.

In his book, Kabat-Zinn offered a wonderful description of what mountains teach us about meditation.
This is the essence: We hold mountains sacred, yet they also embody a sense of dread. They are harsh yet majestic. They are made of rock, solid and of the earth. They show us the natural world in panoramic view.

Yet “the mountain just sits, being itself,” in Kabat-Zinn’s words. All around, there may be violent storms, snow, unfathomable winds. Still the mountain sits.

Or it may be spring when birds sing and flowers bloom. Still the mountain sits.

The mountain is unmoved by what happens on the surface and around it.

Similarly, we experience periods of ups and downs, lightness and darkness, in our own lives.

“The weather of our own lives is not to be ignored or denied,” Kabat-Zinn wrote. “It is to be encountered, honored, felt, known for what it is, and held in high awareness since it can kill us. In holding it in this way, we come to know a deeper silence and stillness and wisdom than we may have thought possible, right within the storms.

We can become firm and unmoving, he said, while at the same time soft, gentle and flowing.

Other readings on meditation, from various writers, are posted on the forums discussion page. You can also find the latest newsletter which discusses a particular method of meditation.

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Buddha Lessons (Newsweek)

Claudia Kalb, Newsweek International: A technique called ‘mindfulness’ teaches how to step back from pain and the worries of life.

At the age of 39, Janet Clarke discovered that she had a benign spinal tumor, which caused her unremitting back pain. Painkillers helped, but it wasn’t until she took a meditation course in Lytham that Clarke discovered a powerful weapon inside her own body: her mind. Using a practice called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Clarke learned to acknowledge the aching, rather than fight it. “It was about getting in touch with your body, rather than your head,” she says. “Mindfulness gives you something painkillers can’t—an attitude for living your life.”

With its roots in ancient Buddhist traditions, mindfulness is now gaining ground as an antidote for everything from type-A stress to depression. At the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts, where MBSR was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, 15,000 people have taken an eight-week course in the practice; hundreds more have signed up at medical clinics across the United States. Now scientists are using brain imaging and blood tests to study the biological effects of meditation. The research is capturing interest at the highest levels: the Dalai Lama is so intrigued he has joined forces with the Mind & Life Institute in Boulder, Colorado, which supports research on meditation and the mind. Next month, scientists will meet with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India, for a major conference on the neuroplasticity of the brain. “People used to think that this was a lot of mystical mumbo jumbo,” says psychologist Ruth Baer, of the University of Kentucky. “Now they’re saying, ‘Hey, we should start paying attention’.”

Paying attention is the very essence of mindfulness. In 45-minute meditations, participants learn to observe the whirring thoughts of the mind and the physical sensations in the body. The guiding principle is to be present moment to moment, to be aware of what’s happening, but without critique or judgment. It is not easy. Our “monkey mind,” as Buddhists call the internal chaos, keeps us swinging from past regrets to future worries, leaving little time for the here and now. First attempts may provoke frustration (“I’ll never be able to do this”), impatience (“When will this be over?”) and even banal mental sparks (“What am I going to make for dinner?”). The goal, however, is not to reach nirvana, but to observe the cacophony in a compassionate way, to accept it as transient, “like bubbles forming in a pot of water or weather patterns in the sky,” says Kabat-Zinn.

The keystone of mindfulness is daily meditation, but the practice is intended to become a way of life. At Stanford University, Philippe Goldin encourages patients battling social-anxiety disorder to take “meaningful pauses” throughout the day as a way to monitor and take charge of their fears and self-doubts. Inner control can be a potent tool in the fight against all sorts of chronic conditions. In a pilot study of 18 obese women, Jean Kristeller, director of the Center for the Study of Health, Religion and Spirituality at Indiana State University, found that mindfulness meditation, augmented with special eating meditations (slowly savoring the flavor of a piece of cheese, say), helped reduce binges from an average of four per week to one and a half.

