relaxation response

Judges blasted over mass meditation ‘exodus’

Judges playing hooky to meditate [see Harvard doc helps judges open minds] has angered lawmakers and the head of the union representing court and probation officers, who called recent “concentration” conferences for jurists “a slap in the face” to public workers.

“It’s almost like it’s a bad joke,” said David Holway, president of the National Association of Government Employees. “All public employees face stress in their jobs. Probation officers working the streets at night, that’s real stress.”

The Herald reported yesterday that Harvard University meditation guru Dr. Daniel Brown hosted a free meditation conference on a Friday for superior court judges. Similar seminars have been held for district court judges and are being planned for probate and juvenile court judges.

“If it’s all hands on deck in the court system . . . the last thing you’d expect is that they’d all be holed up some place meditating rather than getting the job done,” said Sen. Richard Tisei, a Wakefield Republican running for lieutenant governor.

Court officials have defended the conferences as beneficial to improving judges’ performance, but critics say it was ill-timed given recent cutbacks and crushing case backlogs.

“To have a massive exodus from the superior court on any day of the year is probably not a good idea,” Holway said.

One jurist said the courts brought in Harvard mind-body specialist Dr. Herbert Benson, author of “The Relaxation Response,” to meet with judges about 18 years ago.

[via Boston Herald]
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Brain waves and meditation

Forget about crystals and candles, and about sitting and breathing in awkward ways. Meditation research explores how the brain works when we refrain from concentration, rumination and intentional thinking. Electrical brain waves suggest that mental activity during meditation is wakeful and relaxed.

“Given the popularity and effectiveness of meditation as a means of alleviating stress and maintaining good health, there is a pressing need for a rigorous investigation of how it affects brain function,” says Professor Jim Lagopoulos of Sydney University, Australia. Lagopoulos is the principal investigator of a joint study between his university and researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) on changes in electrical brain activity during nondirective meditation.

Constant brain waves

Whether we are mentally active, resting or asleep, the brain always has some level of electrical activity. The study monitored the frequency and location of electrical brain waves through the use of EEG (electroencephalography). EEG electrodes were placed in standard locations of the scalp using a custom-made hat.

Participants were experienced practitioners of Acem Meditation, a nondirective method developed in Norway. They were asked to rest, eyes closed, for 20 minutes, and to meditate for another 20 minutes, in random order. The abundance and location of slow to fast electrical brain waves (delta, theta, alpha, beta) provide a good indication of brain activity.

Relaxed attention with theta

During meditation, theta waves were most abundant in the frontal and middle parts of the brain.

“These types of waves likely originate from a relaxed attention that monitors our inner experiences. Here lies a significant difference between meditation and relaxing without any specific technique,” emphasizes Lagopoulos.

“Previous studies have shown that theta waves indicate deep relaxation and occur more frequently in highly experienced meditation practitioners. The source is probably frontal parts of the brain, which are associated with monitoring of other mental processes.”

“When we measure mental calm, these regions signal to lower parts of the brain, inducing the physical relaxation response that occurs during meditation.”

Silent experiences with alpha

Alpha waves were more abundant in the posterior parts of the brain during meditation than during simple relaxation. They are characteristic of wakeful rest.

“This wave type has been used as a universal sign of relaxation during meditation and other types of rest,” comments Professor Øyvind Ellingsen from NTNU. “The amount of alpha waves increases when the brain relaxes from intentional, goal-oriented tasks.This is a sign of deep relaxation, — but it does not mean that the mind is void.”

Neuroimaging studies by Malia F. Mason and co-workers at Dartmouth College NH suggest that the normal resting state of the brain is a silent current of thoughts, images and memories that is not induced by sensory input or intentional reasoning, but emerges spontaneously “from within.”

“Spontaneous wandering of the mind is something you become more aware of and familiar with when you meditate,” continues Ellingsen, who is an experienced practitioner. “This default activity of the brain is often underestimated. It probably represents a kind of mental processing that connects various experiences and emotional residues, puts them into perspective and lays them to rest.”

