Source: Prevent Disease
February 7, 2017
Mindfulness-based teachings have shown benefits in everything from inflammatory disorders to central nervous system dysfunction and even cancer. Training groups in mindfulness has become a powerful tool in preventative intervention. Researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) are studying how cognitive therapy that uses mindfulness techniques serve as an alternative to pharmaceuticals.
Mindfulness is “the intentional, accepting and non-judgemental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment“, which can be trained by a large extent in meditational practices.
Anxiety disorders are among the most common psychiatric conditions affecting children and adolescents. While antidepressants are frequently used to treat youth with anxiety disorders, they may be poorly tolerated in children who are at high risk of developing bipolar disorder.
Many antidepressants cannot be metabolized by segments of the population due to deficiencies in metabolic pathways such as Cytochrome 450. Historically, these non-metabolizers are given more and more psyche drugs as they become more and more psychotic until they hang themselves, kill someone else or become disabled in a mental institution. So what’s better than medication? Mindfulness.
Dr. Madhav Goyal of the John Hopkins School of Medicine, who led research published in JAMA, singled out mindfulness meditation as of of the most effective forms of introspection.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all that mindfulness performs as well as or better than medication,” says Adrian Wells, a professor of psychopathology at Manchester University and a clinical advisor to the charity Anxiety UK.
A study published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology, sought to evaluate the neurophysiology of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for children in youth with generalized, social, and/or separation anxiety disorder who were at risk for developing bipolar disorder.
They looked at brain imaging in youth before and after mindfulness based therapy and saw changes in brain regions that control emotional processing. It is part of a larger study by co-principal investigators Melissa DelBello, MD, Dr. Stanley and Mickey Kaplan Professor and Chair of the UC Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, and Sian Cotton, PhD, associate professor of family and community medicine, director of the UC’s Center for Integrative Health and Wellness, looking at the effectiveness of mindfulness-based therapy.
In a small group of youth identified with anxiety disorders (generalized, social and/or separation anxiety) and who have a parent with bipolar disorder, researchers evaluated the neurophysiology of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy in children who are considered at-risk for developing bipolar disorder.
“Our preliminary observation that the mindfulness therapy increases activity in the part of the brain known as the cingulate, which processes cognitive and emotional information, is noteworthy,” says Jeffrey Strawn, MD, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, director of the Anxiety Disorders Research Program and co-principal investigator on the study.
“This study, taken together with previous research, raises the possibility that treatment-related increases in brain activity [of the anterior cingulate cortex] during emotional processing may improve emotional processing in anxious youth who are at risk for developing bipolar disorder.”
The study’s findings in regard to increases in activity in the part of the brain known as the insula, the part of the brain responsible for monitoring and responding to the physiological condition of the body, are of high interest, Strawn adds.
In this pilot trial, nine participants ages 9 to 16 years, underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while performing continuous performance tasks with emotional and neutral distractors prior to and following 12 weeks of mindful-based cognitive therapy.
“Mindfulness-based therapeutic interventions promote the use of meditative practices to increase present-moment awareness of conscious thoughts, feelings and body sensations in an effort to manage negative experiences more effectively,” says Sian Cotton, PhD, an associate professor of family and community medicine at UC, director of the UC’s Center for Integrative Health and Wellness and a co-author on the study. “These integrative approaches expand traditional treatments and offer new strategies for coping with psychological distress.”
The intention of Mindfulness Meditation is secular; namely, to train the mind, in the same way that we would lift weights to strengthen a muscle, to be able to concentrate — and avoid weakly wandering around on autopilot — for longer and longer periods of time.
“Clinician-rated anxiety and youth-rated trait anxiety were significantly reduced following treatment; the increases in mindfulness were associated with decreases in anxiety. Increasingly, patients and families are asking for additional therapeutic options, in addition to traditional medication-based treatments, that have proven effectiveness for improved symptom reduction. Mindfulness-based therapies for mood disorders is one such example with promising evidence being studied and implemented at UC.”
“The path from an initial understanding of the effects of psychotherapy on brain activity to the identification of markers of treatment response is a challenging one, and will require additional studies of specific aspects of emotional processing circuits,” says Strawn.
Mindfulness is gaining a growing popularity as a practice in daily life, apart from buddhist insight meditation and its application in clinical psychology. In this context mindfulness is defined as moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, characterized mainly by “acceptance” – attention to thoughts and feelings without judging whether they are right or wrong. Mindfulness focuses the human brain on what is being sensed at each moment, instead of on its normal rumination on the past or on the future.
