Sunday, September 6, 2009

Self hypnosis vs. Meditation.


Many of us have heard of the benefits of meditation: a calmer, more focused mind; feeling less emotional; a reduction in anxiety; feeling happier because of the cascade of beta-endorphins and serotonin (“feel good chemicals”) that is produced. But how do we achieve that? Isn’t a meditation practice time consuming and frustrating? How does it differ from self hypnosis, since both practices take you into trance? Why would you choose one over the other? These are some of the questions we will look at here.

Self hypnosis, or auto hypnosis, is defined as entering the state of hypnosis on one's own, without the assistance and guidance of a hypnotist or hypnotherapist. The benefits of self hypnosis are similar to those of meditation, because the same brain wave states, alpha and theta, can be achieved in self hypnosis. Therefore, if one is choosing a method to reach these brain wave states to experience their beneficial effects, the choice of self hypnosis or meditation is an individual one. Self hypnosis is more commonly associated with providing suggestion to the subconscious mind with the goal of changing behavior than meditation is; however, meditation upon a given phrase or desired goal can also provide a type of suggestion, so in some ways the lines between the two techniques blur here as well.

Meditation is most often a practice entered to calm and focus one’s mind, to release one’s mind of thought. Meditation, like self hypnosis, brings the mind into a trance brainwave state, alpha or theta. These are much calmer and quieter brainwave states than beta, which is our waking, thinking state. Alpha and theta states are associated with creativity and intuition, and with super learning.

The chief differences between self hypnosis and meditation lie in the primary goal and the method of achieving the trance state. The primary goal of self hypnosis most often is to provide positive suggestions for change to the subconscious, while the primary goal for meditation is usually to achieve a relaxed, thought-free state in alpha or theta, with the goal of training the mind.

There are a variety of different techniques to achieve either self hypnosis or meditation, such as following a count-down or a proscribed method of tiring the conscious mind by counting objects, etc. Trance in meditation or self hypnosis can be achieved by closing one's eyes and repeatedly bringing the focus back to the breathing or focusing on a point such as a flame, while gently releasing thought. If analyzed carefully, someone experienced in both meditation and self hypnosis will recognize that all methods of entering the trance state involve the same mechanisms of tiring the conscious mind, through eye fixation or confusion, etc.
A beneficial practice does not need to be time consuming. Many people are reluctant to begin meditation or self hypnosis practices because they think they need to spend an hour every morning in the state. That isn't true. The benefits can be achieved with much briefer periods of time, and I encourage clients to start with 20 to 25 minutes, four or five times a week. With practice and consistency, the time required to get into the state will shorten considerably, and then you can reduce the overall time to 15 or 20 minutes, and still gain benefits. The time of day to practice is individual as well. Fit it into your schedule, and listen to your mind and body to determine the right time of day for you.

Consistency is important. Practicing every day is wonderful, but not absolutely necessary if it isn't realistic for your lifestyle. Four or five days a week is a good goal. The beneficial changes will remain with you as long as you continue your practice. Just like exercising a muscle, if you stop working out it gets flabby. If you stop your trance practice (self hypnosis or meditation) then eventually you will find the old thought patterns and emotional reactions creeping back into your life.

Since the benefits of entering the trance state through either technique are similar, the choice of meditation or self-hypnosis is really an individual one. Often this choice comes down to which method works best for the individual to enter the trance state quickly, easily and reliably, and what their goals are: releasing thought to experience the space between thoughts, or the application of positive suggestions. Try each method, and remember whatever method you are trying, to give it time. It may feel awkward at first, but with time you will enter the trance state more quickly, more deeply and more easily.

Regular practice of meditation or self hypnosis has beneficial effects on many conditions and situations, including ADD/ADHD, anxiety and depression, nervous conditions, psoriasis, headaches and migraines, insomnia and more. Benefits come quickly and grow over time. With a regular, on-going practice, you will feel calmer, become more creative and intuitive, more relaxed and focused.


