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Meditation or Vacation?

Research shows that meditation has a positive effect on your mental health, helping to improve mood and lower stress levels. But a 2016 study has found that the practice may also have quantifiable physical health benefits, too. In fact, when compared with the de-stressing health benefits of a relaxing vacation, meditation’s effects may be even stronger and longer-lasting.

For the study, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, and Harvard Medical School recruited 94 healthy women, aged 30-60 years. Thirty of these women were experienced meditators who had enrolled in a six-day meditation retreat at a resort in California. The remaining 64 women were not regular meditators and half of these women were randomly selected to simply enjoy the vacation, while the other half followed a meditation training program run by the Chopra Center for Well Being. The meditation training involved classes in mantra meditation, yoga and self-reflection, all designed by best-selling author and spiritual guru Dr. Deepak Chopra, although he was not part of the study.

For all three groups, researchers collected blood samples and self-reported wellness surveys immediately before and after the retreat as well as one month and 10 months later. They examined more than 20,000 genes from each participant to understand what biological changes were occurring in the body.

Researchers found that all three groups showed some differences in their molecular makeup after a week at the resort. The most significant changes in their “post-vacation biology” were in molecular pathways related to stress response and immune system function.

Evaluations of the participants’ self-reported wellness surveys found that the women who learned meditation techniques at the retreat reported fewer symptoms of depression and less stress than their non-meditating peers. They also maintained these benefits for a longer period than the women who did not meditate. Studies have shown that these mental health benefits have direct physical health benefits, too, resulting in lowered blood pressure and heart rate, improved digestion, more physical energy, and a more robust immune system.

“Based on our results, the benefit we experience from meditation isn’t strictly psychological; there is a clear and quantifiable change in how our bodies function,” said study co-author Rudolph Tanzi, PhD, a neurology professor at Harvard University and director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, in a statement.

One thing that wasn’t clear was whether the women who learned to meditate continued to do so after the retreat or if the mental and physical benefits they reported were the direct result of their one week of practice. But either way, the benefits of meditation were evident long after the initial sessions.

Meditation can change your genes

On top of helping to ease stress and symptoms of depression, another study discovered that meditation can even help lower blood pressure.

A 2018 Harvard study analyzed 24 people who suffer from high blood pressure. They attended weakly relaxation sessions with a trainer and listened to a meditation CD at home for eight weeks. The study found that meditating for just 15 minutes day (for at least eight weeks) alters the expression of the genes that regulate inflammation, glucose metabolism, circadian rhythms and immune regulatory pathways.

“With the new guidelines, patients and physicians alike are going to be more and more interested in non-drug therapies that might control blood pressure or potentially augment their medications,” Dr. Randall Zusman told NPR.

In other words, daily meditation can be beneficial for your physical and mental health.

Credit: Jenn Savedge

What does stress do to the human body

How many saber-toothed tigers tried to maul you to death today? Hopefully, the stressors in your life don’t involve an apex predator chasing you through the bush, as was the case for our cavemen ancestors. Still, stress affects us the same way it did them. We are wired for stress physiologically much the same way we were millennia ago, with our primordial fight or flight response well alive within us to keep us alert and safe.

Though not all stress is bad, we need a break from bad stressors, otherwise our health may begin to deteriorate.

Modern humans battle bad stressors that might not seem like a fight or flight scenario — staying in an unhealthy or challenging relationship with a partner; financial hardships; job dissatisfaction; drug and alcohol abuse; nagging in-laws — all this distress may cause the body to:

• Elevate blood pressure
• Increase heart rate
• Slow down digestion and metabolism
• Flood the bloodstream with chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol
• Tense up muscles

Have a white-knuckle commute on the freeway to work every morning? Welcome to this modern life’s version of the caveman being chased by the saber-tooth tiger. Though you might not have to flee your car and run, the same chemical cocktails are coursing through your body as the caveman’s.

Cortisol is one of those chemicals. Like adrenaline, it helps us deal with stress, but too much of it can be harmful to the body. Research has linked it to body fat storage around the abdomen. In turn, piling on the pounds around the belly can lead to heart disease.

