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Articles & Newsletters

There'll be lots more to come, but here's a few for starters.

  • Why Meditate? A lesson from the Lion King - by Sutriya Johnson

  • Scans of Monks' Brains Show Meditation Alters Structure & Function

  • Meditation Lowers Children's Blood Pressure.


For the past few years, meditation has enjoyed recognition and acceptance by the mainstream as never before. In fact, meditation, like yoga, has been practiced for thousands of years. But apart from the popular mythologized view of people sitting cross-legged, palms up, blissfully unruffled by their surroundings and humming aum, most people still have only a vague idea of what meditation really involves. And while there certainly are people who experience that kind of bliss, most of us live our lives in varying degrees of pain and pleasure.

If you've seen The Lion King, you may have found yourself being particularly moved by the scene in which Simba, confronted by Nala, refuses to go back and take his rightful place as king of the pride because he feels guilty about what he assumes to be his role in the death of his father, Mufasa. The mystical Rafiki, a great little guru, challenges Simba to see that Mufasa really lives. He takes Simba to a pond and shows him his reflection. In the heavens above, Mufasa appears in shadowy form. He tells Simba, "You have forgotten who you are and so have forgotten me. Look inside yourself, Simba. You are more than what you have become. . . . Remember who you are. You are my son and the true king. Remember who you are.  . ."

This is actually a classic metaphorical story used to illustrate a basic truth about human existence and a reason to meditate. There is in all of us a Self that is wise, loving, kind, compassionate, and courageous. It goes by many names: the heart, the source, the kingdom of heaven within, Christ consciousness, divinity, grace, Truth, and so on. But, like Simba, we have forgotten who we are. Since the moment we were born (or perhaps even before) we have been conditioned by our environment, and the conditioning has formed certain patterns of thought and emotion which have caused us to lose the awareness of the divine being that we really are.

Meditation is a way of quieting the noisy chatter of the patterned, conditioned mind to allow us to regain the lost awareness of our true identity. Like Simba, we are more than we have become. In the still pool of what we call the superconscious mind, we see reflected back the true nature of our being.

The American Meditation Society teaches practices designed for those of us who live in the world of jobs, bills, spouses, and kids. Yet our teachings embody the profound wisdom taught for many centuries to those who chose a life of religious seclusion. In addition to the changes in spiritual consciousness, there are other physiological and psychological benefits that accrue as people continue to meditate. Physiological benefits include: normalized blood pressure, improved immune function and ability to heal, slowing of the aging process, and reduction of stress-related disorders. Psychological benefits include: improved sense of well-being; reduction in the incidence of depression, anger, anxiety, and irritability; improved concentration; and enhanced creativity.

With so much to gain, why not give meditation a chance? It's a great way to enhance not only the quality of our own life but also that of others around us.

Here's an interesting one - study showing the increase in brain plasticity, through regular meditational practices.

Scans of Monks' Brains Show Meditation Alters Structure & Function

In a striking difference between novices and monks, the latter showed a dramatic increase in high-frequency brain activity called gamma waves during compassion meditation. Thought to be the signature of neuronal activity that knits together far-flung brain circuits, gamma waves underlie higher mental activity such as consciousness. The novice meditators "showed a slight increase in gamma activity, but most monks showed extremely large increases of a sort that has never been reported before in the neuroscience literature," says Prof this post. Davidson, suggesting that mental training can bring the brain to a greater level of consciousness.

Using the brain scan called functional magnetic resonance imaging, the scientists pinpointed regions that were active during compassion meditation. In almost every case, the enhanced activity was greater in the monks' brains than the novices'. Activity in the left prefrontal cortex (the seat of positive emotions such as happiness) swamped activity in the right prefrontal (site of negative emotions and anxiety), something never before seen from purely mental activity.

The study will be published next week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "We can't rule out the possibility that there was a pre-existing difference in brain function between monks and novices," says Prof. Davidson, "but the fact that monks with the most hours of meditation showed the greatest brain changes gives us confidence that the changes are actually produced by mental training."

That opens up the tantalizing possibility that the brain, like the rest of the body, can be altered intentionally. Just as aerobics sculpt the muscles, so mental training sculpts the grey matter in ways scientists are only beginning to fathom.


By SHARON BEGLEY

From the Wall Street Journal Online.

http://online.wsj.com/article_email/0,,SB109959818932165108-IdjeoNhlaV3oJunaXuGa6qJm5,00.htm

 

Meditation Lowers Children's Blood Pressure

Twenty minutes of daily meditation appeared to help reduce blood pressure in 12 year olds and likely reduce risk of cardiovascular problems later in life, new research indicates.

In contrast, similar group received instruction about how to prevent high blood pressure through diet and exercise actually experienced an increase in blood pressure over three months.

These findings demonstrate that meditation may have a "potential beneficial impact" on healthy kids, say the researchers, led by Dr. Frank A. Treiber of the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta.

Previous research demonstrates that people who have practiced meditation for a long time typically have lower blood pressure than those who don't meditate.

Experts have become increasingly interested in kids' blood pressure, since high blood pressure is thought to have its roots in childhood, and is linked to a high risk of future cardiovascular health problems.

During the meditation, students practiced a beginners technique, in which they focused on their breathing, sitting upright with their eyes closed. They were told that if their attention wavered, they should acknowledge the distraction and focus again on their breathing. They practiced one 10-minute meditation session at school and one at home after school.

After three months of meditation, students' systolic blood pressure - the top number in a blood pressure reading - decreased by 2 or 3 points. If maintained over time, this small decrease in systolic pressure could reduce the risk of dying from stroke or heart problems in adulthood by nearly 13 percent, the authors write in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

Among non-meditators, systolic blood pressure actually appeared to increase by 1 to 4 points.

Previous research has shown that meditation can also decrease school absence and behaviour problems among teenagers, Treiber and his colleagues note.
"Implementation of (meditation) programs in the school setting is not only feasible but may also be desirable because of their impact on school-related conduct as well as possible impact on future health," they write.

SOURCE: Psychosomatic Medicine, December 2004. www.psychosomaticmedicine.org

 

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