Mindfulness takes you out of the same old patterns. You’re no longer battling your mind in the boxer’s ring—you’re watching, with interest, from the stands. The detachment doesn’t lead to passivity, but to new ways of thinking. This is especially helpful in depression, which plagues sufferers with relentless ruminations. University of Toronto psychiatry professor Zindel Segal, along with British colleagues John Teasdale at Oxford and Mark Williams at Cambridge, combines mindfulness with conventional cognitive behavioral therapy, teaching patients to observe sadness or unhappiness without judgment. In a study of patients who had recovered from a depressive episode, Segal and colleagues found that 66 percent of those who learned mindfulness remained stable (no relapse) over a year, compared with 34 percent in a control group.

The biological impact of mindfulness is the next frontier in scientific research. In a study published several years ago, Kabat-Zinn found that when patients with psoriasis listened to meditation tapes during ultraviolet-light therapy, they healed about four times faster than a control group. More recently, Kabat-Zinn and neuroscientist Richard Davidson, of the University of Wisconsin, found that after eight weeks of MBSR, a group of biotech employees showed a greater increase in activity in the left prefrontal cortex—the region of the brain associated with a happier state of mind—than colleagues who received no meditation training. Those with the greatest left-brain activation also mounted the most vigorous antibody assault against a flu vaccine.

There’s more in the pipeline. Stanford’s Goldin is taking brain images to see if mindfulness affects emotional trigger points, like the amygdala, which processes fear. And at the University of Maryland, Dr. Brian Berman is tracking inflammation levels in rheumatoid arthritis patients who study mindfulness. One of them, Dalia Isicoff, says the payoff is already clear: “I’m at peace,” she says. Mind and body, together.

With Clint Witchalls in London

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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.

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Daily moments of mindfulness (Financial Express, New Delhi, India)

SIMRAN BHARGAVA, Financial Express – New Delhi, India: “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold.” The Irish poet WB Yeats wrote these evocative lines a hundred years ago, and although written in a different context, they are resonant of what life feels like much of the time today. Things fall apart with frightening regularity under the pressure of time shortages, money woes, broken relationships. The unstable centre cannot hold. The result is frustration and despair.

But what, if on the other hand, you were to build a strong centre? One that could withstand the regular breaking down of the world which, of course, will regularly break down. A centre that stays calm even though chaos reigns all around. Then you’d worry less about the storms that come your way because you’d be sailing in a stronger ship.

One way to build this calm centre is through the regular practice of meditation. Another is through the Buddhist way of mindfulness. Meditation is emptying your mind to an inner silence. Mindfulness is living fully in the present. Both bring about the same effect of inner stillness.

Simple as these practices seem, their cumulative effect can be profound. A friend who is an investment banker and a meditation devotee, says not a day passes when he doesn’t meditate, even though he is constantly travelling around the world. He says it keeps him centred against the many fluctuations of his life. His guru first introduced him to the practice in this way: “You start with an illiterate village. Each time you meditate, you bring literacy to one villager. Next time you do it, another villager becomes literate. Bit by bit, the entire village gains literacy. Living in a high-literacy village is very different to living in an illiterate village.” Gradually an inner stillness begins to replace an inner agitation.

Over time these practices really do change the texture of your life. I do them irregularly but even so, I now find it easier and easier to be completely still for longer and longer periods of time. In the beginning this seemed almost impossible to achieve because the rebellious mind was always butting in: “How long have I been sitting? Can’t believe I’m doing this, it doesn’t work. What a waste of time when I have a report to write/ phonecalls to make/errands to do. The phone just rang, wonder who it is. Ouch, my little toe is itching. Someone tell me what the time is. This is dumb, dumb, dumb.”

That inner chattering monkey is more or less gone.

Once you begin to experience stillness, you get addicted to it. It drapes you like cashmere. When you’re still, the muddy waters settle and you can see things that you just couldn’t see when you were all agitated inside. When you’re still, people around you mysteriously calm down as well, as if in synchronistic response. When you’re still, all your senses open up and you discover a world you didn’t even notice before: the slant of the evening sun, the lines on your mother’s hand, the full taste of a ripe orange.

It’s a qualitatively different life.

Anyone can achieve a greater measure of stillness by following some simple ways of being (as against doing). Let me share two that I stumbled upon and found particularly helpful.

The first is from the dearly-loved Vietnamese monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh. He was in Delhi a few years ago to spend a day of mindfulness and anyone was free to join. We spent most of the day with him, just sitting, eating and walking.