Excessive cortisol flooding the bloodstream can lead to adrenal exhaustion. Some doctors believe that adrenal exhaustion (think: someone who is constantly tired) is the main culprit behind every chronic disease. Dr. Lawrence Wilson isn’t alone in thinking that the mainstream medical profession often fails to recognize adrenal burnout as a real health concern.

WebMD reports that 75 to 90 percent of all doctor visits are stress-related, but in its assessment of stress on the body, nowhere does it mention adrenal fatigue due to excess cortisol, which is sometimes referred to as “the stress hormone.”

Failing to cope with bad stress, and thus severely fatiguing the adrenal glands (which rest over the kidneys), has a domino effect on the body’s many symptoms and functions, including:

Hormonal (hormonal pathways can be disrupted)

Musculoskeletal (you won’t burn fat as efficiently and gain muscle)

Immune (adrenal fatigue from bad stress wreaks havoc on the immune system)

Digestive (bad stress slows digestion, chronic digestion problems may arise)

Cardiovascular (adrenal fatigue can lead to heart palpitations and other problems)

Obesity:

People who suffer long-term stress may also be more prone to obesity, according to a new study from University College London. The research, which involved examining hair samples for levels of cortisol and was published in the journal Obesity, showed that exposure to higher levels of cortisol over several months is associated with being more heavily, and more persistently, overweight.

While stress and weight long have been thought to go hand-in-hand (think stress eating and comfort foods), this study confirms the link by examining long-term cortisol levels in more than 2,500 men and women over a four-year period.

“People who had higher hair cortisol levels also tended to have larger waist measurements, which is important because carrying excess fat around the abdomen is a risk factor for heart disease, diabetes, and premature death,” Dr Sarah Jackson (UCL Epidemiology and Public Health) who led the research, said in a press release. “Hair cortisol is a relatively new measure which offers a suitable and easily obtainable method for assessing chronically high levels of cortisol concentrations in weight research and may therefore aid in further advancing understanding in this area.”

Weakened immune system:

As if mounting bills and a tenuous marriage weren’t enough stress to make your blood vessels dilate, your pupils enlarge, your breathing rapidly increase and your sweat glands kick into overdrive, perhaps reading that eating an unhealthy diet also plays a major role in contributing to adrenal fatigue.

How? Eating the wrong foods over many years can break down the mucosal barrier in your gut. Think of the mucosal barrier as the body’s second skin as well as the body’s first line of defense against pathogens, or unwanted nasty critters invading your gut.

Your immune system lies mostly in your gut, so if over the years you continue eating poorly, the integrity of the mucosal barrier system becomes severely compromised. In the long run, digestion is compromised. With most of your immune system residing in your gut, your immune system will weaken.

Concerned about what stress has done to your body? Seek a medical professional or alternative health practitioner who understands adrenal fatigue and knows how to restore hormonal pathways. A nutritional approach to battling stress should also be applied.

credit: Judd Handler

5 calming quotes about meditation.

Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet. It is a way of entering into the quiet that is already there – buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks every day” ― Deepak Chopra

“Work is not always required. There is such a thing as sacred idleness.” ― George MacDonald

“The mind can go in a thousand directions, but on this beautiful path, I walk in peace. With each step, the wind blows. With each step, a flower blooms.” ― Thích Nhất Hạnh

“Meditation is not a means to an end. It is both the means and the end.” ― Jiddu Krishnamurti

“Looking at beauty in the world, is the first step of purifying the mind.” ― Amit Ray

 

why we should place little alters everywhere

I used to hike in the woods with a good friend who loved to create little altars. We’d stop for a rest break and she would stack up several stones into a small castle, then add a tiny feather that she’d found. Or we’d sit on the beach by the lake and write words on rocks: love, joy, passion, determination. Then we’d place them all together like a magnet fridge display and leave them there, hoping the next beachgoer would find inspiration.

