Meditation & mindfulness

The Medical College of Wisconsin issued the following news release:

Heart Disease Patients Who Practice Transcendental Meditation Have
Nearly 50% Lower Rates of Heart Attack, Stroke, and Death

Results of first-ever study presented at annual meeting of the American
Heart Association in Orlando, Nov. 16

Patients with coronary heart disease who practiced the stress-reducing
Transcendental Meditation(R) technique had nearly 50 percent lower rates
of heart attack, stroke, and death compared to nonmeditating controls,
according to the results of a first-ever study presented during the
annual meeting of the American Heart Association in Orlando, Fla., on
Nov.16, 2009.

Professor of Psychology Richard J. Davidson is Director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience,
Director of the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging & Behavior, and
Director of the Center for Investigating Healthy Mind .

Here is an announcement from the U of Wisconsin about a study from his
group that appeared in *Journal of Neuroscience*:

A new study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison suggests that people
can train their minds to stay focused.

The study, led by UW-Madison scientist Antoine Lutz, involved subjects
interested in meditation in an effort to see whether voluntary mental
training can affect attention.

Results suggest that attention stability is not a fixed capacity, and
that it can be improved by directed mental training, such as meditation.


The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) issued the following news release:

Meditation May Increase Gray Matter

Push-ups, crunches, gyms, personal trainers — people have many
strategies for building bigger muscles and stronger bones.

But what can one do to build a bigger brain?

That’s the finding from a group of researchers at UCLA who used high-
resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to scan the brains of people
who meditate. In a study published in the journal NeuroImage and
currently available online (by subscription), the researchers report
that certain regions in the brains of long-term meditators were larger
than in a similar control group.

Specifically, meditators showed significantly larger volumes of the
hippocampus and areas within the orbito-frontal cortex, the thalamus and
the inferior temporal gyrus — all regions known for regulating emotions.

“We know that people who consistently meditate have a singular ability
to cultivate positive emotions, retain emotional stability and engage in
mindful behavior,” said Eileen Luders, lead author and a postdoctoral
research fellow at the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging. “The observed
differences in brain anatomy might give us a clue why meditators have
these exceptional abilities.”

Research has confirmed the beneficial aspects of meditation. In addition
to having better focus and control over their emotions, many people who
meditate regularly have reduced levels of stress and bolstered immune
systems. But less is known about the link between meditation and brain


Today’s *Vancouver Sun* includes an article: “Ancient Buddhism and
modern psychology; Both practices are focused on releasing followers
from suffering, and both aim for emotional health” by Douglas Todd.

Here are some excerpts:

[begin excerpts]

‘Everybody’s a Buddhist now.”  That’s what a Vancouver yoga studio owner
recently said, a wry twinkle in her eye.

She was noticing how many of her yoga students were joining western
nature lovers, spiritual seekers and global pacifists in describing
themselves as followers of the 2,500-year-old Asian tradition.

Most of them were finding their entrée into Buddhism through meditation
and the healing arts….

There are many natural links between Buddhism and psychology.


Take some time today, and another day, and another.

Take some time today to find yourself.  Sit quietly. Do nothing. Turn your attention to yourself, inward. Just be. Feel what you feel. Think what you think. Receive the sensations of your body. Drift away, and come back to yourself. Feel into your worries and preoccupations. Feel into your body into those places that get tight with excitement or dread. Feel into your body where sadness condenses like November rain clouds. Hear the voices of your fears and judgments. Feel the release and the peace if that comes. Be with it all. Your fullness and emptiness. Your wisdom or confusion.

Don’t try too hard. Being with yourself has no specific goal. Don’t worry about trying to do something right.  For now, no need to figure it out. Just be.

Take some time today to be quiet and to discover who you are beneath the plans you have woven and the busyness you have committed to.  Beneath the person you want yourself to be. Or that others want you to be. Be yourself for a little while.

Take some time today with yourself. To be.

Brian Grady 25 Mar 09

The University of Montreal issued the following news release about a
study published in *Psychosomatic Medicine* and funded by the Canadian
Institutes of Health Research, the Mind and Life Institute Varela Grant
(J.A.G.), & the Fonds de la recherche en sante du Quebec:

Study finds Zen meditation alleviates pain
University of Montreal pain management study in Psychosomatic Medicine

This release is available in French.

Montreal, February 3, 2009 – Zen meditation – a centuries-old practice
that can provide mental, physical and emotional balance – may reduce
pain according to Universite de Montreal researchers. A new study in the
January edition of Psychosomatic Medicine reports that Zen meditators
have lower pain sensitivity both in and out of a meditative state
compared to non-meditators.

Joshua A. Grant, a doctoral student in the Department of Physiology, co-
authored the paper with Pierre Rainville, a professor and researcher at
the Universite de Montreal and it’s affiliated Institut universitaire de
geriatrie de Montreal. The main goal of their study was to examine
whether trained meditators perceived pain differently than non-meditators.

“While previous studies have shown that teaching chronic pain patients
to meditate is beneficial, very few studies have looked at pain
processing in healthy, highly trained meditators. This study was a first
step in determining how or why meditation might influence pain
perception.” says Grant.

Meditate away the pain

For this study, the scientists recruited 13 Zen meditators with a
minimum of 1,000 hours of practice to undergo a pain test and contrasted
their reaction with 13 non-meditators. Subjects included 10 women and 16
men between the ages of 22 to 56.

