Entries in Meditation (8)


Study: Exercise and Meditation May Help Reduce Respiratory Infections

ULTRA F/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A new study suggests that regular meditation or exercise may help reduce acute respiratory infections, Health Day reports.

Researchers compared the preventative effects of moderate exercise and mindful meditation on the severity of respiratory infections, like the common cold and flu, on 149 active and sedentary adults aged 50 years and older. The study was conducted during the winter in Wisconsin.

The study found that adults who participated in a daily exercise routine had fewer cases of respiratory infections and missed fewer days of work. Researchers also found that participants who practiced meditation increased their immunity to illness.

The study was published in the July/August issue of the Annals of Family Medicine.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Meditation May Help Brains Rewire, Protect Against Mental Illness

ULTRA F/Thinkstock(NEW HAVEN, Conn.) -- The brains of experienced meditators may actually work differently than the brains of those who don't meditate, a new study from Yale University suggests.

Dr. Judson Brewer, medical director of the Yale Therapeutic Neuroscience Clinic, and his colleagues asked 10 experienced meditators and 13 people with no meditation experience to practice three basic meditation techniques: concentration, loving-kindness, and choiceless awareness.

The team then used functional magnetic resonance imaging to observe the participants' brain activity when they were practicing the meditative techniques and when they were instructed not to think of anything in particular.

In a report published Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Brewer and his team found that the experienced meditators had decreased activity in an area of the brain called the default mode network, a region that is usually at work when the mind wanders.  Even when the meditators weren't meditating, this region of their brain was much quieter than in their inexperienced counterparts.

Brewer, who has practiced meditation for 15 years, said experience with meditation also seems to optimize the way the brain communicates with itself.  When the default mode networks of the experienced meditators were active, so were brain regions associated with self-monitoring and cognitive control.

"These guys have a different default mode," Brewer said. "They're constantly looking out for mind wandering [or daydreaming]."

Brewer also notes that the psychological hallmark of many forms of mental illness -- anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and schizophrenia -- is a preoccupation with one's own thoughts, specifically the negative ones.  A series of studies have linked these disorders with overactivity or faulty neurological wiring in the default mode network, the brain region that was less active in experienced meditators.

"One of the things that meditation and basic mindfulness seems to be doing is quieting down this region of the brain," Brewer said.  "It absolutely makes sense, given what we know about the default mode network."

Meditation isn't a cure for mental illness, Brewer said, but he said his study suggests that there may be a neurological basis for the benefits that many meditators report -- increased awareness, improved concentration, and a better ability to deal with the cognitive and emotional stresses of modern life.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Research Shows Meditation Can Physically Change the Brain

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A quiet explosion of new research indicating that meditation can physically change the brain in astonishing ways has started to push into mainstream.

Several studies suggest that these changes through meditation can make you happier, less stressed, and even nicer to other people.  It can help you control your eating habits and even reduce chronic pain, all the while without taking prescription medication.

Meditation is an intimate and intense exercise that can be done solo or in a group, and one study showed that 20 million Americans say they practice meditation.  It has been used to help treat addictions, to clear psoriasis and even to treat men with impotence.

The U.S. Marines are testing meditation to see if it makes more focused, effective warriors.  Corporate executives at Google, General Mills, Target and Aetna Insurance, as well as students in some of the nation's classrooms, have used meditation.

Various celebrities also are known meditators, including shock jock Howard Stern, actors Richard Gere, Goldie Hawn, Heather Graham, and Rivers Cuomo, the lead singer of the band Weezer.

In one study, a research team from Massachusetts General Hospital looked at the brain scans of 16 people before and after they participated in an eight-week course in mindfulness meditation.  The study, published in the January issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, concluded that after completing the course, parts of the participants' brains associated with compassion and self-awareness grew, and parts associated with stress shrank.

Recently, the Dalai Lama granted permission for his monks, who are master mediators, to have their brains studied at the University of Wisconsin, one of the most high-tech brain labs in the world.

Richie Davidson, a Ph.D. at the university, and his colleagues, led the study and said they were amazed by what they found in the monks' brain activity readouts. During meditation, electroencephalogram patterns increased and remains higher than the initial baseline taken from a non-meditative state.

Perhaps the most mind-bending potential benefit of meditation is that it will actually make practitioners nicer.

Chuck Raison, a professor at Emory University, conducted a meditation study in which he hooked up microphones to participants who had been taught basic meditation and those who hadn't.  He then recorded them at random over a period of time.  Raison found that these newly-trained mediators used less harsh language than people who had no meditation experience.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Meditation 101: Tips for Beginners

ULTRA F/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Little by little, meditation is shedding its image as a strange spiritual discipline practiced by monks and ascetics in Asia.

Gwyneth Paltrow meditates. Rivers Cuomo, lead singer of the rock band Weezer, meditates. Meditation has helped recent military veterans deal with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Beyond celebrities and the military, there's science. A growing body of research shows that meditation has a discernible effect on the brain that promotes various types of health and well-being.