You could change your life by watching this man walk. I haven’t seen anyone else walk like he does. He walked with full presence, his feet kissing the earth, almost as if he were savouring each step. Nothing else mattered at that moment expect doing what he was doing.

That day of mindfulness got me deeply interested in his work and I subsequently read all his books. In one, he describes how at age four, his mother used to bring him a cookie each time she went to the market. Delighted, he would take his cookie to the front yard, sit down and eat it leisurely, sometime taking half-an-hour to do so. He says: “I would take a small bite and look up at the sky. Then I would touch the dog with my feet and take another small bite. I enjoyed being there, with the sky, the earth, the bamboo thickets…I did not think of the future, I did not regret the past. I was entirely in the present moment.”

Mindfulness is simply doing whatever you’re doing. When you’re eating, eat. When you’re with your kids, be with your kids. When you’re working, work. Be in the moment fully. If you are fully with your “cookie” then you are also likely to be fully with your kids or spouse or co-workers. The way we live one part of our lives is also frequently how we live other parts of our life.

Who would have guessed that a four-year-old eating a cookie in his front yard was already practising one of the most profound principles of Buddhism?

The second “technique” (if you can call it that) is from another well-known teacher called Jon Kabat-Zinn. He is founder and director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Centre and has trained judges, priests, Olympic athletes and even prison inmates to help bring down their aggression levels.

In one of his meditations called ‘The Mountain Meditation’, he suggests that a good way to centre yourself while meditating is to embody the qualities of a mountain. Mountains are sacred, majestic, symbols of abiding presence and stillness. The sun moves, the seasons change, light and colours on the mountain keep shifting moment by moment. Through it all the mountain just sits. Calmness abiding all change.

Kabat-Zinn suggests you hold these qualities of “mountainness” in your mind’s eye. Imagine yourself as one with the mountain as you sit cross-legged and unmoving. He says: “Invite yourself to become a breathing mountain, unwavering in your stillness. A centred, rooted, unmoving presence.” As we sit holding this image in our mind, we can embody the same unwavering stillness and rootedness in the face of everything that changes in our own lives. Like a central mountain axis that stays still through thick and thin.

The mountain is. You are.

When you practise some of these ways of non-doing you may find that the chaos around you continues but you begin to respond to it differently.

Nothing changes. And yet everything does.

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Meditation distanced from Buddhist roots (Toronto Star)

PUNNADHAMMO BHIKKHU, Toronto Star: Not so long ago, the practice of meditation was considered something exotic or eccentric. Not anymore. In recent years, it has definitely moved into the mainstream of Western culture. Everyone from neuro-scientists to sociologists, educators and medical researchers is seriously investigating its effects and benefits.

There is mounting evidence, for instance, that a state of calm, focused awareness can assist the healing process.

In several places, different forms of meditation training are incorporated into the health-care system, with very good results.

Perhaps the best known of these projects is Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Stress Reduction Clinic, which is based at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.

Interest is also growing in using meditative techniques for treating psychiatric problems such as ADD and bi-polar disorder. If these modalities of treatment become established they could revolutionize the mental health field. Not the least of the benefits would be the reduction in use of costly psycho-active drugs, with all their harmful side-effects.

Another area where meditation practice is making inroads is in prison reform. In several places there are on-going projects to teach meditation to prisoners.

One of the oldest and most established of these is that of S.N. Goenka’s Vipassana organization which runs programs in India and the United States.

There are other prison meditation projects based in various Buddhist traditions — Zen, Theravada and Tibetan — being run in several countries.

Wherever it’s been tried, teaching meditation to prisoners has had great effect in reducing stress, violence and even recidivism. Often the biggest hurdle to overcome is opposition from conservative authorities to “frills,” but when they see that it is a cheap, effective and safe way to ease prison management they can become staunch supporters of the idea.

There are many different schools and techniques of meditation, but most of the methods currently practised in such settings as hospitals, hospices, stress clinics, schools and prisons have their origins in various Buddhist traditions, most often Zen or the Vipassana techniques of Burmese Theravada. Buddhism is more than meditation, but meditation is a crucial part of the Buddhist path. In Buddhism, meditation falls under the heading of Bhavana, or development, meaning mental development. It is considered as essential for the well-being of the mind as exercise is for the body.