That is, after all, the point and joy of an altar: inspiration. We can so easily get lost in the mundaneness of daily events. The days stream by in a whirlwind of work, eat, clean, prep, sleep, repeat. We look forward to our days off, when we can follow a more natural rhythm and follow our own desires instead of the dictates of life. We want to be pulled out of this routine flow into something more exciting, more rewarding, more exalted.

But you don’t have to wait until your two-week vacation or a hiking trip in Nepal to feel a deeper connection to something divine within you.

The art of “puja,” or ritual, is an ancient Hindu tradition to honor different gods and goddesses in the Hindu pantheon. It is a way to enter into an exalted state in service to the attributes of the gods you’re working with to honor them and to fill you with those very attributes. It is the act of tending, cleaning, preparing and caring for these altars, which is, in essence, caring for the gods themselves.

You can make an altar to almost anything. It is a powerful and simple act to create a sacred space in your own home, no matter how small.

Remember your locker in junior high or high school? You had pictures of Michael Jackson or Sting. You cut out that cool Escher drawing and pasted it up next to the one you made in art class. You put up a picture of you and your best friends at the field hockey party, and you secretly tucked in one corner that no one else could see the logo for Brown University, hoping your secret prayers would work on the admission committee. You created an altar, in a tiny little space that was only yours for a year at a time.

In your home, an altar is a beautiful place you create that can help you remember what is important in your life.

It can be on a tabletop or a bookshelf; you can turn a corner of a room, or the corner of a counter, into your altar. It doesn’t matter how big or small it is, what matters is your intention. And like meditation, the more time you spend with your altar, doing puja, creating and tending to it, the more empowered it becomes.

Home altars

Any objects can be used in a home altar, as long as they have meaning for you.

Some people meditate and do yoga in front of their altars. Some people sit and pray there; some people journal or daydream. The space becomes empowered with your presence.

Create your altar with the things that make you feel special. Small objects that are your “touchstones.” Find a pretty scarf and lay that down first, and then add special rocks, shells, feathers, pictures of your loved ones.

If you pray to certain gods, bring them to your altar. Jesus, Ganesh, or if your gods don’t have pictures, you can bring sacred books, like the Talmud or the Quran. You can bring your runes or tarot cards, special paintings or drawings.

Your altar is like an art project: You can make it as magical and full as you like. Add candles and incense. Bring your “desire board” to the altar, maybe as the backdrop.

I have a cousin who has a very simple altar on the empty top of a bookshelf. It has very few things, just three or four sacred objects. She keeps it clean, often moving the objects into different configurations. And under one of the stones, she puts a piece of paper with her wishes written on it. Time and time again, whatever she wishes for comes true remarkably fast. Her altar is empowered with her prayers and her heartfelt belief in powers greater than her own.

This is the beauty of an altar. It reflects your own inner beauty. Maybe simple and open, like my cousin’s, or maybe full of colors and objects so that every space is occupied, like my own. Take care of your altar: Clean it, honor it, add to it. In this way, it becomes a living expression of your own inner beauty and divinity.

If you spend a few minutes every day at this sacred place that you built yourself, you have a few minutes a day of exalted being. But those minutes don’t just end when you snuff out the candle and go to work. Those minutes come with you. They hover over you, like a waft of perfume. And when you lift your tired head up from your desk at the end of the workday, the scent of your prayers can wash over you, reminding you again that you are here on this planet as an expression of divinity. And when you get home that night and glance at your altar on your way to bed, you’ll remember again the joy of your life, the possibilities life holds and the perfection that your life already is.

 

Meditation helps alleviate gut symptoms by altering genetic signals

If you thought meditation was only good for your emotional well-being, think again. A new study shows that meditation may actually alleviate the symptoms of two gut disorders by altering certain genetic signals.

The study looked at people who had either irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or irritable bowel disease (IBD). It found that doing yoga and meditating regularly for two months eased the symptoms associated with the two gut disorders, the researchers said.

This mind-and-body intervention seemed to work by inducing genetic changes in the body, the study authors said. The findings suggest that stress-relieving meditation can suppress the activities of certain genes responsible for causing inflammation and other immune system problems in patients suffering from IBS or IBD, the study stated.