Different from sleep

Delta waves are characteristic of sleep. There was little delta during the relaxing and meditative tasks, confirming that nondirective meditation is different from sleep.

Beta waves occur when the brain is working on goal-oriented tasks, such as planning a date or reflecting actively over a particular issue. EEG showed few beta waves during meditation and resting.

“These findings indicate that you step away from problem solving both when relaxing and during meditation,” says Ellingsen.

Nondirective versus concentration

Several studies indicate better relaxation and stress management by meditation techniques where you refrain from trying to control the content of the mind.

“These methods are often described as nondirective, because practitioners do not actively pursue a particular experience or state of mind. They cultivate the ability to tolerate the spontaneous wandering of the mind without getting too much involved. Instead of concentrating on getting away from stressful thought and emotions, you simple let them pass in an effortless way.”

Take home message

Nondirective meditation yields more marked changes in electrical brain wave activity associated with wakeful, relaxed attention, than just resting without any specific mental technique.

Journal Reference:

Lagopoulos et al. Increased Theta and Alpha EEG Activity During Nondirective Meditation. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 2009; 15 (11): 1187 DOI: 10.1089/acm.2009.0113

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Meditate to melt stress, improve health

Newer research from the University of Wisconsin shows a meditation habit can strengthen the body’s immune function, plus increase brain performance in the form of electrical activity. It validates the mind-body dynamic of meditation.

To gauge immune function, the researchers measured antibodies in the blood that fight flu and other infections.

Volunteer subjects in the study who meditated had significantly higher levels of these healthful antibodies than nonmeditators in just one to two months. In fact, it is interesting to note that participants who meditated for two months had significantly higher levels of antibodies than individuals meditating for just one month.

Results for brain-wave activity were even more amplified. The region of the brain most activated by meditation is the left frontal area associated with positive emotions and anxiety reduction.

You can do it Anyone who has tried meditation knows that quieting the mind can be difficult to impossible. Charles MacInerney, an Austin, Texas-based meditation and yoga teacher, has an answer for getting started and staying the course. He recommends a simple “awareness of breath” meditation.

“Initially it is best practiced while lying flat on your back on the floor with knees either straight or bent,” he said. “As you improve, it can also be practiced while sitting, standing or walking, as long as you can maintain good posture. Poor posture impedes the breath and distracts from the meditation.

“The secret of this meditation is to observe the breath without consciously trying to change it. Your observations of the breath filter down to the subconscious levels of your brain, which will begin subtly to shift and refine the breathing to lead you gradually along the perfect path toward perfect breathing.”

Dr. Herbert Benson, a Harvard University cardiologist and author of the 1970s best-seller, “The Relaxation Response,” has a core message that puts meditation in perspective but also accentuates its potential power.

Meditation and breathing awareness “won’t eliminate stress, only change our reaction to stress,” Benson said.

Benson’s “Relaxation Response” meditation suggests that we repeat a word, sound or prayer to accomplish an effect. “It can be secular or religious,” he said. “It’s your choice. It could be ‘love,’ ‘peace,’ ‘calm.’ If you’re Catholic, you have it made. You can say ‘Ave Maria,’ or ‘Hail Mary, full of grace.’ ”

Benson has a clear set of nine steps to help people learn to relax with purpose:

1. Pick a focus word, short phrase, or prayer rooted in your belief system.

2. Sit quietly in a comfortable position.

3. Close your eyes.

4. Relax your muscles.

5. Breathe slowly. Say the focus word as you exhale.

6. Assume a passive attitude. When other thoughts intrude, just say, “Oh, well,” and return to your repetition.

7. Continue for 10 to 20 minutes.

8. Open your eyes and sit for another minute.

9. Practice once or twice daily.

What if you slip? Try another form of meditation, but one that still fits into your days and lifestyle. MacInerney, who has consulted for Apple, IBM and Motorola, suggests that a walking meditation is “wonderful initiation” for beginners and might prove to be easier to adapt than a sitting meditation.

