Buddhist Meditation

A variety of meditation techniques have traditionally been taught under the banner of Buddhism. Most of the techniques which have become popular in Western countries have their origins in the Buddhist tradition.

Pink lotus blossomsThis is a book about many different meditation strategies. Research has shown that as you change you may also need to vary your meditation strategy or technique. The author, Morgan Rosenberg holds a graduate degree in physics and wrote  If You Can Breathe, You Can Meditate as a stand-alone guide to healthful rather then esoteric meditation techniques. The book focuses on a secular audience and is very easy to read with lots of reading references to other sources.

In addition to steering the reader through the many meditation techniques Rosenberg also places emphasis on ways to help us ‘let go’ and become non-attached in our modern world.

And what a great title!

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I love this article. It shows how we can change our lives dramatically, let go of what we know and hold dear and be happy. Agence France-Presse writes in the Oman Tribune that French geneticist-turned-ascetic Matthieu Ricard is the happiest person in the world.  He is seen grinning serenely with burgundy robes billowing  in the fresh Himalayan wind.

Now a Tibetan Buddhist monk living in the Himalayas, the  molecular geneticist and confidant of the Dalai Lama, says  meditation can alter the brain and increase happiness.  He makes a comparison with the way lifting weights puts on muscle. He believes the mechanism of happiness and suffering can be understood through a science  of the mind.

“It’s a wonderful area of research because it shows that meditation is not just blissing out under a mango tree but it completely changes your brain and therefore changes what you are,” the Frenchman said.

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Richard Schiffman the Huffington Post on  film,  Room to Breath, by director Russell Long was filmed in a public school in San Francisco. The chosen school was one of the largest in the area,  and had the highest suspension rate in the city. Schiffman, who has worked as a Teachers Aid realises just how hard it is for kids to learn and concentrate in a world filled with video, computer games, texting and websites. He also knows how difficult it is for teachers to teach when much of their time is given just to ‘keeping the peace”.

The film opens with chaotic scenes of pencil throwing, squabbling kids and follows one of the classes as they are introduced to a new program called “mindfulness”, described as ‘bare-bones meditation in which attention is focused on bodily sensations’ commencing with the breath.  The program is being introduced into many other schools nationwide and aims ‘to give students “tools and skills” to tame the disorder within their own minds.’

The film recorded some very positive results. Schiffman points out that the kids who are calm and happy are the ones who will learn.

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Rainbow ringThere are many practical reasons why we meditate; it calms our anxiety, helps us to concentrate, be more self-aware and mindful of our thoughts and actions. It also helps us to live well in other ways; to be more compassionate to our fellow creatures and more connected to others and our environment. To me, meditation is like a gateway to a new and better life and there are other things we can do to assist this inner growth that go beyond but are connected to meditation. Below is an interesting

Bodhipaksa writes “Meditation is a cool means of transformation, and essential as part of our practice, but the Buddha offered much, much more.” His article points out the pitfalls of putting too much ego into our meditation; placing too much emphasis on the process of meditation eg. how I sit, where I sit, what I felt.  Five of the Buddha’s precepts to lead an enlightened life are outlined in the article. They are simple and practical and require discipline and mindfulness (thats where meditation comes in). I thought I could hear echoes of Socrates.

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Yoga group practice on matsThis is a very interesting article about how the corporate world is beginning to encourage meditation and yoga practice for employees. One such organisation employing about 3000 people on one site, General Mills, has meditation and yoga rooms in every building. Employees can take advantage of a few quiet minutes between meetings to settle their minds and bodies as well as take part in group meditation and yoga practice.

The program has been running for seven years and its purpose is to bring ‘mindfulness’ into the workplace. People are encouraged to train their minds to be more focused, clear and creative and to be connected to the whole. Compassion for oneself and others is central to this Buddhist based practice.

If you would like to read more and perhaps integrate some aspect into your own workplace just click on the link below.

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teachers meditatingEveryday one reads articles about the usefulness of meditation in our everyday lives.  Recent meditation research followed a 42-hour, eight-week meditation training program for school teachers.  The practice focused on concentration, mindfulness  and directive practices. Researchers found that teachers were able to handle difficult situations calmly, with increased patience and greater compassion.

The lead author of the study  said,  “The findings suggest that increased awareness of mental processes can influence emotional behavior. The study is particularly important because opportunities for reflection and contemplation seem to be fading in our fast-paced, technology-driven culture”.

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Buddha imageVipassana is a form of meditation focusing on the observation of bodily sensations. Participants learn not to react to either painful or pleasurable sensations, but just to observe these sensations as they arise and pass away.  This technique encourages mindfulness and awareness and has a growing reputation for helping addicts. Vipassana meditators claim that through practice they can become permanently free of all negative behaviors—addiction included.