Source:
http://www.examiner.com/x-18199-Minneapolis-Hypnosis-Examiner~y2009m9d3-Self-hypnosis-vs-meditation



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Friday, September 4, 2009

U. studying meditation as sleep aid for cancer survivors. Medicine » The complementary alternative treatments could let patients avoid the side effec


U. studying meditation as sleep aid for cancer survivors.
Medicine » The complementary alternative treatments could let patients avoid the side effects of sleep drugs.

Cancer patients who have trouble getting sleep at night are being sought for a new pilot study exploring the potential of meditation techniques as sleep aids.

The study will probe the effectiveness of "mindfulness meditation" and "mind-body bridging."

"Awareness training using mind-body interventions is becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to pharmacotherapy, which may have many side effects," said University of Utah researcher David Lipschitz, who along with Yoshio Nakamura, another U. researcher, will be conducting the study.

Mindfulness meditation teaches awareness and the skill of paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment. It combines basic meditation and yoga, and is based on a program called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR.

The MBSR program was developed to treat persistent and elevated levels of stress, sleep disturbance and other behavioral problems.

"Programs such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction have shown many benefits for improvements in many different conditions, including sleep," Lipschitz said.

Mind-body bridging is a technique developed to bring one back to the present moment, to experience thoughts, emotions and physical sensations. It aims to reduce the impact of negative thoughts that contribute to stress.

Over the last two decades, Lipschitz said, complementary alternative medicine has gained ground -- and the support of The National
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Institutes of Health.

"Giving doctors the option of evidence-based treatments will provide both them and their patients with alternatives that can complement what their patients receive in regular care," he said.

Cancer patients in particular may lend some important insight into how much and how well alternative therapies like these work, Lipschitz said, because they are affected physically and psychologically by the disease and its treatments.

"In many cases, these effects persist well after treatment is over since people have concerns about the cancer returning," he said. "Sleep problems are frequent in many post-treatment cancer patients and many of them are taking medications for better sleep."

A growing number of studies show that following a yoga or meditation program can help people catch more Z's, Lipschitz said, but more research is needed to understand the minimum of training needed to see benefits.

One study at the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City showed VA patients with sleep disturbance showed improvements in their sleep after two weeks of mind-body bridging.


Poor sleepers sought

The University of Utah, Huntsman Cancer Institute and the Cancer Wellness House are looking for men and women between the ages of 18 and 65 who have cancer, completed their treatments at least three months ago and have sleep problems, to participate in the meditation study.

Researchers will randomly assign people into three groups: one will practice mindfulness meditation; one will practice mind-body bridging; and another will go through a sleep education program.

People in all three groups will meet once a week, for three weeks; each session will last two hours.

For more information and to be considered for the study, contact Renee Kuhn at 801-585-9224.

Source: http://www.sltrib.com/news/ci_13254956
By Lisa Rosetta

The Salt Lake Tribune
Updated: 09/02/2009 05:28:28 PM MDT


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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Mindfulness and meditation can help relieve stress.


Technology has enhanced life beyond all wild expectations, but many people have a hard time ‘unplugging’ from the information overload in order to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Missing a call, text or email seems like it would be catastrophic; what did people do before cell phones?

A perfect way to unwind, de-stress and disconnect is through cultivating a mindfulness practice. This can come in many forms; whether it’s through meditation or simply taking a few moments out of the day to do some deep breathing. The whole point is to bring attention to the present moment, to experience life as it really is. Many people find themselves living in either the past or the future, and they forgo the opportunity to create real change and happiness in the present--being mindful can help change that.

A mindfulness practice can also include a multitude of ways to meditate. Meditation is the act of bringing one’s thoughts to the present and it can be done through chanting, focusing on the breath, repeating a mantra or simply being quiet. You don’t meditate to become better at the act of doing it, it’s done so that you are more present in your daily life. It brings attention to what the repetitive thoughts are that come up, and becoming aware of how they are affecting your life. It’s an amazing way to take inventory and hopefully relieve some deeply rooted stress.