Start a walking meditation by striding a little faster than normal, MacInerney said. Then gradually slow down to what you think is your normal walking speed. Next, slow down until you feel unnatural or even off balance. Finally, speed up just enough to feel comfortable, both physically and psychologically. This is your optimal meditative state for walking.

From there, strive for a “smooth gait,” which MacInerney said might mean you speed up a bit on the first few tries. Be mindful of your breathing and walking; your focus will take you away from stress and anxiety.

“The idea is to walk in silence, both internal and external,” MacInerney said. “Make each step a gesture. You will fall into a natural rhythm and move into a state of grace.”

Best of all The University of Wisconsin researchers report that some participants were particularly thrilled with one result of regular meditation: Road rage went down significantly.

Chicago Tribune

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How meditation helps beat stress

Times of India: Research collaborators from the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Genomics Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center say that such relaxation techniques work by changing patterns of gene activity that affect how the body responds to stress.

“It’s not all in your head. What we’ve found is that when you evoke the relaxation response, the very genes that are turned on or off by stress are turned the other way. The mind can actively turn on and turn off genes,” says Dr Herbert Benson of the institute. Read more here.

During the study, Benson and his colleagues compared gene-expression patterns in 19 long-term practitioners,19 healthy
controls, and 20 newcomers who underwent eight weeks of relaxation-response training.

The researchers observed that over 2,200 genes were activated differently in the long-time practitioners relative to the controls, and 1,561 genes in the short-timers compared to the long-time practitioners. The researchers also saw changes in cellular metabolism, response to oxidative stress and other processes in both short and long-term practitioners.

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Therapeutic value of meditation unproven, says study

university of albertaIn a report that appears to fly in the face of numerous studies showing the medical benefits of meditation, two Canadian researchers raise doubts about the rigor of the methodology behind earlier investigations.

“There is an enormous amount of interest in using meditation as a form of therapy to cope with a variety of modern-day health problems, especially hypertension, stress and chronic pain, but the majority of evidence that seems to support this notion is anecdotal, or it comes from poor quality studies,” say Maria Ospina and Kenneth Bond, researchers at the University of Alberta/Capital Health Evidence-based Practice Center in Edmonton, Canada.

In compiling their report, Ospina, Bond and their fellow researchers analyzed a mountain of medical and psychological literature—813 studies in all—looking at the impact of meditation on conditions such as hypertension, cardiovascular diseases and substance abuse.

They found some evidence that certain types of meditation reduce blood pressure and stress in clinical populations. Among healthy individuals, practices such as Yoga seemed to increase verbal creativity and reduce heart rate, blood pressure and cholesterol. However, Ospina says no firm conclusions on the effects of meditation practices in health care can be drawn based on the available evidence because the existing scientific research is characterized by poor methodological quality and does not appear to have a common theoretical perspective.

“Future research on meditation practices must be more rigorous in the design and execution of studies and in the analysis and reporting of results,” Ospina explains.

But the researchers caution against dismissing the therapeutic value of meditation outright. “This report’s conclusions shouldn’t be taken as a sign that meditation doesn’t work,” Bond says. “Many uncertainties surround the practice of meditation. For medical practitioners who are seeking to make evidence-based decisions regarding the therapeutic value of meditation, the report shows that the evidence is inconclusive regarding its effectiveness.” For the general public, adds Ospina, “this research highlights that choosing to practice a particular meditation technique continues to rely solely on individual experiences and personal preferences, until more conclusive scientific evidence is produced.”

The report, published June 2007 and titled Meditation Practices for Health: State of the Research, identified five broad categories of meditation practices: mantra meditation, mindfulness meditation, Yoga, Tai Chi and Qi Gong. Transcendental Meditation and relaxation response (both of which are forms of mantra meditation) were the most commonly studied types of meditation. Studies involving Yoga and mindfulness meditation were also common.