January 29, 2017
Healing Chi Meditation by Sifu William Lee is a rather straight forward, and yet methodical book that covers the subject of meditation from a no-nonsense point of view.
Lee does a compelling job in laying out an easy-to-follow guide covering the main components of meditation.
This book covers just enough information to help people get an essential crash course into meditation, but it doesn’t become overly complex like some other books. It’s strength definitely lies in its simplicity in learning and application.
Covered within the book are the foundational stages of meditation, the how’s and why’s of why to do meditation and how to prepare to net the greatest benefits. And yet, the strongest part comes at the latter stages of the book.
Lee covers what is known as Dan Tian Centering as well as the 8 Moons. And he anchors all of this with a template for the Little Universe Micro Cycle.
This is my first book from Lee, and have two others, one of which am currently reading and am definitely glad to have gotten these. The other book is just as pragmatic as this one, and am enjoying it just as much and even netting benefits from it.
Simply put, if you’re interested in meditation and don’t know where to begin, get this book.
January 25, 2017
In this week’s edition of natural health headlines, find out what might be coming to a produce section near you and why you should be concerned. Also learn about progress that’s being made to help understand type I diabetes as well as help for early stage memory loss that’s done in as little as 12 minutes a day!
September 7, 2016
This article was originally featured on the Mind Unleashed
There have been numerous studies detailing what happens to the brain in long-term meditators, but what exactly happens to people who meditate for the first time?
Sara Lazar, a Harvard researcher, has gained quite some notoriety detailing how the brain actually grows grey matter when people meditate. Other studies have shown that meditation improves IQ, and lessens depression. In addition to these benefits, meditation also:
- Reduces alcohol and substance consumption, reduces blood pressure (Chiesa, 2009),
- Decreases anxiety, depressive symptoms, and relapses (Coelho, Canter, & Ernst, 2007; Kim et al., 2009)
- Helps patients suffering from various types of chronic pain (Chiesa & Serretti, in press)
- Lowers the incidence of stress (Chiesa & Serretti, 2009)
- Aids cancer patients (Ledesma & Kumano, 2009)
Most people think they have to meditate for years before they start seeing any of these improvements, but a study conducted by Chiesa, Calati, and Serretti shows that after just eight short weeks of meditation, people start to experience improved cognitive functioning.
Still not fast enough for you?
Meditation for the First Time
Here’s what happens to the brain after someone completes just one meditation session who has never meditated before:
- People start to become less ‘me’ centered as the brain balances the Ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), which allows us to ruminate our worry, and the Dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC), which allows us to empathize with others and feel more connected to those who we usually view as dissimilar to ourselves.
- The fear-center is calmed via the amygdala and the two branches of the nervous system. You know that ‘uh-oh’ feeling you sometimes get? Meditation helps to make sure that you only feel low-level stress when you really need to, such as when you are about to put your hand on a hot stove, or you need to put the brakes on in traffic. Even then, meditation can help take the stress out of stress-full experiences.
- The very first time you try to meditate, the mind calms down. It doesn’t mean you will experience profound inner peace the first time your bum touches a meditation cushion, but it does mean that you are already setting up new neural pathways that allow positive change. Each time you ‘sit’ again, you enhance them.
- You’ll feel less depressed. Meditation is getting a lot of press lately because of this study by Mahav Goyal published at JAMA. 47 trials conducted with over 3,500 patients proved that meditation was as effective as anti-depressants. (The effect of meditation was moderate, at 0.3. If this sounds low, keep in mind that the effect size for antidepressants is also 0.3.) The difference is, of course, that meditation can’t kill you or cause other unwanted side effects, like psychotic episodes, panic attacks, hostility, etc.
Though it takes a few more sessions, here is what happens when you meditate a little more frequently:
- You’ll feel less physical pain in just four meditation sessions. Brain activity decreases in the areas responsible for relaying sensory information surrounding a feeling of pain. Also, regions of the brain that modulate pain get busier, and volunteers who participated in a study reported that pain was less intense after meditation practice. These results were all reported at an annual Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego.
- The ‘me-center’ slowly evaporates. As the connection between bodily sensations and the vmPFC withers, you will no longer assume that a bodily sensation or momentary feeling of fear means something is wrong with you or that you are the problem. You can just let it rise and pass, without hardly giving it a second thought.