Source: http://www.examiner.com/x-18238-Central-Jersey-Natural-Health-Examiner~y2009m8d31-Mindfullness-and-meditation-can-help-relieve-stress
August 31, 12:50 PM Central Jersey Natural Health Examiner Stephanie Martel



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Thursday, August 27, 2009

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

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Monday, August 24, 2009

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Happy Days: Self, Meditating


Happy Days: Self, Meditating

This Friday I’m heading up to rural Massachusetts in hopes of getting born again — again.

Six years ago, in the same locale, I attended my first and only silent meditation retreat. It was just about the most amazing experience of my life. Certainly it seemed more dramatic than my very first born-again experience — my response to a southern Baptist altar call as a child, which I wrote about in this space last month.

I came away from that week feeling I had found a new kind of happiness, deeper than the kind I’d always pursued. I also came away a better person — just ask my wife. (And neither of those things lasted — just ask my wife.)

So with the retreat approaching, I should be as eager as a kid on Christmas Eve, right? Well, no. Meditation retreats — at this place, at least — are no picnic. You don’t follow your bliss. You learn not to follow your bliss, to let your bliss follow you. And you learn this arduously. If at the end you feel like you’re leaving Shangri-La, that’s because the beginning felt like Guantanamo.

We spent 5.5 hours per day in sitting meditation, 5.5 hours per day in walking meditation. By day three I was feeling achy, far from nirvana and really, really sick of the place.

I was sick of my 5 a.m. “yogi job” (vacuuming), I was sick of the bland vegetarian food, and I wasn’t especially fond of all those Buddhists with those self-satisfied looks on their faces, walking around serenely like they knew something I didn’t know (which, it turns out, they did).

Yes, the payoff was huge. But it’s unlikely to be as big this time around. It’s famously hard to replicate the rapture of your first meditation retreat. Last time, during the first half of the week, my apparently prescient unconscious mind kept filling my head with that old song by Foreigner, “It feels like the first time, like it never will again.” I’ve never especially liked that song, and during those first few days it joined the list of things I hated.

What I hated above all was that I wasn’t succeeding as a meditator. Now, as the two leaders of this retreat were known to point out, you’re not supposed to think of “succeeding” at meditating. And you’re not supposed to blame yourself for failing. And blah, blah, blah.

Well, they were right: To “succeed” I really did have to quit pursuing success, and quit blaming myself for failing. And some other things had to go right.

And what was “success” like? Well, to start at the less spiritual, more sensual end: By the time I left, eating the food I’d initially disdained ranked up there with above-average sex. I’m not exaggerating by much. When I first got there, I didn’t understand why some people were closing their eyes while eating. By the end of the retreat, I was closing mine. The better to focus on the source of my ecstasy. I wasn’t just living in the moment — I was luxuriating in it.

Also, my view of weeds changed. There’s a kind of weed that I had spent years killing, sometimes manually, sometimes with chemicals. On a walk one day I looked down at one of those weeds and it looked as beautiful as any other plant. Why, I wondered, had I bought into the “weed” label? Why had I so harshly judged an innocent plant?

If this sounds crazy to you, you should hear how crazy it sounds to me. I’m not the weed-hugging type, I assure you.

And as long as we’re on the subject of crazy, there was my moment of bonding with a lizard. I looked at this lizard and watched it react to local stimuli and thought: I’m in the same boat as that lizard — born without asking to be born, trying to make sense of things, and far from getting the whole picture.

I mean, sure, I know more than the lizard — like the fact that I exist and the fact that I evolved by natural selection. But my knowledge is, like the lizard’s, hemmed in by the fact that my brain is a product of evolution, designed to perform mundane tasks, to react to local stimuli, not to understand the true nature of things. And — here’s the crazy part — I kind of loved that lizard. A little bit, for a little while.

Whether I had made major moral progress by learning to empathize with a lizard, let alone a weed, is open to debate. The more important part of my expanding circle of affinity involved people — specifically, my fellow meditators.

At the beginning of the retreat, looking around the meditation hall, I had sized people up, making lots of little judgments, sometimes negative, on the basis of no good evidence. (Re: guy wearing Juilliard t-shirt and exhibiting mild symptoms of theatricality: Well, aren’t we special?) By the end of the retreat I was less inclined toward judgment, especially the harsh kind. And days after the retreat, while riding the monorail to the Newark airport I found myself doing something I never do — striking up a conversation with strangers. Nice strangers!