The research was conducted by the University of Alberta Evidence-based Practice Center under contract to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. It was requested and funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Bethesda, Md.

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Stressed Out? (ABC News)

Catherine Valenti, ABC News: Battling stress has become a top priority for many Americans who become frazzled as they try to balance a million responsibilities at once.

Plagued by rising health-care costs and increasing absenteeism due to stress, companies, health clubs and health-care providers all over the country are offering different methods to help people relax and take it easy.

While there are a number of different ways to alleviate stress, most boil down to two approaches, says Dr. Bruce Rabin, medical director of the Healthy Lifestyles Program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

One approach is to increase an individual’s ability to cope with stress by raising his or her physical tolerance to it. That can be done through exercise or physical activity that activates the same physiological responses that stress does (such as a higher heart rate and breathing rate), making the person better able to tolerate stress, says Rabin…

The other option, which has been steadily gaining popularity in recent years, is to decrease a person’s perception of stress by training the mind to think about the stressful event in a different way. This can be done through techniques such as guided visualization or meditation, and is recommended by organizations such as the Mind/Body Medical Institute, a Chestnut Hill, Mass.-based nonprofit organization dedicated to the study of mind/body interactions.

“What we’re looking at is getting people to understand some of the negative thoughts and behaviors that are impacting their lives and getting them to make changes,” says Marilyn Wilcher, senior vice president at the institute.

Here are some brief descriptions of some widely used methods that have become popular for combating stress in recent years:

Guided Imagery: This technique involves sitting and listening to a tape or an instructor walk you through a guided relaxation exercise. The instruction often includes imagining yourself in a calm environment or a relaxing, faraway place.

Qigong: Qigong comes from two Chinese words: Qi (chi) means energy and gong (kung) means a skill or a practice. Qigong is a technique the combines movement, meditation and visualization. Proponents of Qigong say it can improve your physical and mental health and provide the same physical benefits of meditation, such as reduced stress and lower blood pressure.

Relaxation Response: The relaxation response is a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress (e.g., decrease in heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension). This technique is used by the Mind/Body Medical Institute in Chestnut Hill, Mass.

The technique involves sitting in a comfortable position and repeating a word, sound, phrase, prayer or muscular activity while passively disregarding the everyday thoughts that come into the mind so the practitioner can focus on the object of repetition. The institute suggests doing the response for 10 to 20 minutes at a time.

Transcendental Meditation: Popularized in the West by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, transcendental meditation involves sitting comfortably with the eyes closed for about 15 to 20 minutes, allowing the practitioner’s mind to enter a deeply relaxed state referred to as “Transcendental Consciousness.” The Maharishi Vedic Education Development Corp., which promotes the study of transcendental meditation, says the practice can increase a person’s creativity and productivity, improve health and reduce violence, among other benefits.

Yoga: A series of physical postures that connect the movement of the body with the breath. The poses are designed to purify the body, increase flexibility, calm the mind and provide physical strength and stamina required for long periods of meditation. There are many different kinds of yoga that range from more relaxing to more physically demanding, so people interested in practicing should find out beforehand what style of yoga is best for them.

Writing it Down: One technique recommended by Rabin involves taking 15 minutes to write down everything that’s bothering you. Don’t read what you’re writing or take time to proofread it, just write everything down, says Rabin. At the end of the 15 minutes, simply rip up the paper and throw it away. “It’s amazing the calming effect” this technique has, he says.

Read the rest of the article…

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Practical, yes, practical aspect of meditation (Akron Beacon Journal, Ohio)

Diane Evans, Beacon Journal: Dear Readers,

We will host a live online chat on the subject of meditation on Oct. 12 from 7 to 8 p.m. at the Beacon Journal’s Web site at www.ohio.com. All are invited to participate, and no special preparations are required.