Anyone interested may need to surmount the final hurdle: the assumption that meditation is hard, time-consuming, painful or complicated. Or religious. While there are lots of different kinds of meditation -- from transcendental meditation to Zen -- experts and health organizations such as the National Institutes of Health agree a beginner need not bother grappling with them. Meditation is simple and easy, and everyone can do it and benefit from it. Here are some tips:

  • Find some free time -- at least 20 minutes -- and as calm and quiet a place as you can. Meditating with interruptions from your BlackBerry or your computer doesn't really work.
  • Sit down and make yourself comfortable. Some traditions use physical positions -- mudras, in Sanskrit -- in meditation. The most famous is sitting on the ground in the lotus position, i.e., Indian style. If you are comfortable sitting this way for longer than a few minutes, fine. If not, sit in a chair.
  • Don't just do something, sit there -- to quote the title of a well-known book on meditation by Sylvia Boorstein. Don't launch immediately into what you think meditation is. Let your mind and body settle for a minute or so. Life is stressful enough; don't make meditation stressful and rushed.
  • Pick something and gently center your attention on it. It can be your breathing, which works well because of its easy, natural rhythm. It can be an image, mental or physical -- one can meditate with eyes open or closed, whichever works. It can be a mantra, a sound or word that you repeat in your mind or with your voice. "Om" -- with most of your time resting on that nice 'm' sound -- is the most famous.
  • When your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the thing you picked.
  • When your mind wanders again, gently bring it back to the thing you picked. The mind is a wandering machine. Meditation is not having an empty mind; it's gently quieting your mind using the technique of concentrating on one thing. Over the time you sit, you will likely notice your mind getting a bit quieter.
  • Gently close your meditation when you wish or need to. The idea is relaxation and reducing stress, remember? Make it smooth, not jarring. Let the relaxation you cultivated breathe a bit before going on to the next thing in your day.
  • Repeat as needed. Meditation works best when it's done regularly and over a long period. That doesn't have to mean for hours every day. It can be once every other day for 20 minutes. Many meditaters refer to their "practice." Its benefits happen, and happen more deeply, when it's something you do regularly for some time.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Getting Relief from Tinnitus May Be Mind Over Matter

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(SAN FRANCISCO) -- While most people who have tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, do whatever they can to make the noise go away, new research suggests that acknowledging the sensation and learning to live with it can help decrease suffering.

Lead researcher Jennifer Gans, an assistant professor at the University of California at San Francisco says a technique called mindfulness-based tinnitus reduction helps people separate the ringing from the stress, anxiety and other negative emotions it often causes.

"Instead of pushing it away, it's dealing with what it is and experiencing it as a body sensation without the fear and depression that's creating the suffering," Gans said.

Mindfulness-based tinnitus reduction is modeled after mindfulness-based stress reduction, which previous studies have found to be effective in helping people deal with chronic pain and arthritis.  The tinnitus version is specifically designed to deal with those symptoms.

In Gans' study, participants learn the mindfulness techniques over an eight-week period.  So far, she said, it's been effective.  One participant told Gans in an email that before learning about the technique, he relied on white noise generators to alleviate his symptoms.

"We had a power failure last night just before I was going to bed, which meant my white noise generators would not work.  Before our study I would have gone into a complete panic thinking about going to bed without white noise," the participant wrote.  "But because of our sit down meditation in which we breathe into the ringing, I knew I could handle silence in bed.  Thank you, the study saved me from having a panic attack."

Experts in alternative medicine say the mindfulness techniques are becoming more popular remedies for a variety of ailments, including chronic pain, stress, itching, addiction and digestive disorders.

A report by researchers at Harvard Medical School released in May found that more than six million Americans are advised by traditional doctors to try meditation and other mind-body interventions.  For sicker patients, these unconventional approaches make them feel better physically and emotionally.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Meditation Heals Military Vets With PTSD

Courtesy David George(FAIRFIELD, Iowa) -- For months, David George, 27, of Fairfield, Iowa, had been eyeing a pistol he saw at a local store.

In 2004, shortly after returning from Iraq, the former specialist in the 101st Airborne Division moved into his parents' home in Maryland. At every noise, George, who owned a rifle, systematically moved from one room to the next to make sure the house was clear. The pistol, he thought, would make it easier.

"But I didn't buy it, because I knew if I brought it home I'd shoot myself," he said.

George struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, a form of anxiety that develops after enduring a traumatic experience. For five years, George underwent stints of medication and talk therapy, both intended to quell his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms. But neither method worked for him, he said.

"It [the medications] helped make me not who I am. It took away my creativity, my personality, my ability to care about anything," said George. "The one-on-ones were like, why am I talking to someone who has no idea what I've been through."

Until one day in 2009, while participating in a research session on transcendental meditation, George sat still for 20 minutes and focused on repeating a mantra.

"From the first time I did it, I knew it was what I would do for the rest of my life," said George. "It was the first time I felt quiet in my mind for five years."

