How to Meditate Lying Down

There are two modes of Son Buddhist meditation: “Son in the midst of stillness” and “Son in the midst of commotion.” I simply call them the “quiet” and “active” modes of meditation. Quiet meditation commonly refers to traditional seated meditation but includes any meditative form where you’re not moving. Active meditation refers to meditating while in motion in the midst of daily life.

Active meditation is considered more advanced and confers the advantage of not having to set aside a special time and place to meditate. Practically speaking, however, in order to get to this level we first have to learn how to meditate in a variety of physical postures. Recently, I’ve shared with you “How to Meditate Sitting in a Chair, Part 1 and Part 2” and “How to Meditate Standing Up.” Today I would like to present a method for meditating while lying down.

We will then have mastered meditation in the three primary postures that most people assume in daily life when they’re not moving: sitting, standing, and lying down. This means that you will now be able to perform meditation whenever and wherever you have an opportunity to stay still — whether that be sitting in front of your computer, standing on line, or when you’re about to take a power nap.

Traditionally, in a Son Buddhist monastery, we are taught to meditate lying down when we’re about to go to sleep. It is said that this is the best way to enter sleep, and I personally have found this to be absolutely true. Entering mindfully into a relaxed physical state — free of unnecessary muscular tension — while engaging diaphragmatic breathing and the “Yi-mwot-go?” (“This. What is this?”) hwadu ensures a deeper, much more restful and satisfying sleep. The next morning you wake up feeling physically replenished and emotionally vital and optimistic. There is a feeling of abundance, an overflow of energy and hopefulness, and the day just starts on a better note literally as soon as you open your eyes.

I also believe, however, that meditation lying down is helpful for beginners when they feel overwhelmed, when they feel truly emotionally stricken and depleted of energy by some difficult turn of events. When you’re in a state of emotional disarray, it can be hard even to hold yourself upright in a chair. At these times, it’s good to know that you can meditate lying down. So here’s how to do it.

Lying Down Correctly: The Corpse Position

Historically, the ancient Son masters were quite terse and told us only to practice meditation when “walking, standing, sitting, and lying down.” They never actually described a procedure for meditation lying down. Personally, I have found that the so-called corpse position (savasana) in yoga seems to be the most natural and effective way to meditate lying down. If you’ve done yoga before, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about and for this meditation you can assume the posture as you’ve been taught. If you don’t know what the corpse position is, that’s okay, you can just follow along below.

1. If possible, especially when you feel overwhelmed, it’s best to choose a broad surface, one much longer and wider than your own body. This provides the feeling that you’re lying on an ocean, upheld in your time of weakness by the world, the earth itself. A broad surface also allows your body to extend and lengthen as much as it wants without worrying about bumping into something or flopping a limb off an edge. When your heart is aching, spread a blanket on the floor.

2. Whether you’re on a giant bed, mattress, or a blanket, lie down on your back so that your spine is in a straight line, parallel to the sides of the bed or blanket. Imagine that your spine is a chain that’s been put on the floor and pulled straight so that all of the links are aligned and disentangled from one another.

3. Your legs should be about hip distance apart.

4. Your hands should be spread out about a foot away from each hip with your palms up to the sky.

5. In this position, the left and right sides of your body are perfectly symmetrical, perfectly balanced.

6. Keep your eyes open and look straight up, but don’t stare at anything on the ceiling or above you. Again, allow your field of vision to present itself evenly. (If, however, you’re meditating in preparation for sleep, it’s okay to close your eyes.)

7. Place the tip of your tongue lightly against the roof of your mouth just behind your upper row of teeth.

8. Now, flex the muscles of both legs very strongly and raise them a few inches into the air in a brief, powerful leg lift. For a moment, your legs are two pillars of steel suspended low in the air.

9. Then, drop them and let them lie where they land. Your legs will probably land in roughly the same position, and your feet may tilt out to the sides. That’s okay. Relax your legs completely and leave them alone. You’re through with them for now.

10. Now arch your lower back and raise your hips up a couple of inches off the mattress or floor. Tense the muscles in your lower back and buttocks.

11. Then, drop your hips back down again and relax them. You’re through with them now, too.

12. Now arch your upper back so that your spine rises in a bow while your buttocks and shoulders remain anchored on your sleeping surface.

13. Then, drop your back down again.

14. Now clench your fists powerfully. Straighten your arms and raise them a few inches as you flex all of your arm muscles as strongly as you can for a few seconds.

15. Then, drop your arms again.

16. Finally, shake your head from left to right like you’re gently refusing something. Imagine that your face is swinging from left to right, back and forth like a metronome, slowly losing momentum until your chin comes to a stand-still perpendicular to the floor.

A Master of Memory in India Credits Meditation for His Brainy Feats

The young man sat cross-legged atop a cushioned divan on an ornately decorated stage, surrounded by other Jain monks draped in white cloth. His lip occasionally twitched, his hands lay limp in his lap, and for the most part his eyes were closed. An announcer repeatedly chastised the crowd for making even the slightest noise.

From daybreak until midafternoon, members of the audience approached the stage, one at a time, to show the young monk a random object, pose a math problem, or speak a word or phrase in one of at least six different languages. He absorbed the miscellany silently, letting it slide into his mind, as onlookers in their seats jotted everything down on paper.