My various epiphanies may sound trite, like a caricature of pop-Buddhist enlightenment. And, presented in snapshot form, that’s what I’m afraid they’re destined to sound like. All I can say is that there is a bigger philosophical picture that these snapshots are part of, and that I had made some progress in apprehending it by the end of the retreat.

The “apprehension” isn’t just intellectual. This retreat was in the Vipassana tradition, which emphasizes gaining insight into the way your mind works. Vipassana has a reputation for being one of the more intellectual Buddhist traditions, but, even so, part of the idea is to gain that insight in a way that isn’t entirely intellectual. Or, at least, in a way that is sometimes hard to describe.

On Thursday night, the fifth night of the retreat, about 30 minutes into a meditation session, I had an experience that falls into that category, so I won’t try to describe it. I’ll just say that it involved seeing the structure of my mind — experiencing the structure of my mind — in a new way, and in a way that had great meaning for me. And, happily, this experience was accompanied by a stunningly powerful blast of bliss. All told, I don’t think I’ve ever had a more dramatic moment.

This retreat is coming at a good time for me. In June I published a book that I’ve been feverishly promoting. Publishing and promoting a book can bring out the non-Buddhist in a person. For example, when book reviewers make judgments about your book, you may make judgments about the reviewers — ungenerous judgments, even.

Also, you’re inclined to pursue the fruits of your activity — like book sales — rather than just experience the activity. Checking your Amazon ranking every 7 minutes would qualify as what Buddhists call “attachment.” And attachment is bad. (Oops: I just made a judgment about attachment.)

In fact, in general I’ve been living like someone who hasn’t been meditating with much regularity or dedication, who has strayed from the straight and narrow. It’s time to start anew.

At the end of my first retreat, still reeling from that Thursday-night experience, I told one of the meditation teachers about it. He nodded casually, as if the insight I’d had was one of the standard stops on the path to enlightenment — but far from the end of the path. Through truly intensive meditation, he said, the transformation of your view of your mind — and your view of your mind’s relationship to reality, and your view of reality itself — can go much deeper than I’d gone.

That would be interesting! But this week I’d settle for half as deep.


Source: http://happydays.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/19/self-meditating/

Robert Wright, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, is the author of “The Moral Animal,” “Nonzero” and, most recently, “The Evolution of God.”



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Relax - it's good for you!


Meditation has long been lauded. Now science has shown that deep relaxation changes our bodies on a genetic level - for the better. Anastasia Stephens reports.

It's a piece of advice yogis have given for thousands of years: take a deep breath and relax. Watch the tension melt from your muscles and all your niggling worries vanish. Somehow we all know that relaxation is good for us.

Now the hard science has caught up: a comprehensive scientific study showing that deep relaxation changes our bodies on a genetic level has just been published.

What researchers at Harvard Medical School discovered is that, in long-term practitioners of relaxation methods such as yoga and meditation, far more ''disease-fighting genes'' were active, compared to those who practised no form of relaxation.

In particular, they found genes that protect from disorders such as pain, infertility, high blood pressure and even rheumatoid arthritis were switched on. The changes, say the researchers, were induced by what they call ''the relaxation effect'', a phenomenon that could be just as powerful as any medical drug but without the side effects.

''We found a range of disease-fighting genes were active in the relaxation practitioners that were not active in the control group,'' Dr Herbert Benson, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, who led the research, says.

The good news for the control group with the less-healthy genes is that the research didn't stop there.

The experiment, which showed just how responsive genes are to behaviour, mood and environment, revealed that genes can switch on, just as easily as they switch off.

''Harvard researchers asked the control group to start practising relaxation methods every day,'' says Jake Toby, hypnotherapist at London's BodyMind Medicine Centre, who teaches clients how to induce the relaxation effect.

''After two months, their bodies began to change: the genes that help fight inflammation, kill diseased cells and protect the body from cancer all began to switch on.''

