So this takes us to mindfulness and what I think are the more subtle misunderstandings of that practice. When I transformed my own life from a traditional corporate career and family life to an integrated life of independent business livelihood, I gained richer personal relationships, and deeper community involvement, all filled with a sense of meaning and purpose. Mindfulness meditation programs can effectively improve anxiety, pain and depression in some people, according to a new review of studies from Johns Hopkins University researchers. The review, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, included 47 different randomized trials that involved 3,515 people. However, the review did not show a marked benefit of mindfulness meditation programs on substance use, sleep or weight.
In addition, mantra meditation programs -- such as transcendental meditation, which involves "use of a mantra in such a way that it transcends one to an effortless state where focused attention is absent" -- did not seem to show any particular health benefits, though researchers noted that very few studies on mantra meditation met their criteria to be included in the review. Overall, the review showed researchers that more studies on meditation are needed, especially to see how greater meditation training, trainer expertise and amount of time spent practicing mindfulness meditation could potentially improve health even more. Goroll noted that the benefits of mindfulness meditation found in the review are modest, with some studies finding no benefit. Parasympathetic nervous system – regulates our subconscious body systems such as digestion, heart rate, breathing and it is what is supposed to kick in to balance and de-stress the body from the fight or flight or exertion.  This is the part of the brain that is engaged in meditation and produces the relaxation response. The Sympathetic nervous system is supposed to keep us safe from tigers – but in our modern world it’s engaged when we worry about our job promotion, our retirement fund, our teenage kids, our relationships… Thus we over-engage the sympathetic nervous system and experience states of stress when we don’t need to for our survival – and it actually detracts from our survival. Stress is linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, depression and lowered immune system functioning. Anger or aggression – blowing up at someone – temper flares for no reason, or even if there is a reason it flares too high. Extreme forms of stress or mental trauma result in conditions such as PTSD and Panic disorders.
Here is another video of Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist, who has done several studies on how meditation effects the brain.  She has shown that meditation actually makes the stress center of the brain physically smaller! The use of meditation, in addition to being part of all of the world’s spiritual traditions, is also part of the world’s health traditions. The west’s fascination with meditation started long before the 60’s – especially in America during the era of the transcendentalists such as Emerson and Thoreau – between the 1840’s and 1880’s – and meditation was brought to Christianity in the New Thought movement and to the entire West through the Theosophists. Relaxation meditation techniques started being used in American health clinics as early as the 1920’s to help with conditions such as anxiety and depression. Over the past 20 years, mindfulness-based programs have become increasingly important in the Western medical and psychological community as a means of helping people.


Scientifically demonstrated benefits of meditation include an increase in the body’s ability to heal, increase in the body’s immune system and a shift from a tendency to use the right prefrontal cortex instead of the left prefrontal cortex, associated with a trend away from depression and anxiety, and towards happiness, relaxation, and emotional balance.
I don’t have any expectation, in this brief piece, to expound on a comprehensive theory and practice of meditation and mindfulness.
But at other times we uncover instead that change actually has been happening, although the person has not noticed it. All of these can be useful, but I have come to the conclusion that the richest and deepest form of mindfulness is trying to abide in the awareness I described above. This shift into awareness of our consciousness is not a cold, sterile movement, but rather one of profound beauty and love. She has written for several local and national publications and now writes for Oakland Local. The review showed that mindfulness meditation had small, positive effects in these three areas, with the improvements for depression in particular being similar to that of an anti-depressant.
When we combined each component of negative affect, we saw a small and consistent signal that any domain of negative affect is improved in mindfulness programs when compared with a nonspecific active control," the researchers wrote in the study. While few studies examined potential harms of mindfulness meditation (nine of the trials), none of them reported harm. This is considering mindfulness meditation is a skill that does require time and practice, and that presumably the more and longer you do it, the greater benefits it may have.
He postures that trendiness, the desire to establish control and potentially even capitalizing on common anxieties are all reasons for why mindfulness meditation has become increasingly popular today. From Ayurveda in India, Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine in China – meditation and relaxation techniques have always been connected to healing and well-being.
And starting with the World Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893 many Eastern teachers brought meditation techniques to the West. The relaxation response includes changes in metabolism, heart rate, respiration, blood pressure and brain chemistry.
But I believe many (most?) of the readers of this series have some form of contemplation practice, so I thought it might be helpful to explore some of the common misconceptions I encounter. To intentionally still the mind is to create another mental construct, this being one of suppression. I find that mindfulness is an opportunity to cultivate the ability to observe my very consciousness itself. In a sense we as we start becoming aware in this manner of the conscious world that we have always just accepted as who we are, we gradually shift our sense of being and identity away from this and into a place of awareness.


She is also a community organizer working on community festivals, accountability and social justice issues. We begin by simply recognizing quite how busy our minds are, and slowly growing into awareness of the extent to which the busy-ness of our minds just happens without our conscious intervention.
When our concentration effort stilling the mind comes to an end, a mass of suppressed thoughts come bubbling up.
It is an awareness arises that can slip between the conscious thoughts and let them pass without interfering.
And in the same way, if I start to look at others not from within the realm of my conscious world of judgments, but from a place of awareness, then I start to see them in a different way as more lovable also. It doesn’t require meditating hours a day every day, but rather just a few minutes occasionally will open the door.
So, along with our newfound relationship to machines, we must continually search for ways to, as artist Michael Franti puts it, a€?Stay human.a€? One of the biggest ways to a€?stay humana€? is care for one of the greatest human elements that we have at our disposal, our minds.
We know that it is human to eat and to sleep and we know to pay attention when these elements are nonfunctional.
It decreases the bodya€™s production of stress related chemicals like cortisol while at the same time increasing the production of mood enhancing chemicals like serotonin. Along with mental and physical health benefits, some also see meditation as a spiritual practice that aids in a deep connection to the divine.
Early meditators may find that they cannot completely still their minds and might find this frustrating. Sometimes repeating a word (or a€?mantraa€?) like a€?ocean wavea€? or a€?peacea€? can help. Like cleaning a dirty pan, all the gunk comes to the surface to be cleared away first, so lots of uncomfortable emotions may come before deep feelings of peace. The benefits to the health of oneself and to the health of the community are well worth the process.Ready to give this form of relaxation a try?



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