The methods of meditation used in all these varied social contexts, although Buddhist in origin , are often highly secularized. Sometimes even the use of the word “meditation” is avoided in favour of “relaxation technique” or “focusing.” This is similar to the way Western culture has abstracted other eastern disciplines like yoga and the martial arts from their original spiritual context. Teachers like Kabat-Zinn make this separation as a deliberate policy, to avoid trappings of exoticism that are off-putting to a mainstream clientele.

There is nothing wrong with this in itself, but traditional Buddhists are quick to point out that meditation in the traditional understanding is about much more than stress relief or even healing, valid as these are. In the Buddhist teachings the end of practice is awakening or liberation, which is above the plane of all such limited goals.

It is worthwhile to remember that any meditation technique abstracted from the original context is only part of the whole, and the results can only be partial. Freud said of psychoanalysis that at best it could bring the patient to a state of “ordinary misery.” That might be a blessing for someone mired in extraordinary misery, but why stop there?

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Medicine for the mind (The Independent, UK)

The Independent: Ian Robinson doesn’t mince his words when it comes to admitting his past failings. “I was a bugger for road rage,” he confesses. “I’d be driving along and someone would cut me up and I could kill.” Ian laughs at the admission. Other road users no longer wind him up. Their driving hasn’t changed – Ian has. The 44-year-old factory worker has discovered meditation.

Ian Robinson doesn’t mince his words when it comes to admitting his past failings. “I was a bugger for road rage,” he confesses. “I’d be driving along and someone would cut me up and I could kill.” Ian laughs at the admission. Other road users no longer wind him up. Their driving hasn’t changed – Ian has. The 44-year-old factory worker has discovered meditation.

Ian and eight of his colleagues from Indmar Sheetmetal in Wigan, Lancashire, were taught how to meditate over a three-month period for a BBC2 documentary which will be screened on Thursday evening. The results were remarkable. According to Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Umist, their mental and physical wellbeing increased by more than 300 per cent. “We took pulse rate measures before they started the course,” he says. “We repeated them before and after various sessions, and then at the end to see if there was an overall improvement on pulse rate.” The researchers also used psychometric stress tests at the end of the experiment. “What was very interesting was that the workers showed a massive improvement in their overall mental and physical health scores. And they were better than normative. Eight out of nine people showed substantial changes. And their heart and pulse rates improved significantly, too.”

The factory workers, most of whom were initially sceptical, were taught breathing techniques and t’ai chi, and were then taken on guided meditations during which they imagined themselves in a tranquil place. “I loved it, I really did,” says Ian, a systems manager. “I wasn’t too keen on the t’ai chi, but the meditation – there’s something in that. I felt more focused after I did it. I could meditate for 50 minutes and it would seem like five or 10 minutes. While I was doing it, all sorts of things were happening – I was flying and seeing lights. After-wards I felt relaxed and more focused.” Ian has continued to practise. “I do the meditation once a week at least. Now I’m more chilled. Nothing fazes me.”

Ian’s colleague Elaine Walsh, 40, a press operator, says that learning to meditate has changed her life. “I was sceptical at first,” admits Elaine. “But I found it very relaxing. I had mood swings before. I don’t get them at all now. My husband noticed a change straight away; he made me carry on. It has changed my life. I feel more alive, awake. I suffered from asthma and I don’t get it as much now. I still meditate twice a day.”

Meditation has never been so popular, as more people struggle to cope with the pressures of work and home life. Celebrities such as Richard Gere, Shania Twain, Sting, Goldie Hawn and Sheryl Crow are also at it. Some forms require you to concentrate on your breathing, others on an object such as a candle, or to repeat a mantra. Some are practised while walking or dancing.

Researchers continue to find evidence of its benefits. It was recently discovered that Buddhists who meditate may be able to train their brains to feel happiness and to control aggressive instincts. According to Owen Flanagan, professor of philosophy at Duke University in North Carolina, Buddhists appear to be able to stimulate the left prefrontal lobe – the area just behind the forehead – which may be why they can generate positive emotions and a feeling of wellbeing at will.