More encouraging still, the benefits of the relaxation effect were found to increase with regular practice: the more people practised relaxation methods such as meditation or deep breathing, the greater their chances of remaining free of arthritis and joint pain with stronger immunity, healthier hormone levels and lower blood pressure.

Benson believes the research is pivotal because it shows how a person's state of mind affects the body on a physical and genetic level. It might also explain why relaxation induced by meditation or repetitive mantras is considered to be a powerful remedy in traditions such as Ayurveda in India or Tibetan medicine.

But just how can relaxation have such wide-ranging and powerful effects? Research has described the negative effects of stress on the body. Linked to the release of the stress-hormones adrenalin and cortisol, stress raises the heart rate and blood pressure, weakens immunity and lowers fertility.

By contrast, the state of relaxation is linked to higher levels of feel-good chemicals such as serotonin and to the growth hormone which repairs cells and tissue. Indeed, studies show that relaxation has virtually the opposite effect, lowering heart rate, boosting immunity and enabling the body to thrive.

''On a biological level, stress is linked to fight-flight and danger,'' Dr Jane Flemming, a London GP, says. ''In survival mode, heart rate rises and blood pressure shoots up. Meanwhile muscles, preparing for danger, contract and tighten. And non-essential functions such as immunity and digestion go by the wayside.''

Relaxation, on the other hand, is a state of rest, enjoyment and physical renewal. Free of danger, muscles can relax and food can be digested. The heart can slow and blood circulation flows freely to the body's tissues, feeding it with nutrients and oxygen. This restful state is good for fertility, as the body is able to conserve the resources it needs to generate new life.



While relaxation techniques can be very different, their biological effects are essentially similar. ''When you relax, the parasympathetic nervous system switches on. That is linked to better digestion, memory and immunity, among other things,'' Toby says. ''As long as you relax deeply, you'll reap the rewards.''

But, he warns, deep relaxation isn't the sort of switching off you do relaxing with a cup of tea or lounging on the sofa.

''What you're looking for is a state of deep relaxation where tension is released from the body on a physical level and your mind completely switches off,'' he says. ''The effect won't be achieved by lounging round in an everyday way, nor can you force yourself to relax. You can only really achieve it by learning a specific technique such as self-hypnosis, guided imagery or meditation.''

The relaxation effect, however, may not be as pronounced on everyone. ''Some people are more susceptible to relaxation methods than others,'' says Joan Borysenko, director of a relaxation program for outpatients at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston. ''Through relaxation, we find some people experience a little improvement, others a lot. And there are a few whose lives turn around totally.''

The health benefits of deep relaxation

The next time you tune out and switch off and let yourself melt, remind yourself of all the good work the relaxation effect is doing on your body. These are just some of the scientifically proven benefits …

Immunity

Relaxation appears to boost immunity in recovering cancer patients. A study at the Ohio State University found that progressive muscular relaxation, when practised daily, reduced the risk of breast cancer recurrence. In another study at Ohio State, a month of relaxation exercises boosted natural killer cells in the elderly, giving them a greater resistance to tumours and to viruses.

Fertility

A study at the University of Western Australia found that women are more likely to conceive during periods when they are relaxed rather than stressed. A study at Trakya University, in Turkey, also found that stress reduces sperm count and motility, suggesting relaxation may also boost male fertility.

Irritable bowel syndrome

When patients suffering from irritable bowel syndrome began practising a relaxation meditation twice daily, their symptoms of bloating, diarrhoea and constipation improved significantly. The meditation was so effective the researchers at the State University of New York recommended it as an effective treatment.

Blood pressure

A study at Harvard Medical School found that meditation lowered blood pressure by making the body less responsive to stress hormones, in a similar way to blood pressure-lowering medication. Meanwhile a British Medical Journal report found that patients trained how to relax had significantly lower blood pressure.

Inflammation

Stress leads to inflammation, a state linked to heart disease, arthritis, asthma and skin conditions such as psoriasis, say researchers at Emory University in the US. Relaxation can help prevent and treat such symptoms by switching off the stress response. In this way, one study at McGill University in Canada found that meditation clinically improved the symptoms of psoriasis.