Previous research has shown that meditation can change people’s gene expression in some ways, but the new study is among the first to show an impact on gene expression in patients with a specific disease, said lead researcher Dr. Braden Kuo, a gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. The study used a mind-body technique called Relaxation Response, which a Harvard University doctor developed in the 1970s.

The new findings are especially interesting given that researchers have established a relationship between stress and digestive problems. Research has shown that psychological trauma can contribute to IBS, a disorder that leads to abdominal pain, constipation and diarrhea.

The condition is fairly common in the United States, affecting about 1 in every 10 people at some point in their lives, according to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. Yet scientists do not exactly know what causes the disorder. [7 Biggest Mysteries of the Human Body]

Although IBS and IBD can be mistaken as the same condition, they are actually very different, and IBD is much less common. Unlike IBS, IBD involves chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. The two main types of IBD are ulcerative colitis, which affects the colon, and Crohn’s disease, which mostly affects the intestines, but can also occur anywhere in the digestive system.

However, IBS and IBD also share some common factors: Both can be triggered by stress, and neither one has real treatment options. The drugs currently available can only lessen the severity of symptoms and bring some temporary relief.

In the new study, researchers enrolled 19 patients with IBS and 29 patients with IBD. They all underwent a nine-week program that included breathing exercises, meditation and yoga. The patients met for a 1.5-hour group session every week, and practiced the activities at home for 15 to 20 minutes every day. The researchers assessed the patients’ symptoms before, after and midway during the study, and took blood samples for genetic analyses. However, the study design did not incorporate a separate control group of patients who did not practice meditation.

At the end of the study, the patients reported a reduction in their symptoms compared with what they experienced at the study’s start. A genetic analysis of their blood provided evidence of changes in genetic pathways related to the two disorders.

Significantly, more genetic changes were observed in IBD patients than in patients with IBS, said Manoj Bhasin, who co-authored the study and is the director of bioinformatics at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Researchers found that more than 1,000 genes were altered in IBD patients over the study period, whereas only 119 genes changed in the people with IBS.

There was one inflammation-related gene, called NF-kB, whose activities were suppressed in both groups, according to the study. This indicates that meditation and similar practices can offset stress and inflammation, the researchers said.

“In both IBS and IBD, the pathway controlled by a protein called NF-kB emerged as one of those most significantly affected by the relaxation response,” Dr. Towia Libermann, a senior researcher in the study and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School in Boston, said in a statement. It’s possible that relaxation techniques could help both people with IBS and those with IBD, he said.

The researchers noted two important limitations in their study: First, two tests that measured certain markers of inflammation in the blood showed no changes over the study period. Second, previous research has shown that even a placebo can sometimes produce adequate relief of IBS symptoms.

More studies, such as randomized trials that include a control group, are needed before a program of meditation and yoga could be suggested as a treatment for patients with these disorders, the researchers said.

The study was published on April 30 in the journal PLOS ONE.

Read more: http://www.mnn.com/health/fitness-well-being/stories/at-one-with-the-belly-meditation-may-ease-gut-ailments#ixzz3fA79EBoi

Parallel universe theory being put to the test as the power of Aum is studied

Quantum mechanics, though firmly tested, is so weird and anti-intuitive that famed physicist Richard Feynman once remarked, “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.” Attempts to explain some of the bizarre consequences of quantum theory have led to some mind-bending ideas, such as the Copenhagen interpretation and the many-worlds interpretation.

Now there’s a new theory on the block, called the “many interacting worlds” hypothesis (MIW), and the idea is just as profound as it sounds. The theory suggests not only that parallel worlds exist, but that they interact with our world on the quantum level and are thus detectable. Though still speculative, the theory may help to finally explain some of the bizarre consequences inherent in quantum mechanics, reports RT.com.

The theory is a spinoff of the many-worlds interpretation in quantum mechanics — an idea that posits that all possible alternative histories and futures are real, each representing an actual, though parallel, world. One problem with the many-worlds interpretation, however, has been that it is fundamentally untestable, since observations can only be made in our world. Happenings in these proposed “parallel” worlds can thus only be imagined.