Transcendental meditation is a mind-based practice that involves focusing on a particular phrase, word or image to bring focus to individual thoughts. And preliminary research suggests that this form of meditation can be helpful in relieving symptoms of PTSD among combat veterans.

"One of aspect of PTSD is that the whole fight or flight response system is on overdrive. These people will be easy to agitate when something triggers a memory," said Dr. Norman Rosenthal, clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical School, and author of a study on transcendental meditation and PTSD published in Military Medicine.

Studies show transcendental meditation increases activity in the frontal lobe of the brain, which regulates emotions.

"It certainly does make sense that it would help in PTSD patients, since it's often used for stress and anxiety," said Dr. Andrew Newberg, director of research at the Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, who was not involved in the study.

"We've always been really surprised by how much people like these practices. But the big question is whether it relieves the symptoms, or really does help with PTSD as a whole," said Newberg.

More than 20 percent of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. But many veterans with PTSD do not seek treatment for their symptoms, possibly because of the stigma of mental illness and its potential impact on career advancement, Rosenthal said.

"The study demonstrated feasibility in doing it with a limited number of people and at low cost," said Rosenthal, author of the book Transcendence. "It can be sustained independently. It can be done outside of the system." George, who said he previously did not meditate, initially believed meditation was "hokey."

"It was a familiar attitude as what we have in the infantry," said George. But he said meditation made him feel more in charge of his well-being than than other treatments had. "I felt that if I wanted to overcome this, I needed to do it myself."

More than 350 studies have been published showing positive effects of transcendental meditation, including its ability to lower blood pressure, and help treat depression. But Rosenthal's research -- which looked at seven patients -- is one of only two others to evaluate the affects of meditation on soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.

"When you see this dramatic impact, you have to be asking this question, why aren't we doing more of this," said Rosenthal.

George was among the first troops to enter Iraq in 2003. While mobilized to a town north of Baghdad, insurgents detonated a car packed with explosives next to the compound where George's unit was housed. According to George, that incident "kicked everything off."

"I started hearing the screams. Listening to all my friends suffer, that sticks in my mind," said George. "That's what really broke me."

George couldn't tell others about the event without tearing up and sweating.

"If I died in a motorcycle accident then, people would've thought, "Oh yeah, that's him." It would've been passive suicide," said George. "But once I had that clarity in my head, I could see what's happened to me since I came home." A year into practicing meditation, George could calmly recount the incident in Iraq.

While meditation worked for George's diagnosis, the levels of the condition could differ depending on the soldier, said Newberg. There's not enough evidence to suggest this practice could work for all soldiers with PTSD, said Newberg. Still, George said that more soldiers would take to meditation if they knew of others who practice. George, who now works in part with Operation Warrior Wellness -- a program initiated by the David Lynch Foundation -- is now committed to get 30,000 veterans to practice meditation within the next three years.

"I know combat. I know what hell is. I know what it's like when you get home," said George.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Meditation Therapy on the Rise in the US

ULTRA F/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- If you use mind-body therapies as yoga, tai chi, meditation and deep-breathing exercises, you are among a growing number of Americans.

In 2007, 38 percent of people in the U.S. reported using complementary and alternative medicine, or CAM.

Rates of CAM use have increased since 2002, with mind-body therapies accounting for three quarters of the increase.

Now a first-of-its-kind study assesses the rate of alternative therapy referrals by conventional medical providers.

A survey in the Archives of Internal Medicine of over 23,000 U.S. adults finds that three percent of those surveyed were directed to meditation therapy by a health care provider. Projected to the rest of the population, that would suggest some 6.4 million Americans could -- in effect -- be getting "prescriptions for meditation" from conventional health care practitioners. That would still be many fewer than the estimated 34.8 million who seek meditation therapy on their own.

The survey did not ask what kind of health care provider directed the patients to mind-body therapy. 

The authors suggest that providers treating sicker patients may offer these referrals as a last resort when conventional therapy doesn't work.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Study: Meditation Prescribed More Often as Alternative to Medicine

Medioimages/Photodisc(BOSTON) -- More than 6 million Americans are advised meditation and other mind-body therapies by conventional health care providers, according to a report released Monday by Harvard Medical School. And for sicker patients, these alternative therapies seem to provide both emotional and physical relief for many types of medical ailments, according to the findings, which were published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Nearly 40 percent of Americans use some form of complementary and alternative medicine, according to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey. These practices include meditation, yoga, acupuncture and other types of mind-body-practices. And now, many are receiving the support of conventional doctors who have seen apparent benefits in some of their patients.

Meditation has more recently been tried to treat eating disorders, alcoholism, eating disorders, psoriasis, and even impotence. More than two dozen medical centers across the country, including specialized cancer centers, have attached complementary medicine centers, or provide meditation or other mind-body classes.

However, many of these uses of meditation are experimental, and the results vary by each patient. Many experts say meditation is more likely to treat medical conditions successfully when it is used in conjunction with conventional therapies.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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