Switch off stress

How can you use relaxation's healing powers? Harvard researchers found that yoga, meditation and even repetitive prayer and mantras all induced the relaxation effect. ''The more regularly these techniques are practised, the more deeply rooted the benefits will be,'' Jake Toby says. Try one or more of these techniques for 15 minutes once or twice a day.

Body scan Starting with your head and working down to your arms and feet, notice how you feel in your body. Taking in your head and neck, simply notice if you feel tense, relaxed, calm or anxious. See how much you can spread any sensations of softness and relaxation to areas of your body that feel tense. Once your reach your feet, work back up your body.

Breath focus Sit comfortably. Tune into your breath, follow the sensation of inhaling from your nose to abdomen and out again. Let tension go with each exhalation. When you notice your mind wandering, return to your breath.

Mantra repetition The relaxation response can be evoked by sitting quietly with eyes closed for 15 minutes twice a day, and mentally repeating a simple word or sound such as ''Om''.

Guided imagery Imagine a wonderfully relaxing light or a soothing waterfall washing away tension from your body and mind. Make your image vivid, imagining texture, colour and any fragrance as the image washes over you.

The Independent

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald
http://www.watoday.com.au/lifestyle/relax--its-good-for-you-20090819-eqlo.html?page=-1



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Meditation & Naturalness


We all like to go to nature for peace, happiness, relaxation… Why does nature does have this power – it is nature’s *naturalness*! All of us like small babies - because of their naturalness. Everyone likes people who are natural. It is important to be yourself, to be natural…

Meditation can help you to be natural. Let’s see how…

Being natural means being what you are from inside. For that, you need to be connected with your inner self. And meditation can do it the best.

*The unchanging aspect of consciousness – your natural Self*

By observing that everything is changing in our world, in your lives, in society, gives you a clue that there is something, which is not changing. That non-changing aspect of your consciousness gives you enormous strength, courage and creativity.

Experiencing the non ­changing aspect deep within you:

· Makes your body energized

· Mind focused, our intellect free from inhibitions

· Memory free from traumas

· Joyful flavor to your exposition comes around. You are thus able to get in touch with the joy, which you are seeking.

Everybody’s natural tendency is to be happy, smiling, friendly, celebrating… Observe yourself, when you are doing these things - you need to not take any efforts. Being natural they do not build stress in you…


But when you are sad, angry, lonely… you are not natural - so these things bring stress to you!

Meditation connects you with your inner self. Meditation helps your mind expand. Your stress reduces. And you are able to take better decisions and live better life.

“The natural tendency of consciousness is to expand, to become bliss. Like the natural tendency of water is to flow downward, and the natural tendency of air is not to be under pressure, the natural tendency of consciousness is to expand and to be at peace.”

Source : tejal khatri


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Thursday, August 20, 2009

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

How God (or more precisely, meditation) changes your brain


Some book titles are too good to pass up. “How God Changes Your Brain” is neuroscientist Andrew Newberg’s fourth book on “neurotheology,” the study of the relationship between faith and the brain. All are pitched at a popular audience, with snappy titles like “Born to Believe” or “Why God Won’t Go Away.” Anyone reading the latest one, though, might wonder if the title shouldn’t be “How God Meditation Changes Your Brain.” As he explains in an interview with Reuters here, the benefits that Buddhist monks and contemplative Catholic nuns derive from meditation and intense prayer are also available to atheists and agnostics. The key lies in the method these high performing believers use, not in the belief itself. But that would have made for a more awkward title.

That’s not to say Newberg doesn’t have some interesting points to make in this book. His brain scans of meditating monks and praying nuns show that the frontal lobe — the area that directs the mind’s focus — is especially active while the amygdala — the area linked to fear reactions — is calmed when they go through their spiritual experiences. His studies show these brain regions can be exercised and strengthened, like building up a muscle through training. And his treatment of a mechanic with a faltering memory showed that a traditional Indian meditation method, even when stripped of its spiritual trappings, could bring about these changes in two months.