- Empathy becomes stronger. The vmPFC part of the ‘me center’ subsides and the dmPFC grows more dominant, which means you can feel others’ pain or sadness, but with the same ability as you’ve learned to handle your own bodily sensations.
Masters of Meditation
Once you’re an old pro at meditation you can look forward to even more benefits, many of which science is still reaching to understand.
- Tibetan monks can sit for hours in meditation as easily as most of us can spend the same amount of time sleeping or surfing the net. These monks recently dried wet sheets with their bodies by utilizing a form of meditation called g Tum-mo. Monks were cloaked in wet, cold sheets (49 f / 9.4 c) and placed in a 40 f (4.5 c) room. In conditions such as these the average person would likely experience uncontrollable shivering and suffer hypothermia. However, through deep concentration, the monks were able to generate body heat, and within minutes the researchers noticed steam rising from those sheets. In about an hour the sheets were completely dry.
- Yogis in India who practice meditation are able to slow their hearts so completely that they are hardly detectable on EKG equipment. In 1935 a French cardiologist, Therese Brosse, took an electrocardiograph to India and studied yogis who said they could stop their heart. According to Brosse’s published report, readings produced by a single EKG lead and pulse recordings indicated that the heart potentials and pulse of one of her subjects decreased almost to zero, where they stayed for several seconds. (Brosse, 1946)
- A master meditator, Munishri Ajitchandrasagarji, is a Jain monk who credits his incredible memory to meditation practice. He can recite 500 items from memory, whether it is a phrase from one of six different languages, a math problem, or the name of a random object. He recently performed this feat in front of an audience of 6,000 to verify his amazing level of skill. It took six hours for the crowd to feed him the list of items, and he recited them back perfectly.
- Dutchman Wim Hof is able to control his immune system with meditation. He has been in the Guinness Book of World Records 20 times for accomplishments like climbing Mt. Everest and Kilimanjaro in nothing but a pair of shorts and shoes, with no water or food, when temperatures easily reach 50 degrees celcius. He uses a special breathing meditation.
So maybe the first time you learn to control your thoughts by focusing on your breath, or simply observing your thoughts like clouds passing in the sky won’t make you a master meditator capable of these staggering acts, but even with your first twenty minute ‘sit’ you are well on your way to other-worldly abilities.
About the Author
Christina Sarich is a writer, musician, yogi, and humanitarian with an expansive repertoire. Her thousands of articles can be found all over the Internet, and her insights also appear in magazines as diverse as Weston A. Price, Nexus, Atlantis Rising, and the Cuyamungue Institute, among others. She was recently a featured author in the Journal, “Wise Traditions in Food, Farming, and Healing Arts,” and her commentary on healing, ascension, and human potential inform a large body of the alternative news lexicon. She has been invited to appear on numerous radio shows, including Health Conspiracy Radio, Dr. Gregory Smith’s Show, and dozens more. The second edition of her book, Pharma Sutra, will be released soon.
This article is offered under Creative Commons license. It’s okay to republish it anywhere as long as attribution bio is included and all links remain intact.
Featured image: Mturkforum
June 16, 2015
Some of the most successful people in the world meditate, including Josh Waitzkin, the only person to have won a championship in every category of chess. In addition, he is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and a national champion in Tai Chi. He attributes much of his success to the focus gained from the practice of meditation through various forms of meditation.
Meditation is a practice that has a long history dating back to Hindu traditions of Ancient India. There was always something a bit mystical or mysterious about meditation, but as science has shown in recent years, it is not as “out there” as many think. This article goes into the benefits of meditation and the different methods of meditation that students can use in order to excel in school, perform at a high level in sports and extracurricular activities, and have more emotional control over oneself.
Five Benefits of Meditation
1. Increased Focus
Although it is not understood why, studies have shown that meditation increases the ability to focus for longer sustained periods of time. This benefits students in many ways, including being able to pay attention in class longer, thus improving the chances of material retention. In addition, students who meditate have a higher rate of success in taking quizzes and exams.
Better focus also benefits students outside the classroom — specifically, in extracurricular activities such as football, drama, band, basketball, baseball, or choir. The act of visualization is a form of meditation that many professional athletes use in order to perform at the highest level. Phil Jackson, coach of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers, teaches his players to use Zen meditation to improve their game. He has 11 championship rings, the most in NBA history. Pete Carroll, NFL Superbowl champion coach of the Seattle Seahawks and former USC Trojans coach, also uses meditation techniques at practice. Musician Paul McCartney meditates as well. And as we covered in our recent article on Daily Meditation, even some schools are beginning to integrate meditation into their daily curriculum.
2. Improved Memory
A study in the Harvard Gazette reports that after an 8-week meditation study in which participants meditated for 27 minutes each day, MRI’s (Magnetic Resonance Images) showed an increase in grey matter in the hippocampus region of the brain that is responsible for learning and memory.
An enhanced memory allows students to retain more information, which of course, lends itself to better test scores. But this is not the extent of the benefits of a better memory. One benefit is remembering people’s names that you have just met. As Dale Carnegie wrote in his book, How To Win Friends & Influence People, “A person’s name is to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language.” The simple act of remembering another person’s name makes it easier to converse and create relationships. This is a plus for both personal and career lives.
In addition, a good memory means an increased ability to juggle many different ideas and thoughts at once. This is a skill that is useful in carrying thought-provoking, intelligent, and interesting conversations. Furthermore, it is a skill that comes in handy in the workplace and in the world in general, where information is king.
3. Reduced Anxiety and Stress
According to this article from the National Institute of Mental Health, stress can cause digestive issues, headaches, insomnia, depression, and anger, among other symptoms. Under conditions of chronic stress, people may suffer from more viral infections like the flu.
Tragedies, traumatic events, and even minor failures can cause an onset of stress that seems neverending. This is especially true in teenagers and college students, who go through emotional rollercoasters due to hormonal changes and stress-inducing events such as moving away to college or breaking up with a significant other.
Meditation is one way to confront emotions and deal with these stressful events in a healthy way. Vyda Bielkus of Mind Body Green writes about how yoga can be a great form of meditation for gettingover a breakup. In contrast, still meditations like transcendental meditation are great for calming the mind and body.
4. Reduced Fatigue
A study was done at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine that showed that brief meditation sessions (within 4 days) reduced fatigue and increased attention. Jerry Seinfeld is a huge advocate of meditation and its affects on his energy level throughout the day. In his own words, “Sleep is hit and miss. TM [transcendental meditation] is not.”
College is an interesting time in life where students sleep irregularly, consume foods and liquids that are less than healthy for the body, and give up on the healthy exercising habits they indulged in while attending high school. These are all hesee major causes of fatigue. In addition to changing those three lifestyle habits, meditation can help reduce the fatigue felt by the significant life event of going away to school and being bombarded with incredible workloads.
5. Immunity Boost
With a job, five classes, a relationship, and social activities, nobody has time to get sick. Unfortunately, with the lifestyles that many students have, illness is something that is difficult to avoid.
Exercise, a healthy diet, and a regular sleeping schedule are all important to sustain a healthy way of life. Additionally, research from the National Library of Health shows that even a short-term meditation training program can provide significant measurable changes in the immune system of participants.
How to Meditate: A Quick Primer
There are many forms of meditation in the world, and every person’s approach can vary based on their personal preferences. We will go into three of the most common forms of meditation.
- Mindfulness is a form of meditation in which the participant observes sensations in the body. This is a great way to transition students from one lesson to another by helping them refocus and recharge mentally. To practice mindfulness, have your get students into a comfortable position, whether that is laying down, sitting, or somewhere between. Have your students close their eyes and observe how different areas of their bodies feel. Bring their attention to how their lungs inflate and deflate with each breath without necessarily changing the breathing pattern. Then have them move their attention to their feet and notice the pressure on them and whether they are cold or hot. Do this for every single part of the body. This form of meditation helps people become more aware of their mind and body, as well as of their thoughts.
- Transcendental Meditation is a very popular form of meditation in which minute focus is key. In addition to starting off class in a calming manner, using this form of meditation is a great way to recharge your students after lunch, when food coma starts hitting. To do TM, have your students sit up with their backs straight in the lotus position and close their eyes. A mantra, which is considered by many to be a sacred word that is gifted to meditators, is repeated over and over for 20 minutes. TM is usually done twice a day – once upon waking and again at around midday.