In August, the journal Psychosomatic Medicine reported that researchers from the University of Wisconsin had found that meditation could boost the body’s immune system and change brain activity in areas associated with positive emotion. Twenty-four employees took an eight-week meditation course, and found that the positive biological effects lasted for up to four months.

Meditation appears to be helpful for a wide range of health problems. Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the stress reduction programme at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, has been using a type of meditation called mindfulness (which involves paying attention to the experience of the moment) to help people cope with cancer, Aids, heart disease, chronic pain, chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, high blood pressure, anxiety and panic. In two trials by Dr Kabat-Zinn, psoriasis patients who listened to meditation tapes while receiving ultraviolet light treatments healed four times faster than those on light treatment alone.

In addition, two studies by Dr John Teasdale, a psychologist at the Medical Research Council’s cognition and brain sciences unit in Cambridge, have found that, teamed with cognitive therapy, mindfulness meditation halved the risk of relapse for people who have suffered three or more episodes of clinical depression. The treatment is currently being used clinically within the NHS in a small number of places around the country.

The greatest claims, however, come from supporters of Transcendental Meditation (TM), a specific technique popularised by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. It was first taught here in 1960 and more than 160,000 Britons have subsequently learnt it – at a cost (currently £1,280 for the course). It is practised for 15 to 20 minutes twice daily, repeating a specific mantra while sitting comfortably with the eyes closed.

Research into the technique has been conducted at more than 200 universities, hospitals and research institutions in 27 countries, its supporters say. They claim the studies show that practising TM reduces a variety of important risk factors for diseases such as coronary heart disease and cancer, including high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, drug abuse, obesity, stress levels, anxiety and depression.

One US study on volunteers with high blood pressure, which was reported in The Lancet, found that TM could significantly reduce clogging of the arteries and cut related health risks, particularly of heart disease. Studies published in The American Journal of Cardiology and Stroke have shown that TM helps to relieve angina and reduce hardening of the arteries.

More research conducted in America found that a group of 2,000 people who practised TM had fewer than half the number of visits to the doctor and days in hospital compared with a control group over a five-year period. Jonathan Hinde, a TM teacher and spokesman for the organisation in Britain, says over the last five or so years, The National Institutes of Health, the main government funding body for medical research in the US, has put about $20m into research specifically on the connection between TM and various aspects of cardiovascular health. “What has been found is that if you practise TM for about three months, blood pressure tends to be reduced by about the same amount as taking any drug for hypertension. Hypertension is implicated in both strokes and heart attacks, two of the three biggest killers in the Western world.”

There are, of course, sceptics. In an editorial in the BMJ last May, Peter H Canter, a research fellow in complementary medicine, concluded that “overall, current evidence for the therapeutic effectiveness of any type of meditation is weak, and evidence for any specific effect above that of credible control interventions even more so.” He added that most of the researchers for these studies were directly involved in the organisation offering TM, and “seem keen to demonstrate its unique value”.

Yet Larry Culliford, a consultant psychiatrist at a community mental health centre in Brighton, who was trained in meditation by Buddhist monks more than 20 years ago, is convinced that it works. He practises it once a day, paying attention to the rise and fall of his chest and abdomen while he breathes. “Sogyal Rinpoche, who wrote The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, says that giving yourself the gift of learning to meditate is the best gift you can give yourself in this life. You could say without too much exaggeration that it has transformed me and my life.

“The evidence is that it is very good for people with a range of physical as well as mental health problems. Meditation gets the mind and body back into harmony and this allows the natural healing processes the best chance to work. Benefits are possible in every organ system of the body and every part of health disorder, including mental health disorder.”

Also convinced of the benefits of meditation is Roger Chalmers, a GP working in East Anglia, who has been practising TM since 1974. “An enormous amount of what we deal with in general practice is stress-related, and TM is a really excellent method for eliminating stress.

“TM is something that anyone can do; it’s completely effortless and enhances wellbeing. Everybody benefits from being more well-rested and free from stress. We all know what it feels like when we have a good rest overnight or a good holiday. Everything in your life improves, and, in a way, you can see TM as something that just gives you a very easy technique to ensure that more of life is spent in that state and less is spent feeling tired and strained.”