The goal is to develop a better understanding of what meditation is, and how to practice it.

Our guests at the chat will be Howard Hall of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine; Bhikkhuni Sudhamma, a Buddhist nun who will log on from a monastery in South Carolina; and Joan Fox, director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic. Hall has published research findings relating to mind training in healing. Fox is a meditation practitioner with a research interest in the physiological changes that take place in the body as a result of meditation.

You will have the opportunity to ask questions and chat with our guests as you like.

We’re approaching our live online chat on meditation on Oct. 12, and leading up to that, I’ve written a lot about this subject, both in the newspaper and on our forum discussion page on the Beacon Journal’s Web site at www.ohio.com.

I don’t know why, but all a sudden, something about this whole subject reminds me of childbirth. Like childbirth, meditation is hard to explain to someone who has never experienced it. There are aspects that we don’t quite understand, yet people have been doing it since the beginning of time. There is nothing new about meditation.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with a famous researcher in the field of meditation: Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School. As founding president of Boston’s Mind/Body Medical Institute, Benson has written more than 170 scientific papers and seven books relating to the physiological effects of meditation on the body.

His best-selling book, titled The Relaxation Response, discusses what happens when a person relaxes. Blood pressure goes down, for example, and breathing and heart rates slow.

What I liked most about our conversation is that Benson stripped away the high-minded mysticism surrounding meditation and talked about the practical side — including the idea that some people may practice forms of meditation without even knowing it.

Instead of trying to paraphrase his comments, I’m just going to give you the conversation, almost in its entirety:

Q: Dr. Benson, how would you explain meditation?

A: First, let’s take a step back to stress.

When we’re under stress — and by that, I mean any situation that requires behavioral change — we evoke what we call a fight-or-flight response. That means we increase heart rate, rate of breathing, metabolism, blood pressure and the flow of blood to our limbs.

All these physiological changes prepare us for running or for fighting. But we don’t run, and we don’t fight. But these hormones are there, not being used as they should, and this leads to anxiety, depression, anger and hostility, high blood pressure, cardiac irregularity, insomnia. It doesn’t cause pain, but it makes pain worse. Over 60 percent of visits to doctors are due to stress and these mind/body reactions.

Q: So how do we know about stress reduction?

A: Opposite the fight-or-flight response, we have within us something called the relaxation response.

But two steps are necessary to bring it about. The first is a repetition. That repetition can be a word, a sound, a prayer, a phrase or even a repetitive motion.

The second step is when other thoughts come to mind, you return to the repetition. There are scores of techniques that can bring about the relaxation response.

Q: What’s an example of a repetition?

A: For example, the rosary in Catholicism. Or it could be jogging, knitting, crocheting, yoga or the Lamaze breathing exercises.

All that is different is the sound or the phrase. Every culture has the same steps. So there is nothing unique about meditation. The essence is just to break the train of everyday thought.

Q: Does that mean somehow transcending where we’re at now?

A: Forget transcending. It’s not so much transcending as it is shutting off. You’re allowing your body to revert to an innate, quieting capacity.

Religious people will say it’s God-given. Nonreligious people will say it came from evolution.

Either way, we’ve got this capacity within ourselves, and there is no reason to look East. The West has its own traditions. East or West, we have it within us. And what we have within us is the relaxation response. If we can get that across to people, it would be wonderful.

Q: What doesn’t get across?

A: Some people think it’s Eastern, that it’s foreign, that it’s not in their belief system. It doesn’t matter. You choose your own words or sounds or phrases.

Q: What does the research on meditation tell us?

A:. I’ve been studying this for more than 35 years. What we have discovered is that there are distinct bodily changes when the relaxation response has been brought forth — decreased heart rate, blood pressure, rate of breathing, and slower brain waves. The activity in the brain is quieted.

Q: How long does the effect last?

A: It lasts as long as you do it, but then there is a carry-over effect throughout a 24 hour period.

To the extent any disease or disorder is caused or made worse by stress, bringing forth the relaxation response is an effective therapy. This inborn capacity we have to counteract stress is effective in counteracting stress-related disorders.

If you do this once or twice a day for 10 or 20 minutes, you you become more efficient. Excessive stress causes inefficiency.

To read more about meditation, go to our forum discussion at the Beacon Journal’s Web site at www.ohio.com. Just click on “Diane Evans” in the blue shaded section, then click where it says “Forums Link: Book Club Forums Discussion.”

This week’s newsletter, which is posted, discusses meditation from the perspective of a friend of mine, Ravi Kulasekere, who practices Buddhist meditation. Kulasekere is a physicist who formerly worked at Goodyear and is now employed at the University of Michigan Health System.

Diane Evans is a Beacon Journal columnist. You can reach her by mail at the Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640, by e-mail at livingwell@thebeaconjournal.com or by phone at 330-996-3587.

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It’s Not Just Quiet Time (Palm Beach Post, Florida)

wildmind meditation newsCarolyn Susman: In a stressed-out world, many find the road to peace comes by way of meditation and relaxation.

An old woman sits on a couch, bent over her rosary beads, fingering and fondling them, and repeating her prayers.

Another spends time saying a Hebrew prayer over and over: The Lord is God. The Lord is One.

Is either of these women meditating?

Neither might think so, but thousands of years of reflection by spiritual masters and mental health experts say otherwise.

“Every major religion has some form of meditation connected with it,” Daniel Goleman, author of Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama, explained last year on CNN. “There’s the centering prayer in Catholicism. There are Jewish meditations. Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism.

“Transcendental meditation has its roots in India. Those forms have been taken out of the religious context and put into a format that anybody, no matter what your religious belief, can benefit from.”

Continuing experiments show the benefit of meditation, and so-called “focused breathing,” for physical and spiritual health – arguably the most famous being Dr. Herbert Benson’s 1975 book, The Relaxation Response.

“We have… shown how the Relaxation Response may be used as a new approach to aid in the treatment and perhaps prevention of diseases such as hypertension,” Benson maintained, a ground-breaking approach at the time.

Just a few years before, in 1968, Beatles John Lennon and George Harrison and their wives had gone to India to study transcendental meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, elevating this elegant form of breathing and concentration to popular acceptance.

Continuing experiments show the benefit of meditation, and so-called “focused breathing,” for physical and spiritual health – arguably the most famous being Dr. Herbert Benson’s 1975 book, “The Relaxation Response.”

“We have shown how the Relaxation Response may be used as a new approach to aid in the treatment and perhaps prevention of diseases such as hypertension,” Benson maintained, a ground-breaking approach at the time,
Just a few years before, in 1968, Beatles John Lennon and George Harrison and their wives had gone to India to study transcendental meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, elevating this elegant form of breathing and concentration to popular acceptance.

In our stressed-out world, the advice “Take a deep breath” has renewed meaning.

One of the most recent studies to attest to the value of meditation –simply defined as deep breathing combined with focused attention to relax the body – is published in the April issue of the “American Journal of Hypertension.”

Conducted by Dr. Vernon A. Barnes, a physiologist at the Medical College of Georgia, the study showed that African-American teenagers, at risk for having high blood pressure, lowered their day-time blood pressures over four months by practicing 15 minutes of transcendental meditation twice daily.

“Allowing your mind to go to that state of inner quietness and be there for a time has an effect on the physiology by reducing stress hormone levels like cortisol and reducing activation of the fight-or-flight response,” Barnes said when the study was released.

Nothing is new here, except that Barnes’ study is fueling the idea that meditation should become a part of classroom learning and an option for children at risk for or suffering with conditions ranging from high blood pressure, to anxiety and depression, to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Balancing emotions

As a society, we are always looking for methods of dealing with emotional and physical illness that can reduce or eliminate drugs.

One of those on that search was Dr. Kamara Elaine Altman of Jupiter, a holistic health counselor and yoga therapist. Thirteen years ago, she went from a public relations career to teaching stress reduction techniques (she has studied with Benson and another renowned stress-reduction clinician, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn).

Altman says she overcame a debilitating fatigue and irritability when she incorporated yoga and relaxation techniques into her life. “When people are under stress, they are irritable, emotionally vulnerable. I would get angry quickly, raise my voice, and I had very little patience. So I think it gave me the tools, time and commitment to relax myself and calm myself and center myself. I was able to balance my emotions better.”

She defines meditation as “the process of liberating your mind from distracting thoughts. The physical aspect of sitting down, slowing down, slows your heart rate and respiration rate. You are occupying your mind so distracting thoughts don’t come in.”

Meditators say the process actually reprograms your brain, accelerating physical healing.

Altman credits meditation and focused breathing with helping her concentrate on what she considers important, her inner peace. “If I find my mind wandering off, I take a centering breath to let go of distractions, not be reactive (to surroundings) and to bring myself into the present moment.”

She can practice focused breathing – relaxing breaths without the intensity of meditation – anywhere, doing a grocery list, at the dentist’s office or sitting in a car.

Especially when she’s caught in traffic, she finds the technique helpful.

“I put my hands on my belly and relax. It reminds me there is nothing I can do. I’m not so reactive.”

In her personal relationship, she finds it helpful, too, with the man she is dating.

“He could do something that in the past would have been irritating.” she says. “I can listen now and let it be.

And I’ll do my breathing and think, ‘Is this a good time to discuss this?'” Perspective and inner peace were also the goals sought by therapist Miriam R. Davis of West Palm Beach when she sought out meditation to ease her mind more than 30 years ago.

Davis, a single mother at the time, describes her state as one of “constant mind chatter that allowed me no peace.”
She went to England to study with The Beatles’ guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and practiced the technique twice a day, 20 minutes at a time.

“I began to clear my mind. It’s not positive thinking: it’s not a way to change your thinking by thinking more. It involves watching your thoughts without being drawn into them,” she explains.

“By dwelling inwardly for extend ed periods,” she says of her meditating, “I came to realize the poverty of always looking outside myself for happiness, understanding and wisdom.”

Today she uses meditation and relaxation techniques with clients who are anxious, depressed or have high blood pressure or chronic pain.

Tools for managing stress

I was introduced to a form of meditation when a perceptive rheumatologist years ago handed me a book about the Catholic technique of centering prayer — very similar to meditation — when I visited him with complaints of strange muscle cramping that others couldn’t diagnose.

This doesn’t shock Davis. “Meditation and relaxation are powerful tools for managing stress,” she says, “and stress can lead to extreme body tension that can affect your health.

So much so that Benson, the “Relaxation Response” author and a Harvard Medical School associate professor, has just released a book that discusses how depression, anger and hostility can adversely affect your heart.

One of the goals of “Mind Your Heart, A Mind/Body Approach to Stress Management, Exercise and Nutrition for Heart Health” (Free Press, $12) is to maintain calm and “allow blood to flow more easily throughout the body.”

Stress can damage the heart, Benson points out. But with meditation, yoga and focused breathing, it is possible to prevent and reduce heart damage, and even avoid and manage other illnesses.

Local meditator: Dr. Jean Malecki

When you have to deal with anthrax and terrorism, having an inner sanctuary is essential.

Dr. Jean Malecki, Palm Beach County Health Department director, has nurtured that private place since she was studying pre-med in college, “I majored in pre-med and minored in religion and philosophy. I’ve been studying it for a long time. I spend a lot of my free time pursuing it,” she said.

“Some people call it prayer. Others call it meditation. It’s a time of quiet, silence in your surrounding. It’s time set aside from the normal day when you think, contemplate. I usually do it in the early morning hours, and it brings me a lot of energy and satisfaction. I couldn’t do what I do every day if I didn’t have that connection.”