- Moving Meditation is a form of meditation that is not meditation in the traditional sense of the word, where participants sit quietly in the lotus position with the eyes closed. Moving meditation includes any physical activity that puts one in a trance-like state. This can be a martial art like Tai Chi, a focus-intensive activity like mountain climbing, or a game like chess. All of these activities require an intense level of focus that some call “the zone” or “flow”. This too is a great form of meditation and can be a great way for students to energize and refresh their minds and bodies while creating a very acute sense of focus.
In order to fully optimize health by reducing stress and increasing cognition performance, it is important for students to embrace a healthy diet, exercise, a regular sleep schedule, and meditation. While it has not been in the conversation until very recently, meditation is just one piece in the overall puzzle of health.
September 3, 2016
Originally published at The Mind Unleashed
The benefits of meditation have been touted for decades now, with seemingly a new scientific study coming out as fast as you can say ‘Aum’. Harvard has proven that meditation rebuilds the grey matter in our brains in as little as 8 weeks, and according to University of Toronto psychiatrist, Steven Selchen, “There’s more than an article a day on the subject in peer-reviewed journals now.” With such vast research into the study of mindfulness, how do we know if we are really practicing meditation?
Fortunately, researchers unearthed some astounding discoveries about the brain’s functioning in ‘real’ meditation as opposed to ‘fake’ meditation.
Dr. Creswell, working with scientists from a handful of additional universities, managed to fake mindfulness, in order to observe physiological changes in the brains of participants. Their findings have now been published in Biological Psychiatry, a Journal of Psychiatric Neuroscience.
35 men and women were recruited who were experiencing unemployment, and arguably, high levels of daily stress. Prior to being divided into two groups, one practicing real meditation, and the other a sham experience that looked like meditation, their brains were scanned and blood samples were taken.
Both groups did stretching exercises, but one group was taught a traditional form of mindfulness meditation whereupon they were to pay close attention to bodily sensations, including unpleasant ones. The second group went along doing their stretches without the same formal meditation instructions, while their instructor made jokes. This group was also allowed to chatter and ignore all bodily sensations as they stretched.
None of the participants knew if they were in the ‘real’ meditation or ‘sham’ meditation group.
Upon finishing a three-day ‘meditation’ session, both groups reported feeling refreshed and less stressed, however, follow-up brain scans told the real truth about ‘fake’ meditation.
The group who had practiced real mindfulness meditation showed higher communication in portions of their brains that are associated to calm and focus than those who were in the sham meditation group.
Shockingly, four months later, the real meditation group also showed a much lower level of a blood marker called Interleukin-6, which is known to cause inflammation, and subsequently, disease in the body – even though very few were still meditating.
That means in just three days of meditating mindfully, an entire group of people experienced prolonged calm, focus, and reduced markers for disease.
Dr. Creswell is rather certain that the meditation is what caused the reduction in Interlukin-6, but he has no idea how it actually works, or what ‘dose’ of meditation is needed to keep inflammation down long term.
Anecdotal accounts have given people great motivation to meditate for just a few minutes every day. People who have even a brief, but regular meditation habit have reported experiencing greater clarity, reduced feelings of overwhelm and greater resolve to accomplish their goals.
In fact, one study led by the University of Massachusetts Medical School taught mindfulness to a group of people with clinical levels of anxiety and found that 90% experienced significant reductions in anxiety and depression.
Now that we even have a study proving that ‘real’ meditation works better than ‘fake’ meditation or a placebo, isn’t it time to carve a few minutes out of your day for this life-changing practice?
Sure, your family members might be noisy, or you travel too much, or you are sick, but there really is no reason NOT to meditate. Here are some tips to get in a ten-minute meditation for the busiest people:
- You can meditate on a plane without anyone even knowing. Just close your eyes and mindfully feel every sensation that arises in your body.
- If you live in a busy household, try waking up just fifteen minutes before everyone else to practice a few moments of calm awareness before the hectic day begins.
- If you are sick – what better way to help your body recuperate, than by focusing on your breath, and allowing the magic of mindfulness to start healing you?
- Got family in town? Let them know you have to run out for an errand, and practice 10 minutes of mindfulness in your car before you grab that loaf of bread or drop off the dry cleaning.
See if you can keep up a 10-minute meditation practice for 30 days. By then you’ll have created a habit, and you can add momentum to your accomplishments by slowly sitting in mindfulness for longer stretches. If your attempting the ‘real’ thing – you will see improvements in your focus, mood, and even your health!
Image credits: Lazamunda.org