MIW, however, says otherwise. It suggests that parallel worlds can interact on the quantum level, and in fact that they do.
“The idea of parallel universes in quantum mechanics has been around since 1957,” explained Howard Wiseman, a physicist at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, and one of the physicists to come up with MIW. “In the well-known ‘Many-Worlds Interpretation’, each universe branches into a bunch of new universes every time a quantum measurement is made. All possibilities are therefore realised – in some universes the dinosaur-killing asteroid missed Earth. In others, Australia was colonised by the Portuguese.”

“But critics question the reality of these other universes, since they do not influence our universe at all,” he added. “On this score, our “Many Interacting Worlds” approach is completely different, as its name implies.”

Wiseman and colleagues have proposed that there exists “a universal force of repulsion between ‘nearby’ (i.e. similar) worlds, which tends to make them more dissimilar.” Quantum effects can be explained by factoring in this force, they propose.

Whether or not the math holds true will be the ultimate test for this theory. Does it or does it not properly predict quantum effects mathematically? But the theory is certain to provide plenty of fodder for the imagination.

For instance, when asked about whether their theory might entail the possibility that humans could someday interact with other worlds, Wiseman said: “It’s not part of our theory. But the idea of [human] interactions with other universes is no longer pure fantasy.”

What might your life look like if you made different choices? Maybe one day you’ll be able to look into one of these alternative worlds and find out.

Credit: Mother Nature Network

5 breath exercises for energizing the spirit

1. Alternate Nostril Breath

My absolute favorite form of pranayama (breath control) is Alternate Nostril Breathing. It’s simple to do and in just a few moments can completely calm and balance the monkey mind.

Alternate Nostril Breathing is traditionally done in a seated, cross-legged meditation posture, though it’s fine to sit in a chair if you’re not comfortable on the floor. In either case, sit up with a tall spine and relaxed face and shoulders.

The mudra (hand position) is done with the right hand. Fold the index finger and middle finger down to touch the palm. Begin with the thumb lightly closing your right nostril. Inhale through the left nostril, to the count of four, six or eight. Hold the breath in for four, six or eight seconds. Then, lightly close your left nostril with your ring finger and release the thumb from your right nostril. Exhale through the right side. Inhale again through the right side. Retain the breath here in the middle only if you feel comfortable doing so. Exhale through the left.

That is one cycle.

To summarize: inhale left, exhale right, inhale right, exhale left. Optionally retain the inbreath in and the outbreath out. Continue for five cycles or more. You can work up to doing this breath exercise for five or more minutes at a time.

Alternate Nostril Breathing works like a charm to clear and calm the mind. It’s a terrific technique to incorporate at the beginning and/or end of your yoga session.

2. Bumblebee Breath

Use your fingertips to lightly cover your closed eyelids. Using your thumbs, close your ears. Inhale deeply through the nose and as you exhale, let out a long, low humming sound. With the eyes and ears closed, the hum will reverberate in your head and sound like a buzzing bee. Repeat three, four, or more times.

As you do this breath exercise, bring your inner gaze to the third eye, the point between your eyebrows. The Bumblebee Breath is purported to calm the mind and inspire new creative ideas.

Next time you are feeling overstimulated or uninspired, give it a shot.

3. Dog Breath (a.k.a. Breath of Fire)

You need to get in touch with your inner child for this one. (It’s great for kids yoga, as is Bumblebee Breath.) For Dog Breath, pant like a dog, first through the open mouth. Then, close your mouth and continue the panting breath through the nose. Do two sets of thirty seconds each, pausing between the sets and taking deep breaths. This technique brings oxygen to the brain and help you wake up and feel more alert.

4. Ocean Breath

“You and I are all as much continuous with the physical universe as a wave is continuous with the ocean.”

~ Alan Watts

Ocean breath is super simple and calming yet energizing. Take deep, slow, long, active inhales and let the exhale out naturally and passively. Close your eyes and notice how this creates a sound like the waves in the ocean.

5. Just Sit

“There is no success or failure, no great place you are going. You are “just sitting.” To wander, to obsess, to lust—you get a flavor of the mind, a direct meeting. Without acting on any of the thoughts, you get to see how they rise up and—if you’re lucky–pass away. Sometimes we get stuck. You get to observe the nature of being stuck.”

~ Natalie Goldberg

Simple breath awareness is an excellent meditation technique. As you breathe consciously through the nose, recall that this magnificent function has been with you since the moment of your birth and will be with you until your final exhale of this precious life.

Credit; Elephantjournal.com

Meditation: Interconnectedness

Here’s a practice that directly evokes the truth that there is no separate and enduring self, meditated on in the context of interconnectedness.

Read these instructions and then sit up of lie down with your spine straight and your body relaxed, so that breath can flow easily in and out of your body. Close your eyes. Don’t do anything at all to manipulate or regulate your breathing. Let your experience be like wide-awake sleeping, with breath coming and going at its own rate.

Probably you’ll be aware of your diaphragm moving up and down as your chest expands and contracts. Of course you cannot feel that the exhaling air is rich in carbon dioxide and the inhaling air is rich in oxygen, but you probably know that. You also probably know that the green life in the world – the trees and vines and shrubs and grasses – are breathing in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen back into the environment. The green world and your lungs, as long as they are both viable, are keeping each other alive.

Without any volition on your part, your body is part of the world happening, and the world is part of your body continuing. Nothing is separate. Your life is part of all life. Where is the self?’

– Sylvia Boorstein, The Three Marks of Existence, from the July 2012 issue of the Shambhala Sun.

What’s the Difference Between Chakras and Auras?

Energy healing experts often claim that they can see your auras and chakras, or perhaps just one or the other. Kirlian photography is a common method used to actually photograph one’s auras. Highly enlightened healers can often see the chakras, and identifying imbalances is an intuitive process, as well. So, what is the difference between auras and chakras and how can we clear and balance them?

Auras are a Reflection of Your Mood and Intent

Auras are energetic fields that emanate from the body in a rainbow of hues, and it is somewhat of a tattletale concerning your current state, mood, and way of being. Auras can change as quickly as chameleon depending on your current situation, and they can be adjusted consciously by practiced individuals. These luminous fields of energy surround every individual, a halo of colors that can only be detected by a master intuitive, often by using their Third Eye.

The auras serve as a mood ring of sorts and are affected by not only your state of mind, but that of those around you. If you work in a high stress office surrounded by Type A personalities, your aura may feel theirs pushing against yours if it is weakened; hence, why maintaining a strong aura is essential. An example of energy fields colliding is often seen when people are in love. Lovers’ auras brush against one another and combine into a great field of light when the two are together. Even as they depart, a bit of their partner’s aura clings to theirs.

You can often tell as an average human what type of aura someone has…those with strong auras are very charismatic, can draw a crowd, and have a strong presence. Think celebrities and politicians. Now think about that shy, anxious, withdrawn person who gets easily intimidated by those with thick, strong auras. These individuals have thin, weak auras.

Thoughts – like everything in the universe – are merely energy, so boosting your aura is as simple as maintaining positive thoughts, saying positive words, and having a sense of optimism in every action you take.

The Chakras Tell the Story of Your Life

Chakras reflect the NOW in your life, and these energy centers are anchored within specific regions of the human body. Chakra means ‘spinning wheel’ in Sanskrit, and each of the chakras has a correlating color just as the auras do. These energy centers work together and ‘communicate’ with each other, so when one or more is blocked, the spinning or activation of the chakra is impaired. In turn, this can affect other chakras, causing slight imbalances that hamper emotional and physical wellbeing.

Emotional healing intuitives can often see the chakras, identify shrunken ones that are impaired, open ones that indicate blockages, and identify those with pinpricks of light which often indicate depression. Healing the chakras requires REAL life changes and effort, whereas auras can be changed on a dime. Meditation, stone therapy, and holistic healing sessions are all excellent ways to identify and begin healing the chakras. Clearing and balancing the chakras will in turn support your aura!