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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Sitting alone

Loneliness hurts -- not just psychologically.  Elders who report feeling lonely have an increased risk of heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, and depression.

Researchers at UCLA say that an eight-week mindfulness meditation program reduced not only feelings of loneliness in older adults but also significantly reduced expression of inflammatory genes.

Science Daily reports that in the current online edition of the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, senior study author Steve Cole, a UCLA professor of medicine and psychiatry and a member of the Norman Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at UCLA, and colleagues report that the eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program reduced the feelings of loneliness among study participants. (MBSR is a secular meditation program developed by Buddhist Jon Kabat-Zinn.**)

For more on how the study was done, read the Science Daily article here. For an article with fewer technical details, read this CNN piece.

This is one of those things that just make sense to me. Loneliness is stressful. Stress puts your body on alert. Alertness means tense muscles, internal chemistry going into overdrive. It's bound to have physical consequences.

It also makes sense to me that mindfulness meditation eases feelings of loneliness, even if you're sitting alone in your room doing it. Being alone is not a problem in the moment. It's all the thoughts that go along with it ... Why am I alone? Nobody loves me. They're not answering my calls because they know it's me. I have always been alone. I will always be alone. (John Welwood describes this as "the mood of unlove -- a deep-seated suspicion most of us harbor within ourselves that we cannot be loved, that we are not truly lovable for who we are.")

If you stay in the moment and don't board that train of thought, you avoid the stress. What's more, you can notice what's right about the moment -- the light, the sounds, the temperature, the sheer joy of being able to breathe.

Calm your mind and calm your body.

The benefits may not be tied only to mindfulness. The Science Daily article also notes that Dr. Helen Lavretsky, a UCLA professor of psychiatry and a Cousins Center member, published a study showing that a form of yogic meditation involving chanting also reduced inflammatory gene expression, as well as stress levels, among individuals who care for patients with Alzheimer's disease.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Meditation reshapes your brain

Just two months conscious and proper practice of regular meditation completely rebuilds the human brain.

This sensational conclusion was made by a team of scientists of Harvard Medical School. The results of the study were published in a special edition of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging. The experiment was conducted on 16 volunteers who participated in the 8-week program aimed to reduce stress through mindfulness, developed by the Centre for Mindfulness (University of Massachusetts Medical School). In weekly sessions participants were trained to focus on the awareness of their body’s senses, feelings and states of mind. Moreover, they had to meditate at home in their spare time.

All participants underwent MRI brain scanning before and after the training program. A comparison of the results showed an increase in gray matter in the hippocampus, a brain structure involved in memory processing, and in some other areas of the brain associated wit
h self-awareness and introspection.

Two years earlier, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles with the help of high-resolution scanning of the brain, found that in people who regularly practice meditation, brain areas associated with the expression of emotions are significantly greater in size than in the control group. All the 22 participants of the experiment have been practicing meditation for a long time: from 5 to 46 years, the average duration was 24 years. Most of them devoted to meditation from 10 to 90 minutes a day.

“We know that people who regularly practice meditation often express positive emotions, have the ability to maintain peace of mind and manifest a caring attitude towards others. Our results may shed some light as to why these people have similar qualities“, noted the lead author of the work Eileen Luders.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A day to relax

Tomorrow is National Relaxation Day. (The date is Aug. 15, but the origin is unknown and appears to have originated as a spa-marketing tool, so don't worry about the date.)

How will you observe it?

The blog offers five tips, including eating slowly, taking three-minute breathing breaks, and reducing channels of input (ie turn off the TV or the Internet for a while).

Here's my suggestion: Take it literally and do a slow body scan, tensing each part, feeling the tightness, and releasing it, feeling the muscle relax. Start at your feet, curling your toes as tightly as possible, and isolate parts up to your face and scalp, drawing them tightly and letting go.

May all beings find ease.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Only meditation leads to enlightenment

Through the practice of meditation "one must see the straightforward logic that mind is the cause of confusion and that by transcending confusion one attains the enlightened state. This can only take place through the practice of meditation. The Buddha himself experienced this, by working on his own mind; and what he learned has been handed down to us.
--Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche