young people

Meditation school to transfer to state sector

Britain is set to get its first state school dedicated to the values of transcendental meditation. A private school run by followers of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi will transfer to the state sector in September.

The Maharishi School in Ormskirk, Lancashire, has been given the green light to be part of the first tranche of Education Secretary Michael Gove’s “free” schools.

Mr Gove announced yesterday that 35 “free school” applications had received the go-ahead. In all, 249 applications have been received by the Department for Education to join the scheme. Under the “free schools” policy, parents, teachers and charities can open schools – funded by the taxpayer.

Pupils at the Maharishi School – for four-to-16-year-olds – have three 10-minute meditation sessions every day. The school has smaller-than-average classes and just 80 pupils. It says meditation calms pupils, making it easier to learn, and claims it could double its numbers with state support. Head Derek Cassells said: “All scientific research shows transcendental meditation brings more balance to the brain… It helps with behaviour and improved relationships with other people.”

His school’s philosophy is that of the Maharishi, pictured, whose movement gained prominence in the 1960’s when The Beatles became converts.

Mr Gove said ministers hoped every new state school would be an academy or “free” school. He spoke ahead of a conference on “free” schools today when he will be accompanied by leaders of the Charter school movement in the United States – which is advising ministers on the “free” schools’ policy.

Charter schools do not recognise teacher unions, but Mr Gove said it would be up to individual school heads to decide if they do. US education experts said it was essential schools could “terminate” weak teachers.

Joel Klein, former chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, said that there must be “reasonable processes in place for terminating non-performing and under-performing teachers.”

[via the Independent]
Read More

Children need more meditation and less stimulation

A remote diocese in Australia is leading the way by allowing regular periods of silent meditation in the classroom

If you want your children to feel more relaxed and less stressed, give them silence, not iPods.

This unthinkable idea came to mind after listening to Ernie Christie and Dr Cathy Day, two educationists from Queensland, Australia. They were addressing an audience at Regent’s College, London, on the benefits of allowing children to experience regular periods of silent meditation in the classroom.

A pilot study in 2005, involving teaching meditation to five- to 17-year-olds, had shown that children are not only capable of meditation, they actually enjoy it. The benefits to children’s wellbeing were so obvious to teachers that it persuaded Cathy Day, director of Townsville Catholic Education Office, to spend precious funds implementing the first Christian meditation programme for all schools in the diocese.

The initiative had two important catalysts: a diocesan bishop sympathetic to meditation, Michael Putney, and the input of Laurence Freeman OSB, leader of the World Community for Christian Meditation. Without their help, Day admitted, nothing would have got off the ground. When an almost pathological “busyness” is the norm, valuing stillness and silence is counter-cultural. When our culture trains us to be winners, to compete and to consume, we all sense society’s imbalance, said Freeman. We need to give children an experience of another way of relating to themselves and to others.

Deputy director Christie agreed. If children are over-stimulated we rob them of…

Read the rest of this article…

something precious: being allowed to “just be” where children discover their own inner sense of who they are. Hijacked by a “doing” culture that measures everything by what we achieve or possess, meditation helps children access a deeper part of themselves – an inner sanctuary away from a world of incessant activity and noise. They learn to honour their own spiritual life.

We all have a spiritual life, irrespective of any faith we hold, said Christie. Meditation can be practised with a diversity of beliefs: children of other faiths take part in the programme. Meditating in a group can give children an early sense of belonging, says Christie. Children with learning or physical disabilities can join in and feel part of the class. But the practice is introduced gradually. The recommended meditation time is one minute per age level; for five- and six-year-olds, it would be five to six minutes.

A video of interviews with teachers, children and parents was admirably honest. Children of varying ages said meditation helped them to feel “relaxed” or more “peaceful”. One boy said it helped his thoughts “just settle”; one girl enjoyed being “quiet”. A child from an indigenous community said he was able “to be himself”. Teachers reported improved behaviour in difficult children. Yet no one suggested it was a “cure all” practice. But at a recent awards ceremony in the second largest school in Townsville, the key speech was on the positive benefits of meditation.

The health benefits of meditation are well documented: it can relieve stress, lower blood pressure and alleviate depression. Psychiatrist Jonathan Champion said research showed most mental health problems have begun by the age of 14. Giving children periods of quietness and reflection to promote wellbeing could save money on healthcare later.

For Day and her team, meditation is an essential part of religious education. In the foreword to Christie’s ground-breaking book, Coming Home: A Guide to Teaching Christian Meditation to Children, Putney says being “still” is very different from being “quiet”. “Be still and know that I am God.” It is in stillness that God speaks to the heart. Meditation as a way to self-knowledge and self-acceptance is an indispensable first step towards knowledge of God. Teachers hope children will discover a love that accepts them unconditionally and an inner spiritual resource they can draw upon later in life.

When religious schools are seen as intolerant of other faiths, the lost “contemplative” dimension of religion that reaches to a divine source beyond individual differences is surely needed. By training teachers in this depth dimension of faith, this remote diocese on the edge of the Australian outback is already creating waves.

[via the Guardian]
Read More

Meditation treament for taboo problem of self-harm

Meditation can forge lasting changes in the brain and, as an Australian experiment in the taboo area of self-harm shows, its positive effect can be life-transforming.

Researchers at the University of Melbourne conducted the ground-breaking experiment, scanning the brain of a young woman who had grappled with the problem of self-harm since her teens.

They saw positive changes in brain activity after she took part in a research-backed course in meditation and relaxation techniques.

Brisbane’s Alison Dower also meditated daily for eight weeks.

“The desire to self-harm is not particularly strong anymore due to all the work I’ve done,” Ms Dower, now aged 23, said on Wednesday.

Read the rest of this article…

“I don’t know if I’d call it a cure but I would say if it works for you it is a very very potent tool to have.

“I haven’t self-harmed in over 12 months.”

Ms Dower’s initial brain scans revealed a “rightward bias” in her brain activity, known to be associated with a higher incidence of depression and negative emotion.

Professor Nick Allen, from the university’s Department of Psychological Sciences, said the scan following the meditation intervention showed a shift in brain activity “more leftwards … which is a pattern more associated with positive emotions and positive coping”.

“This is, in my opinion, one of the most exciting areas of neuroscience,” Prof Allen said, “that the brain can change in response to experiences and in response to activity”.

This experiment is the focus of a documentary, The Silent Epidemic, to be broadcast on SBS One from 8.30pm on Sunday.

In it, Ms Dower joins with other young Australians to offer a candid and at-times confronting insight into the broader issue of self-harm.

Up to eight per cent of the Australian population are thought to engage in self-harming behaviour. For some it becomes routine, often involving deliberate cutting or scratching of the arms or legs.

“We’re discovering thatit is much more widespread than we thought,” Prof Allen said.

“And it is occurring in contexts where there isn’t another formal mental health problem, therefore we do need some specific treatment approaches.

“The case study with Alison is extremely encouraging, and is a critical first step on that path.”

Prof Allen also said self-harm was a “hard issue for the health system to get its head around” and he understood that many people would find it “impossible to comprehend”.

“But all of us behave at times, in certain ways, that are self-destructive (like punching a wall or insulting a loved one) and these people have become stuck with a much more severe form of it.”

Read More

Dhamma Gita: Music of Young Practitioners Inspired by the Dhamma

Dhamma Gita: Music of Young Practitioners Inspired by the Dhamma

A few months ago I received in the mail a CD called Dhamma Gita: Music of Young Practitioners Inspired by the Dhamma. It was described as a compilation album that “offers a taste of the varied, beautiful forms of Dharma-inspired music made by young practitioners.” I loved it, promised I’d review it, but then got too busy. In the meantime, though, many of the songs have been on regular rotation on my iPhone, and the time has finally come to give you my opinion.

Right off the bat, however, I confess I’m not a music critic. Like everyone, I know what I like, but I don’t necessarily have the vocabulary to describe the music or to articulate what I like or don’t like about a particular piece of music, or the knowledge of music that allows me to make sensible comparisons with other musicians you might have heard of. And Dhamma Gita is very, very varied, representing genres from Hip Hop to jazz to contemporary classical, to soul.

Title: Dhamma Gita
Artist: Various
Publisher: More than Sound

Fortunately, the website for the CD (which is also available as a download) has samples you can listen to if you’re none the wiser after reading my review. [Update: the company no longer exists]

Overall, this is a wonderful CD. I rate each track I have in iTunes, and overall this album came out with 4/5 stars, with five of the tracks getting five stars. There was only one song I deleted from iTunes altogether. To give you an idea of how I rate my music: five stars means it’s a song I absolutely love and can listen to over and over again and love it just as much each time. Four stars means I really like the song and am fine hearing it repeatedly on a playlist, but it doesn’t rock my world like a five star song. Three stars means I don’t object to hearing it once in a while. Two stars means the song does nothing for me and I’ll delete it from my computer. I’m not sure what I’d do with a one star song — probably disinfect my ears.

So here are the tracks individually, with my amateur assessments, and with the ratings I gave each in iTunes.

***** David Smith, “White Lines.” This is a country-inspired song, with raspy vocals, sparkling guitar work, driving rhythms, and a catchy tune. David Smith has been writing, recording and performing music and practicing the dharma for 17 years, and he’s good at what he does. He says it’s “a song about pain and redemption” that represents “a full admission and recognition of the first noble truth – life is suffering.” Life may be suffering, but listening to this song isn’t. []

****** Tori Heller, “Sut Nam.” The song title suggests something eastern-inspired, but it’s actually a thoroughly western track (which would probably be classified as “adult alternative”) with Heller’s soft, breathy vocals over delicate, plucked folk guitar. It’s a beautiful, evocative, and sensitive piece of music, with lyrics about “the cleansing, quieting, and liberating power of meditation and Buddhist thought,” and with lyrics like “Watching my thoughts like a television screen / seeing how messy thoughts can be.” []

**** Ravenna Michalsen, “Ki Ki So So.” Ravenna brings to this track the sensitivity of the classical trained musician she once was. The song’s in two distinct halves. In the first we have pulsing, rhythmic, multi-tracked chanting that’s meant to evoke the drumming of the Windhorse’s hooves, overlaid with singing that’s reminiscent of gregorian chant. Half-way through the song, this fades out and is replaced with a chant of “I ride on your wind,” which is more like contemporary classical music. Ravenna says, “Ki Ki So So is both a statement of simple devotion to my teacher, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, and also a lament that I am not a better practitioner. The phrase ‘Ki Ki So So’ is part of a longer chant done to raise ‘lungta’ or ‘windhorse’: the energy of confidence that is utterly beyond aggression.” []

***** Travis Callison, “Witness.” Witness is a hip-hop ballad with richly-textured rhythms and melodies. Travis names, or bears witness to, the pain and blessings of life, while the simple chorus “Bear witness,” adds spiritual depth, evoking how equanimity can absorb both the ups and downs of life, while still holding the desire that all beings be well and happy. [].

** Michaela Lucas, “Faith.” This is the one song I deleted from my computer. It’s technically accomplished. The musicianship cannot be faulted. Michaela has a beautiful voice. But the interspersing of Sogyal Rinpoche eulogizing the Tibetan saint Milarepa, with Michaela’s soaring vocals reminded me of modern Catholic church music, and I found the effect cloying in the extreme. Of course that might just be me. Someone likes that kind of music, obviously. [].

**** Jay Harper, “Lu Chan Cha.” My first thought on hearing this track was “Chinese film music.” (And that’s not a put-down). Lu Chan Cha is an effective blend of far-eastern and western instrumentation and musical styles. And in fact Jay Harper turns out to have a history of composing for full songs and instrumentals for TV and film, and who has composed music for McDonald’s, The Miami Dolphins, The Miami Hurricanes, and many emerging and established artists. This track is an “interpretation of an incense prayer song that we sing at the St Dak Tong Buddhist temple where my wife Abi and I are students of Grand Master Sheng-Yen Lu.” []

***** Brad Gibson, “Bedtime waltz.” Bedtime Waltz is an exquisitely beautiful jazz trio, with piano, drums, and bass. It’s mellow, atmospheric, refined, and perfectly wrought — a little gem, worth of becoming a standard. Gibson’s music and practice seem deeply entwined: “Through the posture of zazen, I am allowed the chance to calm my mind and perhaps see things a little more clearly. This clarity aids my function as composer and performer. One must pay attention to the moment, working with the psychological and emotional content that often drives one’s work.” []

*** Heather Maloney, “Let it Ache.” This is song in the folk tradition, with passionate vocals and some rather fine guitar work, and with the message “If your heart is aching, let it ache.” Unfortunately this was not my cup of tea, but if you’re into contemporary folk you might well love this. []

**** Lelo Roy, “Hello Mister June Bug.” this is a quirky little number, almost like a children’s song. Appropriately, it’s about the simplicity and innocence of sitting in a tree as a child, and relating to the natural world (and especially the eponymous Mister June Bug) with fascination and imagination. As Lelo says, this song is about “the simplicity in just being, and the distractions in life that keep us from this natural state.” Actually, I had trouble deciding whether this met my three star or four star criteria. The quirkiness, depending on my mood, could either become irritating or be refreshing. So far, though, I’ve continued to enjoy the song. []

*** Duncan Ros, “Rabbit Horns.” This is a raucus, playful alternative rock song, “making fun of ego clinging because ‘I’ does not exist,” like phantom rabbit horns. I didn’t find it very satisfying, partly because the theme of the phantom self doesn’t work too well in a rock song, and partly because I thought the music lacked subtlety. []

**** Eva Mohn, “Matters How You Pray.” Mohn is a dancer and musician living in Germany, a fact I mention because I have trouble describing her style of music and so it’s easier to say something about her. It is alternative folk? Adult alternative? It’s certainly off-beat. The music itself, while repetitive, is richly textured and interesting, in an almost hypnotic way, and Mohn’s vocal style is reminiscent of Ani Difranco.

** Monique Rhodes, “Lama Care For Me.” This track begins with an African/spiritual sensitivity, with powerful devotional female vocals over male bass-line of Om Ah Hum. I began by thinking I was going to like the song, but once it moves into becoming a kind of romantic power ballad, worthy of Celine Dion, I found myself once again reminded of the contemporary music I’ve heard in Catholic churches. It’s interesting that two of the female Tibetan songwriters on this album have written what amount to sentimental and overwrought love songs to their gurus, and have ended up producing cloying and trite church music. []

***** Ladyfinger, “Yer Gonna Git You.” Ladyfinger brings us the grittiness of a soul duet along the lines of “you done me wrong and now you got it comin’ to you.” This is a song about karma, with the repeated refrain “You’ve made your bed, you gonna lie in it.” The singing is shared by Tina Antolini, a public radio producer, and Hanuman, who we learn nothing about. Both singers are accomplished vocalists, with powerful and passionate voices, and they work well together. This is a vengeful view of karma, however, with something of a punitive feel. There’s not much sense of compassion here. But the song rocks, even if the soul (at least in Antolini’s case) sounds a little more like an affectation than the real thing []

**** Lucky Vita, “Swell.” This is the only example of electronica on Dhamma Gita, and is reminiscent of Eno’s early ambient music, although the short track length doesn’t allow for the kind of complexity that we find in Eno’s work. (It’s possible, however, that this is an abbreviated version of a longer track, shortened to fit the confines of this compilation CD). “Swell” is a literal, and rather simple, swell of synthesized sound, building to a crescendo and then fading away into the void. The composer describes is as “a sonic rendition of the feelings experienced when sinking into a place of deep stillness and simplicity.” It’s a pleasant sound.

In short, I was delighted by the variety of musical styles on Dhamma Gita, and also by the overall high quality. I’d urge you to buy the CD in order to help support the work that these young musicians are doing in forging an alchemy of modern music and Dharma practice.

Read More

“Taneesha Never Disparaging,” by M. LaVora Perry

Taneesha Never DisparagingTaneesha Never Disparaging is billed as a young adult novel, but it’s a perfect read for all ages, exemplifying how spiritual principles can help us face up to our fears and transform hatred into love.

Taneesha Bey-Ross is a typical fifth-grader, facing her weaknesses and challenges in home, school and daily life. Taneesha is funny, creative, honest, and a loyal friend to Carli, a girl she befriended in first grade. Carli lives with her father and wears leg braces. Taneesha is African-American, while Carli is white. It is on their walks home together after school that they encounter their tormentor — a girl twice their size who bullies them and awakens Taneesha’s “evil twin” Evella, who embodies Taneesha’s inner doubts and becomes her inner tormentor. Through Taneesha we learn that we can conquer our fears and self doubts with humor, compassion, patience and love. In the end Taneesha realizes the bully is exactly the same as herself — with her own frailties, fears, and suffering, and that her bullying is a way of coping with this. This recognition allows Taneesha to connect with her enemy on a human level, and the two become friends. Taneesha’s Buddhist background, and the work she does on herself, makes this possible.

Title: Taneesha Never Disparaging
Author: M. LaVora Perry
Publisher: Wisdom Publications
ISBN: 0-86171-550-0
Available from: Wisdom,, and

Taneesha’s parents are Buddhist and have raised her in their faith. The family together shares the rituals, teachings, and spiritual vacations, all along the way chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo (“I devote my life to the wonderful Law of the Lotus Flower Teaching of the Buddha”). Taneesha has been practicing Buddhism since she can remember, and like most children growing up in a faith she does so out of love and respect for her parents. However as she grows into her eleventh year she begins to understand on her own the significance of her beliefs and the power of love. “In that moment, an invisible, cozy blanket wrapped around me and I realized something: It was true, I had to face life on my own. But I wasn’t alone. Even when my parents weren’t with me, their love was. And it always would be.”

M. LaVora Perry has herself been a practicing Buddhist since 1987. She was born and raised in Ohio, where she still lives with her own family. She has received numerous awards and is a contributing writer for many publications.

Perry makes Taneesha Never Disparaging an easy and engaging read. Its two hundred pages offer young readers to explore life in the company of a peer. The writing is powerful and profound, and Perry investigates and explores the inner worlds of young people with respect and compassion. She reminds us all the value of family and the wisdom of parental guidance. She reminds us of the important of the personal quest, and of the need to be heard and to make a difference in the world. This is a must-read for young people, especially in these times, where we are all struggling with conflicts, learning how to love one another in the faces of difference, and faced with the need to cherish ourselves through helping others.

Read More

Meditation gets cool and sexy makeover aimed at youth

Max SimonReuters UK: Max Simon is a man with a mission — to give the ancient art of meditation a cool, sexy makeover that will appeal to young people who have never heard of Maharishi Yogi. Forty years after Western baby boomers started dabbling in yoga and Indian transcendental practices, Simon, 25, is ditching some of the traditions in a bid to encourage 1 million young people to connect with their inner selves. “We are taking away all the stuff that appears weird or that scares people away. And we are adding in stuff that my generation thinks is cool, like fashion and music and entertainment,” Simon told Reuters. Read more here.

Read More

Delving into alternative care (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Susanne Quick, Journal Sentinal, Milwaukee: Johnnie Thomas spent 22 years trying to get teenagers to behave.

As a building superintendent for a dormitory first run by the YMCA, now by Marquette University, he saw more than his share of late-night shenanigans.

It took a toll, and in 1994, he underwent open-heart surgery. While recovering from the triple bypass, he re-evaluated his lifestyle – his food choices, his exercise regimen. But with an aloof doctor, and little in the way of support from home, he didn’t make much headway.

Then, two years ago, Thomas saw a late-night advertisement on TV – an ad that called for African-Americans with cardiovascular trouble to participate in a study at the Medical College of Wisconsin. The idea was to test the cardiovascular effects of Transcendental Meditation – a patented form of meditation owned and promoted by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Indian guru made popular during the 1960s by the Beatles.

Thomas figured, “Why not?”

He has been meditating every day since then, and according to Thomas, his new doctors – those not involved in the study – are thrilled with the results.

“They say, keep doing whatever it is you are doing,” he said. “And I do.”

A generation ago, even a few years ago, a heart patient learning about meditation from a leading medical center would have been unthinkable.

No more.

More than a third of Americans use some form of complementary or alternative medicine – treatments or regimens used in conjunction with, or as an alternative to, standard Western medicine.

The number of people using these non-standard treatments almost doubles if prayer is included, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine – a branch of the National Institutes of Health. And even though many treatments haven’t had much scientific testing, doctors, insurance companies and health centers are paying attention.

The Medical College’s meditation study, which has been funded for four years by NIH’s Complementary and Alternative Medicine center, has recently been extended for another four years. And it is similar to many others being conducted across the country.

The center has a 2004 budget of $117.7 million, double what it was just five years ago. And that’s less than half of NIH’s total annual spending on complementary and alternative medicine. Other money goes to agencies such as the National Institute on Aging and the National Cancer Institute. It funds such research as Transcendental Meditation and distance healing – defined as a “mental intention on behalf of one person, to benefit another at a distance” – as well as more “conventional” alternative treatments such as acupuncture and massage.

“Our goal is to find out what works, what doesn’t work, and what is safe and is not safe, and to share that information with consumers, practitioners, and policy-makers,” said Margaret Chesney, deputy director of the center. If the center finds something valid, doctors can start using it.

The result is that traditional research centers such as the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Johns Hopkins and Columbia University are competing for federal grants to study alternative medicine with places such as Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa. To date, Maharishi University has received more than $20 million in government support.

Beyond the government investment, alternative medicine centers have started appearing in mainstream medical centers and managed care facilities across the country.

In the Milwaukee area, Aurora, Covenant and Columbia St. Mary’s all have supported and managed “complementary care” facilities in their health systems. Covenant’s Center for Complementary Medicine in Mequon, for example, offers acupuncture and massage, as well as a full-time trainer who advises patients on a more balanced and holistic lifestyle.

“We knew patients were seeing chiropractors as well as their surgeons and physicians,” said Nancy Conway, director of complementary medicine at Aurora, which has similar centers.

What better way to manage their patients’ care than to get both types of practitioners under the same roof, she said.

Where is this headed?

The question no one has been able to answer is where all this is headed.

Government-funded health agencies would like to systematically either legitimize or debunk the numerous alternative treatments available. Chesney said the center reviews every proposal with the same scientific and critical rigor – irrespective of the politics, religion or spiritual practice associated with it.

But to conventional Western doctors, it’s one thing if a mainstream research center such as UW-Madison or Johns Hopkins says an alternative practice such as acupuncture is valid. It’s another if the research is from Maharishi University.Will family doctors really feel comfortable referring patients with high blood pressure to the nearest Transcendental Meditation clinic – where they will be asked to write a $2,500 check?

What is more likely – and what is already happening, regardless of the NIH studies – is that some doctors are referring patients to alternative practitioners within their own medical facilities.

And then there’s the question of insurance. So far, insurance companies have been reluctant to cover many alternative and complementary treatments, said Aurora’s Conway.

Some insurers will cover visits to chiropractors or offer discounts for acupuncture and chiropractic care. But for other kinds of complementary and alternative care – the more fringe practices such as homeopathy and chelation therapy- there is little in the way of coverage, Conway said.

“With the rising costs of health care,” both insurance companies and consumers are finding themselves on the same side of the table, said Sam Benjamin, corporate medical director for integrative health strategies at Humana. They both want cost-effective medicine.

Indeed, if insurance companies can inform and educate people about complementary medicine – a lot of it low-cost with few side effects – then both parties will be better off, Benjamin said.

There just isn’t a lot of incentive right now for insurance companies to pay for alternative medicine, he said. The last thing they want to do is cover more kinds of medical treatments. And again, there’s the question of endorsing fringe organizations. If insurance companies started paying for Transcendental Meditation, for instance, would they unwittingly be promoting Maharishi’s program for achieving world peace through yogic flying?

Mixed reactions in doctors

All this interest in new forms of health care – and the money following it – has drawn a mixed reaction from doctors on the front lines.

Many physicians say they embrace alternative and complementary approaches to medical care, or at least don’t reject them. Steven Pinzer, a spokesman for Aurora Health Care, contended that skeptical primary care physicians, at least at Aurora, don’t exist.

But others said doctors are choosing not to speak out for fear of appearing close-minded, or inviting disfavor from their health care network.

And then there is Stephen Barrett, a retired Allentown, Pa., psychiatrist and director of Quackwatch Inc. – a medical fraud watchdog group. Barrett calls alternative medicine “rubbish.”

Barrett said that while it may sound as if a lot of people are using non-traditional forms of medicine, it’s just not true. Remove prayer and the use of herbal supplements, and the number drops to about 18%. Practices such as biofeedback and Ayurveda, which is a form of holistic medicine, have received a fair amount of publicity but attract only 0.1% of the American population, he said.

“The fringe stuff is just not being used all that widely,” he said.

Barrett also wonders whether more physicians are not voicing their skepticism because they don’t know much about what’s going on outside their own specific fields and have enough on their plates without inviting conflict.

Benjamin agreed.

“Believe me, I don’t mean to criticize doctors – I am one,” he said. But they are so overworked and have so little time, most are unable to keep on top of the latest research in their own field, much less the latest on massage therapy and acupuncture.

“This is a failure on the part of medical schools” and health care organizations, which should be training their physicians in these methods and giving them the time to learn, he said.

Barrett was a little more critical: “They don’t know enough. They don’t want to get caught in a fix. And they are afraid of getting sued.”

Gaining acceptance

Nevertheless, there does seem to be a level of acceptance in the medical world.

Many specialists, such as heart doctors and cancer physicians, appear to be relatively open to newfangled (or very old-fangled, depending upon how you see it) treatments.

This is particularly true for cancer doctors, who for years have incorporated an array of treatments to help their patients.

“I think oncologists are an interesting group,” said James Stewart, a medical oncologist at UW Hospital. “We take a multidisciplinary approach to disease, a holistic approach, which is pretty traditional in cancer clinics.”

From diet and exercise to psychological care, oncologists have been aware that a patient who feels better about herself – who feels she has some control in the outcome of her care – will have a better experience.

“If I had my wishes, all my patients wouldn’t smoke. They’d exercise. And they’d be an ideal body weight,” he said. “I guarantee they’d feel better.”

But when he can’t get them to follow this advice – and they show interest in other treatments – he’s willing to refer them.

He’s quick to point out these treatments are complementary – not alternatives to the standard front lines of chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. And, he reiterated, the patient has to ask for it.

“There are definitely charlatans out there, people who take advantage of those with chronic, life-threatening diseases for which there are no easy cures,” he said. “And it’s those few who can give everybody a bad name.”

What Stewart and Ellen Hartenbach, another oncologist at UW, try to do is make sure they and their patients keep talking to each other.

Others hesitate

For doctors such as Jon Keevil, a cardiologist at UW, the open approach that his oncology colleagues have shown is not entirely comfortable.

He thinks heart specialists may be a bit less holistic than oncologists and primary care physicians – although he does have a dietitian in his clinic and regularly discusses the benefits of exercise and a good diet with his patients.

“When it comes right down to it, when a person suffers a heart attack, we don’t take over everything else” in the body, he said.

Indeed, discussing alternative and complementary approaches may be somewhat inappropriate coming from a specialist such as himself, he said. “That’s really what their primary care doctor is there for.”

That where David Rakel comes in.

Rakel is a primary care physician in Madison, and director of UW’s Integrative Medicine clinic, so he’s open – almost by the definition of his job – to new methods of health care.

But he thinks “adding more tools to the tool bag” is not the answer.

Instead, he said, there needs to be “a change in the way we approach the patient.”

From the minute patients walk into the room, the focus should be on listening to their story, and hearing what the patients have to say – instead of peppering them with questions to cram them into a preconceived diagnostic box.

Studies have shown that within 18 seconds of patients’ descriptions of their ailments, they are interrupted. And other research has indicated that only a handful of patients actually understand what their doctors tell them, or know what to do when they leave their doctor’s office.

“We really need to match a therapy to an individual,” said Rakel, taking into account that individual’s “biopsychosocial and spiritual influences.”

That means spending time with patients.

If adding 15 more minutes to a patient’s visit is what’s required, than that’s what should happen, Rakel said. And if that’s considered complementary or alternative, then so be it, he said.

“Integrative medicine encourages empowerment. It facilitates the body in a way that it is best able to heal itself,” he said.

So where does acupuncture, massage therapy and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi come in?

With any treatment, he said, “you have to take into account the potential harm, cost, the patient’s belief system and the evidence-based science,” he said.

“What’s legitimate for one person may not be for another,” he said. “The goal is how we can help a human being.”

Original article no longer available…

Read More

Meditating teens: This is your brain on vacation (Dallas News, Texas)

ROBIN GALIANO RUSSELL, The Dallas Morning News: Teens discover special benefits from meditation

If you’re a teenager, you might be chilling out this summer with a good video game, a favorite CD or the latest movie.

But some area teens have learned how to chill through meditation, focusing on breathing and relaxing the muscles to free the mind of distractions.

And unlike other forms of relaxation, the benefits of meditation last throughout the day. Daily meditation helps reduce stress, improve focus and develop positive attitudes, says Gen Kelsang Sangye, a Buddhist monk from England who is the resident teacher at the Vajradakini Buddhist Center for Meditation in Irving.

“Meditation helps us control our mind. Rather than react, you can respond in a peaceful way with gratitude,” he says.

This year, the center offered its first Buddhist summer school for teens, aiming to teach them the fine art of doing nothing. A half-dozen Dallas-area teens enrolled. They learned how to meditate for five or 10 minutes at a time through guided instruction.

Sitting with backs straight, heads tilted slightly forward, feet flat on the floor, eyes closed and hands in laps, they focused on breathing deeply and releasing muscle tension in various body parts, from their foreheads to their toes.

“When our mind becomes still, we become happy,” Gen Sangye says later. “There is so much noise and energy going on, but you realize there is a choice. As an individual, I can choose myself. As a teen, you can be so influenced by those around us that it seems we don’t have a choice. Children have so much energy, but they can focus. It’s giving them the opportunity to do that.”


Brooke Husereau, 15, of Garland
Why she came: “I came to drawing class here a few weeks ago and wanted to learn more. I can find myself here.”

How she does it: “You focus on one thing and really get into it. You learn to take all your thoughts, put them in a bag and leave them outside.”

How meditation makes her feel: “Sometimes I feel stressed before I meditate. After, I’m very relaxed. I like to do it early in the morning when you can hear all the birds. You find yourself. You’re just happy and peaceful.”

Dhiren Parbhoo, 13, of Dallas
Why he came: “My mother signed me up. My dad does meditation. It’s really hard to lose your concentration when it’s guided.”

Why he likes meditation: “It’s calming the mind. It relieves stress and calms you down. It’s kind of a reliever.”

Robin Galiano Russell Allison Braley, 9, of Frisco
Why she likes to meditate: “My mom and dad decided to become Buddhist together. I talk about it a lot with my dad. Meditation helps us get a grasp on our religion and learn what happens to us, to our bodies.”

How she meditates: “You want to have a guided meditation at first. It’s pretty hard. It takes a few times to focus. The best place is outside on a calm, peaceful day. It’s just so calm, like the ocean when no one else is around.”

Alisha Wakefield, 14, of Dallas
Why she came: “The guided meditation keeps you on track. He’ll bring you back. This will get it flowing for me. I’ll do it before bed. Or before and after doing homework. It helps you focus on whatever you want to do.”

How she feels during meditation: “Before, I’m just normal, awake, I guess. After, you’re still kind of in a haze. You have to slowly get out of it. You don’t want to get back to the world. I want to just keep doing what I’m doing. It’s just soothing and relaxing. Like, after a day of doing everything, it’s like taking a bubble bath.”

Nathan Holloway, 15, of Mesquite
Why he came: “I was invited by a friend. I’ve been meditating for four years. I borrowed a yoga book to try it, and it brought me to a state of peace. At first, I used it as an escape. It made me more outgoing, more comfortable with myself and with others.”

How he meditates: “I play peaceful nature music in my room, and I use oil or incense and candles. I use a yoga mat. Actually, a lot of friends call me a hippie. I focus on what happened during the day. I’ve actually meditated up to 45 minutes at a time.”

How it makes him feel: “Before, I’m exhausted from the day and whatnot. During, I’m very relaxed and in a state of peace. It’s quite relaxing. After, you feel very refreshed.”

Why guys need meditation: “It’s hormones. You’re trying to show up. You have to be big and bad to fit in. To be cool, you have to fight. I just turn around and walk off.”

Suhasini Yeeda, 15, of Mesquite
Why she meditates: “When you have a lot of stress, it helps you find peace. It improves your concentration. If you repeat something, it becomes more real.”

How she meditates: “I meditate in my room in the morning. It energizes me. It both refreshes me and it energizes me. I use a meditation handbook. Physically, you feel like you’re not even there, like floating on water.”

How meditation helps teens: “It helps you release attachment. With girls, it’s attachment to guys and to makeup. With guys, it’s anger.”


Gen Kelsang Sangye uses guided instruction to talk the students through the basic steps of meditation. Students are seated with backs straight, eyes closed and hands in laps as they listen:

“Focus on your own body and nothing else. From the crown of your head, down to the forehead. If you have a headache, let that go. Moving down to the face, checking out the area around your eyes, down to the jaw, relax those facial muscles. At the back of the neck, let the tension dissolve into an empty space. Just relax your shoulders. Try to lower your shoulders. Relax the chest area and the stomach. Move around to your back. Focus on your spine. Imagine you’re climbing down your spine. Now the legs, thighs, knees, calf muscles. Spread your toes and any tension dissolves.

“Now your body’s comfortable. Focus on your brain, on your breathing. Feel the breath to the tip of your nostrils,” he says, reminding them there’s a close relationship between the breath and the mind.

“If your mind has moved away from the breath, move it back once more to the sensations of the nostrils,” Gen Sangye tells them.

Gen Sangye then is silent to allow students to meditate. Advanced students might focus on Buddhist virtues such as compassion, patience and wisdom. Beginners concentrate on allowing their minds to rest as they focus only on their breathing.

After five minutes, he gently taps a bell and tells students to slowly open their eyes.

“It’s like being in Texas on a very hot day and finding cool water,” he says. “At the beginning, it’s difficult because our minds are like little fish dancing in the water. After time, our concentration gets better.”

For information on meditation programs at the Vajradakini Buddhist Center for Meditation, visit or call 972-871-2611.

Original article no longer available…

Read More