The book goes on to ascribe a list of positive results from meditation and offer advice on caring for the brain. Newberg’s “number one best way to exercise your brain” is faith. As he puts it, “faith is equivalent with hope, optimism and the belief that a positive future awaits us. Faith can also be defined as the ability to trust our beliefs, even when we have no proof that such beliefs are accurate or true.” Critics, especially clerics, would probably protest that this is not really theology, but psychology. If we’re talking about God, where’s the religion?

That brings up another interesting aspect. While he is clearly favourable to faith and spirituality, Newberg remains a scientist eager to study the religious feelings he calls “among the most powerful and complex experiences people have.” He studiously avoids promoting any one faith or closing the door to atheists who might be reading the text. The tone is upbeat, the approach inclusive and the conclusion optimistic. There’s a touch of Eastern mysticism, too, with sections on how widely practiced meditation could foster compassion and understanding among people and peoples. Thanks to this open-minded approach towards both religion and science, Newberg teaches radiology, psychology and religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania and speaks frequently to church groups or in religious media.

Newberg gave me a few SPECT brain scan images that illustrate the changes he finds in his subjects’ brains. The image above left shows the brain of a Buddhist monk before and during meditation. The increased yellow in the lower right of the right-hand image shows reduced activity in the parietal lobe, the brain area responsible for orientation in space and time. Below right, the image shows a nun before and during prayer, with increased activity in the frontal lobe, the area for concentration and analytical thinking, and in areas linked to language.

Newberg, a cheerful and optimistic man who was brought up in a Reform Jewish family and says he is still exploring his own beliefs, told me his next book will be an academic work on neurotheology. He stresses that the field is in its infancy and its brain scanning methods are still “incredibly crude. We really don’t know which neurons are firing in that little three-millimeter space” captured in fMRI scans. “If we can ultimately say something epistemologically interesting, then that’s great,” he told me. “But it’s going to take me a long time before I get to saying something like that.”

What do you think about “neurotheology”? Do you think brain scans and neuroscience can tell us anything significant about religion?


Source:
Posted by: Tom Heneghan
http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2009/08/17/how-god-or-more-precisely-meditation-changes-your-brain/


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Faith rites boost brains, even for atheists: book


PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Buddhist monks and Catholic nuns boost their brain power through meditation and prayer, but even atheists can enjoy the mental benefits that believers derive from faith, according to a popular neuroscience author.

The key, Andrew Newberg argues in his new book "How God Changes Your Brain," lies in the concentrating and calming effects that meditation or intense prayer have inside our heads.

Brain scanners show that intense meditation alters our gray matter, strengthening regions that focus the mind and foster compassion while calming those linked to fear and anger.

Whether the meditator believes in the supernatural or is an atheist repeating a mantra, he says, the outcome can be the same - a growth in the compassion that virtually every religion teaches and a decline in negative feelings and emotions.

"In essence, when you think about the really big questions in life -- be they religious, scientific or psychological -- your brain is going to grow," says Newberg, head of the Center for Spirituality and the Mind at the University of Pennsylvania.

"It doesn't matter if you're a Christian or a Jew, a Muslim or a Hindu, or an agnostic or an atheist," he writes in the book written with Mark Robert Waldman, a therapist at the Center.

NEUROTHEOLOGY

In his office at the University of Pennsylvania's hospital, Newberg told Reuters that "neurotheology" - the study of the brain's role in religious belief - is starting to shed light on what happens in believers' heads when they contemplate God.

Science and religion are often seen as opposites, to the point where some in each camp openly reject the other, but this medical doctor and professor of radiology, psychology and religious studies sees no reason not to study them together.

"The two most powerful forces in all of human history have been religion and science," he said. "These are the two things that help us organize our world and understand it. Why not try to bring them together to address each other and ultimately our world in a more effective way?"

Atheists often see scanner images tracking blood flows in brains of meditating monks and nuns lost in prayer as proof that faith is an illusion. Newberg warns against simple conclusions:

"If you see a brain scan of a nun who's perceiving God's presence in a room, all it tells you is what was happening in her brain when she perceived God's presence in a room.