[via the Independent]
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The Healing Power of Meditation

A nonprofit group brings one of Buddhism’s core practices to former inmates. And the Dalai Lama is listening.

Newsweek: It’s hard to imagine a more unlikely pair discussing politics at New York’s swanky Mark Hotel last week: Moses Weah, a 21-year-old African-American from the South Bronx, currently residing in a Times Square shelter, with corn-rowed hair and a rap sheet longer than his untucked T shirt and, not 10 feet away, dressed in his saffron-and-maroon monk’s robes, 68-year-old Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader in exile.

Surrounded in the hotel’s small conference room by 17 former prison inmates, meditation teachers, meditation teachers, State Department security agents, a film crew and actor Richard Gere, who helped facilitate the gathering, Moses held forth so passionately he half rose from his seat. “It’s about making money, man. Uzis aren’t made in the ghetto. Nobody in the hood’s making money off the Dolce & Gabbana we’re wearing. Prisons are about making money for the dudes the prisons. They us to fail. They us to go back.” His Holiness listened and nodded and replied without using his translator, “I too could be in this prison. That potential is inside all humans. But so is potential for transformation. You must keep on path for what is good inside you.”…

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From the Dalai Lama’s perspective, that path is intimately connected to meditation—the mindfulness and natural compassion that Buddhists believe arise when one is fully, selflessly, connected to the present moment. (Kundun, the Dalai Lama’s name in Tibetan, means “presence.”) Though it seems a no-brainer to offer people in prisons a healthy, inexpensive way to deal with anger and stress (if for no other reason than most will one day be of prison), thus far there’s been considerable resistance to it by most government agencies. For the past four years I’ve been teaching meditation classes in New York City youth prisons with a nonprofit organization called the Lineage Project. It’s often a struggle to get inside, and though our group received the Mayor’s Voluntary Action Award we get no funding from the city or from the Department of Juvenile Justice. Recognizing this and myriad other issues surrounding the American prison system, Soren Gordhamer, the founder of the Lineage Project, organized (through Gere’s Initiatives Foundation) a three-day conference in Manhattan called “Healing Through Great Difficulty.”