The administered pain test was simple: A thermal heat source, a computer
controlled heating plate, was pressed against the calves of subjects
intermittently at varying temperatures. Heat levels began at 43 degrees
Celsius and went to a maximum of 53 degrees Celsius depending on each
participant’s sensitivity. While quite a few of the meditators tolerated
the maximum temperature, all control subjects were well below 53 degrees

Grant and Rainville noticed a marked difference in how their two test
groups reacted to pain testing – Zen meditators had much lower pain
sensitivity (even without meditating) compared to non-meditators. During
the meditation-like conditions it appeared meditators further reduced
their pain partly through slower breathing: 12 breaths per minute versus
an average of 15 breaths for non-meditators.

“Slower breathing certainly coincided with reduced pain and may
influence pain by keeping the body in a relaxed state.” says Grant.
“While previous studies have found that the emotional aspects of pain
are influenced by meditation, we found that the sensation itself, as
well as the emotional response, is different in meditators.”

The ultimate result? Zen meditators experienced an 18 percent reduction
in pain intensity. “If meditation can change the way someone feels pain,
thereby reducing the amount of pain medication required for an ailment,
that would be clearly beneficial,” says Grant.

A Violinist in the Metro

From The Effective Club

A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule.

A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the hat and without stopping continued to walk.

A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written on a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.

Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats average $100.

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?

One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be:
If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?

The University of Missouri-Columbia issued the following news release:

Selflessness, Core Of All Major World Religions, Has Neuropsychological

All spiritual experiences are based in the brain. That statement is
truer than ever before, according to a University of Missouri
neuropsychologist. An MU study has data to support a neuropsychological
model that proposes spiritual experiences associated with selflessness
are related to decreased activity in the right parietal lobe of the brain.

The study is one of the first to use individuals with traumatic brain
injury to determine this connection. Researchers say the implication of
this connection means people in many disciplines, including peace
studies, health care or religion can learn different ways to attain
selflessness, to experience transcendence, and to help themselves and others.

This study, along with other recent neuroradiological studies of
Buddhist meditators and Francescan nuns, suggests that all individuals,
regardless of cultural background or religion, experience the same
neuropsychological functions during spiritual experiences, such as
transcendence. Transcendence, feelings of universal unity and decreased
sense of self, is a core tenet of all major religions. Meditation and
prayer are the primary vehicles by which such spiritual transcendence is

“The brain functions in a certain way during spiritual experiences,”
said Brick Johnstone, professor of health psychology in the MU School of
Health Professions. “We studied people with brain injury and found that
people with injuries to the right parietal lobe of the brain reported
higher levels of spiritual experiences, such as transcendence.”

This link is important, Johnstone said, because it means selflessness
can be learned by decreasing activity in that part of the brain. He
suggests this can be done through conscious effort, such as meditation
or prayer. People with these selfless spiritual experiences also are
more psychologically healthy, especially if they have positive beliefs
that there is a God or higher power who loves them, Johnstone said.

“This research also addresses questions regarding the impact of
neurologic versus cultural factors on spiritual experience,” Johnstone
said. “The ability to connect with things beyond the self, such as
transcendent experiences, seems to occur for people who minimize right
parietal functioning. This can be attained through cultural practices,
such as intense meditation or prayer or because of a brain injury that
impairs the functioning of the right parietal lobe. Either way, our
study suggests that ‘selflessness’ is a neuropsychological foundation of
spiritual experiences.”

The research was funded by the MU Center on Religion and the
Professions. The study – “Support for a neuropsychological model of
spirituality in persons with traumatic brain injury” – was published in
the peer-reviewed journal Zygon.

“Our research focused on the personal experience of spiritual
transcendence and does not in any way minimize the importance of
religion or personal beliefs, nor does it suggest that spiritual
experience are related only to neuropsychological activity in the
brain,” Johnstone said. “It is important to note that individuals
experience their God or higher power in many different ways, but that
all people from all religions and beliefs appear to experience these
connections in a similar way.”

“The worst thing that can happen to a person who is already divided up into a dozen different compartments is to seal off yet another compartment and tell him that this one is more important than all others, and that he must henceforth exercise a special care in keeping it separate from them. That is what tends to happen when contemplation is unwisely thrust without warning upon the bewilderment and distraction of Western man.

The first thing you have to do, before you start thinking about such a thing as contemplation, is to try to recover your basic natural unity, to reintegrate your compartmentalized being into a coordinated and simple whole, and learn to live as a unified human person. This means that you have to bring back together the fragments of your distracted existence so that when you say “I” there is really someone present to support the pronoun you have uttered.”

The Toronto *Globe & Mail* includes an article: “Meditating through
mental illness” by Anne McIlroy. 15 Aug 08.

Here are some excerpts:

[begin excerpts]

The patients are sitting still, their eyes closed, meditating, on the
floor of a group therapy room at the Centre for Addiction and Mental
Health in Toronto.

It is the fifth week of an eight-week training course in mindfulness
meditation for people recovering from depression.

Their goal is to treat any troubling thoughts or emotions with the same
detachment with which they monitor the breath flowing in and out of
their bodies.

Mindfulness-based psychotherapy is growing rapidly in popularity, and
these patients are part of a $2.5-million clinical trial to assess
whether it can prevent relapses as effectively as antidepressant medications.

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