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brain imageA form of Buddhist meditation is being used to successfully treat patients with depression in Korea. The practice of ‘mindfulness’ which is integral to Buddhism and meditation enables patients to become more self-aware within the context of their environment.

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A recent intensive meditation research project has established a number of important benefits to mental acuity, health and aging. The co-operative project – conducted by Clifford Saron, a neuroscientist at the University of California at Davis in conjunction with the Shambhala Mountain Center, a Buddhist Meditation Retreat located in Northern Colorado – involved a total of 60 experienced meditators, 30 of whom took part in the project while the remaining 30 acted as controls.

shambhala meditators imageThe project was conducted over a period of 3 months. Participants underwent two group training sessions and five or more hours of individual practice every day. The participants ages ranged from 21-70. Behavioral and physiological measurements of both the meditators and the controls were conducted on three occasions: before commencement; halfway through the program; and again at the end.

Results of the research project are still being processed, but emerging analysis suggests that the effects go right down to the chromosomal level, affecting general health and longevity.

The article below by Wray Herbert appeared in the Huffington Post

Dhawal Panda


New Meditation Research: Putting the ‘Om’ in ‘Chromosome’

The Shambhala Mountain Center sits nestled among the remote lakes and pastures of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, where for four decades it has offered instruction and retreat to serious students of meditation and yoga. Starting in February 2007, it became a scientific laboratory as well. The center began hosting the Shamatha Project, one of the most rigorous scientific examinations of meditation’s effects ever undertaken. The Project is now beginning to yield its insights, and from early reports it appears that this ancient practice delivers benefits that go all the way down to the chromosomal level.

Many claims have been made over many years about the effects of meditation on health and well-being, but rarely have these claims been put to the test. Under the direction of Clifford Saron, a neuroscientist at the University of California at Davis, the Shamatha Project enrolled 60 experienced meditators in a three-month study. Half were randomly selected to receive intensive training and practice in meditation over the spring months of 2007, including two group training sessions and five or more hours of individual practice every day. Those who were wait-listed for the actual retreat served as controls — an essential part of the rigorous experimental design that distinguishes the Project from previous meditation studies.

At three points in the three-month study — before, halfway through, and at the end — Saron and his many colleagues took a battery of behavioral and physiological measurements of both the meditators and the controls, who ranged from 21 to 70 years old. They have been crunching the data and analyzing the results, which are now emerging in peer-reviewed journals.

For example: Those who intensely practiced meditation got better at visual perception, and as a result their attention improved. UC Davis psychological scientist Katherine Maclean (now at Johns Hopkins) had all the volunteers perform a difficult visual discrimination task on a computer screen — watching a parade of identical lines go by and spotting the slightly shorter lines that appeared occasionally. This 30-minute task is not only visually demanding; it’s incredibly boring as well. But as reported recently in the journal Psychological Science, the meditators’ increased visual acuity also freed up their limited cognitive firepower for vigilance; and their sharpened attention led to improved performance on the task. This improvement lasted for five months after the retreat was over.

That may not be all that surprising, since focus and attention are what meditation is all about. Less expected is the recent finding that intense meditation may also have anti-aging effects. Tonya Jacobs, a scientist at UC Davis’s Center for Mind and Brain, has just reported (on-line in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology) that meditators show improved psychological well-being, and that these improvements lead to biochemical changes associated with resistance to aging at the cellular level. Specifically, an analysis of meditators’ white blood cells showed a 30 percent increase in an enzyme called telomerase, a chemical essential to the long-term health of the body’s chromosomes and cells.

The scientists emphasize that meditation does not lead directly to cellular health and longevity. Instead, the practice appears to give people an increased sense of meaning and purpose in life, which in turn leads to an increased sense of control over their lives and to less negative emotion. This cascade of emotional and psychological changes is what regulates the levels of telomerase, the anti-aging enzyme.

Positivity appears to be the link between meditative practice and a variety of health benefits. In a study scheduled for publication in the journal Emotion, UC Davis psychological scientist Baljinder Sahdra is reporting that meditation leads to a decrease in impulsive reactions — another health improvement linked to psychological positivity. Impulsivity has been tied to an array of health problems, including addictions and other risky behavior.

It’s well known that stress — and distress — lead to poor health, including a decline of telomerase and its healing properties. What hasn’t been known — and what these studies are beginning to document — is the exact order of psychological and physiological events in this chain and, what’s more, that this chain of events can be reversed.

Wray Herbert