“We’re trying to address a system that’s not working,” Gordhamer says. “Too often prisoners come out angrier than when they went in. Prison guards have a shorter life expectancy than most other vocations and often die shortly after retirement. Prison groups worry more about their paychecks bouncing than teaching. Our goal is not to make people Buddhists. It’s about helping to calm the minds of prisoners and staff, and to support the human values of empathy and respect.”
The New York conference, the first of its kind, which by design coincided with the Dalai Lama’s 20-day American tour, began with panel discussions led by Western meditation teachers, including Jack Kornfield, a former Buddhist monk and author of the best-selling “A Path With Heart”; George Mumford, a sports psychologist and meditation coach with the Los Angeles Lakers; a feisty Buddhist nun from Australia named Robina Courtin, who labors to keep afloat her California-based Liberation Prison Project, which has donated more than 20,000 books to prison libraries worldwide; Fleet Maull, an ordained Zen priest who founded the National Prison Hospice Association while serving 14 years in federal prison, and Jon Kabat-Zinn, an author and scientist who has helped bring mindfulness practices into the mainstream of American medicine. Two questions the teachers wanted to address: What works? What more can we do?
The 18 former inmates—nominated by prison groups and halfway houses from around the country to attend the conference and offer answers—proved to be inspiring examples of the possibility of transformation through spiritual practice. Among many of the former inmates were two common denominators: tough, often abusive childhoods in broken families, and a fervent desire to give something positive back to their “brothers and sisters” still inside. “Meditation saved my life,” said Ananda Baltrunas, who, released just weeks ago after two decades in prison, lives in a Zen monastery in Indiana and plans to counsel local inmates. Dylcia Pagán, a former Puerto Rican political prisoner who served 20 years for sedition, told the group, “Meditation enabled me to find that sacred space within me in the madness of prison life. It allowed me to learn forgiveness for myself and for my jailors.” Luz Santana, who works with emotionally disturbed women in the same New York state facility where she was locked up for 11 years, tearfully explained, “It was acts of kindness that helped me survive in prison, and I’m now trying to pass that on, to give a little bit of love to those who never experienced it.”
Perhaps the most powerful testament to the value of meditation and spiritual practice came when two Tibetan nuns shared with the American prisoners the grim details of their incarceration by the communist Chinese government. Though guilty of nothing more than attending a peaceful demonstration in Lhasa advocating religious freedom, both teenage nuns were arrested, tortured and for five years kept in an unheated cell with 12 other prisoners with whom they were not allowed to speak. The Tibetan translator’s eyes welled with tears as she explained how throughout their ordeal the two nuns continually, silently, meditated on the only Buddhist image they had ever seen: a smuggled photo of the Dalai Lama as a little boy. When asked by the American prisoners how they survived, one of the nuns replied, “We remembered those who were suffering more than us.”
During the conference it became clear that society’s bias against former inmates is multifaceted. For instance, only two of the 18 participants had regained their voting rights. Were it not for a special waiver to attend the conference, because of parole restrictions, most could not have traveled to New York or even associated with each other as former prisoners. When I escorted a participant from Massachusetts to the 20th Precinct police headquarters so he could register as a “parolee from out of state,” the cop who gave him the form sneeringly refused to sign it or log it into the computer, and when he got his pen back he threw it in the trash.
For most of us, the conference highlight was the intimate, 90-minute conversation with the Dalai Lama. “It didn’t turn out like I had planned,” says Gordhamer. “I thought he would be answering lots of questions. Instead, the prisoners wanted to educate him about so many of the problems people in poverty face growing up in our culture. His Holiness was visibly moved when he learned that several states spend more money on jails than colleges. He’s already expressed interest in returning next year to talk with wardens, judges and politicians about changes to our prison system that would lead to a safer society for everyone.”
After the unprecedented discussion, the Dalai Lama bowed and blessed the teachers’ and prisoners’ mala beads. As the group gathered around him for a photograph, one of the participants asked if she could give His Holiness a kiss. He laughed and patted his cheek. Watching, keeping in mind the lessons embodied in the suffering and wisdom of both the Dalai Lama and the likes of young Moses Weah, I recalled the last meditation class Soren and I taught at a youth prison in the South Bronx. The final steel door yawning shut behind us with an emphatic deadbolt . The tiny chapel filled with 16 young men, convicted or accused of offenses including armed robbery, rape and murder, slumped throughout the pews in their sweaty brown jumpsuits, somehow looking both anxious and theatrically bored. Ten minutes later an always amazing sight: the inmates were sitting up straight, most with closed eyes, silently counting the echoing from the brass bowl balanced on Soren’s fingertips. One kid chewed on a toothpick and sat so fully erect his posture seemed a parody of itself, yet when the meditation concluded he was the first to shout out the correct number of chimes. Another rubbed his eyes and said to no one in particular, “Yo, where I?”
Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Mahatma Gandhi, even Jesus—many of the world’s great leaders, Soren reminded the young men, spent time in jail.
As the female inmates lined up in single file at the conclusion of that night’s second class, a woman whose hair was styled into a dozen tiny Afro tufts gently knocked knuckles with us. “Yesterday I meditated before I met my judge,” she whispered. “My stomach was all fluttery, so I went into the bathroom at the courthouse, put paper towels on the floor, closed my eyes, and counted my breaths.
Soren smiled. “Did it help?”
“Yeah, a lot,” she answered as she was marched off to her cell. “It made me feel so much better, I thought I was doing something illegal.”

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Mindfulness medication

ABC News: Many moons ago, a wandering Nepalese prince sat under a tree, vowing not to rise until he attained enlightenment.

After a long night of deep meditation, Siddhartha Gautama, better known as the Buddha, saw the light and declared that suffering is subjective, and can be reduced through self-awareness.

Today, 2500 years later, a growing number of American doctors and healthcare workers are teaching people who are ill how to apply Buddha’s epiphany to their lives.

In hospitals, businesses and community centers around the country, meditation is increasingly being offered as a method of stress reduction, and to help patients better cope with the physical pain and mental strain associated with many medical conditions, including heart disease and HIV infection…

Read the rest of this article…

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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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