"It may be just the brain doing it, but it may be the brain being the receiver of spiritual phenomena," said Newberg, whose research shows the short prayers most believers say leave little trace on the brain because they are not as intense as meditation.

"I'm not trying to say religion is bad or it's not real," he added. "I say people are religious and let's try to understand how it affects them."

NO "GOD SPOT"

Another notion Newberg debunks is the idea there is a single "God spot" in the brain responsible for religious belief: "It's not like there's a little spiritual spot that lights up every time somebody thinks of God."

Instead, religious experiences fire neurons in several different parts of the brain, just like other events do. Locating them does not explain them, but gives pointers to how these phenomena occur and what they might mean.

In their book, Newberg and Waldman sketch out some of the "God circuits" in the brain and their effects, especially if trained through meditation as muscles are through exercise.

Meditation both activates the frontal lobe, which "creates and integrates all of your ideas about God," and calms down the amygdala, the emotional region that can create images of an authoritative deity and fog our logical thinking.

The parietal-frontal circuit gives us a sense of the space around us and our place in it. Meditation suppresses this sense, giving rise to a serene feeling of unity with God or the world.

"Even 10 to 15 minutes of meditation appear to have significantly positive effects on cognition, relaxation and psychological health," the authors declare in the book.

Newberg, who grew up in a Reform Jewish family and has studied many religions, said his work might help both believers and atheists understand religious feelings, which he said were "among the most powerful and complex experiences people have."

But he cautioned against expecting "neurotheology" to come up with surprising insights soon: "As good as our techniques are, they are still incredibly crude. We have a long way to go."

By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor
(Editing by Paul Casciato)
Source: http://www.reuters.com/article/scienceNews/idUSTRE57G3LN20090817?sp=true

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Want to increase your Brain Size? Meditation May Increase Gray Matter!


Meditation May Increase Gray Matter

ScienceDaily (May 13, 2009) — 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?

Meditate.

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 structure.

In the study, Luders and her colleagues examined 44 people — 22 control subjects and 22 who had practiced various forms of meditation, including Zazen, Samatha and Vipassana, among others. The amount of time they had practiced ranged from five to 46 years, with an average of 24 years.

More than half of all the meditators said that deep concentration was an essential part of their practice, and most meditated between 10 and 90 minutes every day.
The researchers used a high-resolution, three-dimensional form of MRI and two different approaches to measure differences in brain structure. One approach automatically divides the brain into several regions of interest, allowing researchers to compare the size of certain brain structures. The other segments the brain into different tissue types, allowing researchers to compare the amount of gray matter within specific regions of the brain.

The researchers found significantly larger cerebral measurements in meditators compared with controls, including larger volumes of the right hippocampus and increased gray matter in the right orbito-frontal cortex, the right thalamus and the left inferior temporal lobe. There were no regions where controls had significantly larger volumes or more gray matter than meditators.

Because these areas of the brain are closely linked to emotion, Luders said, "these might be the neuronal underpinnings that give meditators' the outstanding ability to regulate their emotions and allow for well-adjusted responses to whatever life throws their way."

What's not known, she said, and will require further study, are what the specific correlates are on a microscopic level — that is, whether it's an increased number of neurons, the larger size of the neurons or a particular "wiring" pattern meditators may develop that other people don't.

Because this was not a longitudinal study — which would have tracked meditators from the time they began meditating onward — it's possible that the meditators already had more regional gray matter and volume in specific areas; that may have attracted them to meditation in the first place, Luders said.

However, she also noted that numerous previous studies have pointed to the brain's remarkable plasticity and how environmental enrichment has been shown to change brain structure.

Other authors of the study included Arthur Toga, director of UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging; Natasha Lepore of UCLA; and Christian Gaser of the University of Jena in Germany. Funding for the study was provided by the National Institutes of Health. The authors report no conflicts of interest.


Source :

Adapted from materials provided by University of California - Los Angeles (2009, May 13). Meditation May Increase Gray Matter. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 18, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2009/05/090512134655.htm

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