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Meditate the stress away (Los Angeles Daily News)

Mariko Thompson, L.A. Daily News: David Perrin couldn’t let go of his anxious thoughts. If he dealt with a cranky guest at the hotel where he works, the encounter weighed on him for the rest of the day.

Now when that happens, he just says, “Om.”

The 29-year-old Glendale resident took up the ancient practice of meditation six months ago. By stilling the turbulent thoughts that preyed on his mind, Perrin took control of his emotions and discovered a sense of balance.

“I’m not as reactionary as I used to be,’ says Perrin, who studies meditation at the Khandakapala Buddhist Center in Silver Lake. “I’d blame the other person for making me feel upset. Now I’m much more calm and have more patience.’

Meditation still elicits its share of navel-gazing wisecracks and Zen-master jokes (just ask former Lakers coach Phil Jackson). But these days, meditation is seen as more than a spiritual tool. In a 24-7 society where stress overload has become a natural state, a mini-vacation for the mind might be just what the doctor ordered.

“It’s about time, don’t you think?’ says Dr. Gary Davidson, an oncologist who leads meditation classes at Northridge Hospital Medical Center. “Ever since Descartes split the mind and body, we’ve been trying to put them back together.’

Tools for tranquillity

Chronic stress has been linked to increased risk for hypertension, heart disease and other illnesses. Since most of us can’t retreat to a cave or a monastery, managing stress — not avoiding stress — has become the mantra. Most people try meditation, yoga or tai chi on their own, not from a doctor’s recommendation. Dr. Ka-Kit Hui, director of the UCLA Center for East West Medicine, would like that to change.

Hui says there’s plenty of evidence to show that mind-body therapies such as meditation are beneficial and should be recommended alongside conventional treatments. For example, a patient with hypertension who meditates might be able to take a lower dose of medicine, he says.

“Anything that increases our ability to handle different types of stress in our lives will be beneficial,’ Hui says.

Dr. Jeffrey Brantley of Duke University Medical Center credits Harvard cardiologist Herbert Benson for laying the scientific foundation for mind-body medicine. Back in the 1970s, Benson studied the effects of meditation on the body, including heart rate and blood pressure. He coined the term “relaxation response,’ a deep, restful state that serves as a counterbalance to the adrenalin rush known as the fight-or-flight response.

Benson, who founded the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Harvard, provided evidence on how meditation affects the body. Now scientific research is giving clues as to why meditation affects the body, says Brantley, a psychiatrist and director of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program at the Duke Center for Integrative Medicine.

A preliminary study in 2003 at the University of Wisconsin Medical School compared brain activity in participants who meditated to those in a control group. The meditation group showed an increase in electrical activity in the left frontal region of the brain. According to the researchers led by psychiatry professor Richard Davidson, this area of the brain is associated with low anxiety levels and positive emotional states.

In other words, the reason meditation makes people feel good may be based in biology.

Time to practice

Like learning to play the piano or golf, meditation takes dedication and practice. Beginners may not experience an immediate calming effect as they sit with their eyes closed. Some people experience discomfort at first because the flood of thoughts becomes more intense. By being still, the person is simply more aware of the anxious thoughts, says Brantley, author of “Calming Your Anxious Mind.’

“It’s the natural fruit of paying attention,’ he says. “We tell people who come to our program that the first few weeks might be more stressful.’

Gen Kelsang Lekma, a Buddhist nun who teaches meditation at Khandakapala Buddhist Center, compares the novice’s experience to a radio blaring in the background. The noise has been there all along. With practice, the student learns to switch off the radio.

For the true student of meditation, calming the mind represents only the first step of the spiritual journey. But it’s a crucial one.

“We realize how many thoughts we have — and it’s a shock,’ she says. “We have to know we have the thoughts before we can let them go.’

Original article no longer available…

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