After six hours, the 500th and last item was uttered — it was the number 100,008. An anxious hush descended over the crowd.

And the monk opened his eyes and calmly recalled all 500 items, in order, detouring only once to fill in a blank he had momentarily set aside.

When he was done, and the note-keepers in the audience had confirmed his achievement, the tense atmosphere dissolved and the announcer led the crowd in a series of triumphant chants.

The opportunity to witness the feat of memory drew a capacity crowd of 6,000 to the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel stadium in Mumbai on Sunday. The exhibition was part of a campaign to encourage schoolchildren to use meditation to build brainpower, as Jain monks have done for centuries in India, a country drawn both toward ancient religious practices and more recent ambitions.

But even by Jain standards, the young monk — Munishri Ajitchandrasagarji, 24 — is something special. His guru, P. P. Acharya Nayachandrasagarji, said no other monk in many years had come close to his ability.

“Munishri’s mind is like a computer during the download process,” the guru said during an interview in a temple in central Mumbai on Monday. “Many processes can happen in his mind at one time.”

“Like when I forgot No. 81,” Munishri chimed in. “The rest of the processes continued, and then, later, that one process began and I remembered it. It takes no effort. I’m simply able to extract it from my subconscious, where I have stored it.”

He sees brainpower as directly proportional to sacrifice, however, and he and his guru have made some great sacrifices.

The guru, now 58, said he had worked in a diamond-cutting workshop as a young man, but at 23 he became disillusioned by the material world and renounced it, including his family and profession. Three years later, he took a vow of almost complete silence and solitude, and set out to walk across India barefoot, living off alms, chanting, praying and translating Jain scripture from Sanskrit into Gujarati.

In 2000, he passed through Unjha, a town in Gujarat State, where Munishri Ajitchandrasagarji was a 10-year-old boy known as Ajay. The guru made such an impression on the boy that Ajay gained the blessing of his family to join the guru in his travels, and two years later he, too, began a life of itinerant solitude, meditation — and total recall.

Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story
Munishri Ajitchandrasagarji has committed more than 20,000 verses of Jain scripture to memory, the guru said, adding that in the privacy of the temple, he has been able to retain as many as 800 random items in order.

The monk does not see himself as specially endowed, or some kind of rare genius. “I have sacrificed everything, and that is why I can do this,” he said. “Anyone can do this, it is not a miracle. My message is this: When you know your own capacity, when you get rid of your distractions, the power of your mind is immense.”

Many followers of the Jain religion have been successful in Indian politics, science and business, particularly in the diamond industry. The recollection event on Sunday was financed by a private nonprofit group called the Saraswati Sadhna Research Foundation, using donations from a lengthy list of Jain benefactors. The foundation says that more than 14,000 children have received training in meditation at its centers, and that the goal is to reach a million children in the next 10 years.

Jainism is the smallest of India’s major organized religions, with around five million adherents. Some Jains revere gods and goddesses that Hindus also worship, including Saraswati, the embodiment of knowledge, creativity and intellectual enlightenment. Munishri Ajitchandrasagarji follows a knowledge recollection method centered on devotion to Saraswati.

A trustee at the foundation, Girish Shah, said that for India, a country whose education system is largely based on rote memorization, meditation is a way to strengthen the mind so that the hours students spend studying will pay off. “Memory, I.Q., concentration ability, interest in studying and moral upliftment will all increase with meditation,” Mr. Shah said. “It offers many practical advantages for young people.”

Four other young disciples of Munishri’s guru have also performed feats of recollection, but so far only 100 or 200 items. Munishri is working his way up to 1,000.

Citing an obscure historical text, the guru said the last time anyone did that was in the Mughal court of the Subahdar of Khambhat, six centuries ago.

Why Meditation and Yoga Are Recommended for Breast Cancer

Up to 80% of American patients with breast cancer will undergo complementary therapies to manage anxiety and stress after they receive a diagnosis.

Though there’s no clear consensus on which integrative and alternative therapies work and which are ineffective, more and more medical practices have incorporated practices like mindfulness and acupuncture into their offerings. But a new study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute Monographs conducted by several major oncology facilities has examined which therapies benefit patients the most. The answer? Meditation, yoga and relaxation with imagery.

The three methods are known to be calming for those who practice them, and the researchers gave the practices an “A” for treating symptoms of mood disorders that are highly common among people with a recent diagnosis.

To come up with the grade, the researchers parsed through clinical trials conducted from 1990-2013 on complementary therapies paired with routine cancer treatment, like chemotherapy. The researchers then graded each therapy based on efficacy. Acupuncture was given a “B” for controlling chemo nausea, and music therapy also received a “B” for anxiety and stress.

“Women with breast cancer are among the highest users [of these therapies]…and usage has been increasing,” the authors write in their study. “Clear clinical practice guidelines are needed.” The study involved researchers from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center, MD Anderson, University of Michigan, Memorial Sloan Kettering and more.

The researchers also gave some therapies low grades. For example, healing touch was given a “C” for lowering pain, and aloe vera gel was not recommended at all for preventing skin reactions from radiation therapy. The researchers also point out that while some natural products were shown to be effective, they did not have the safety data to back them up, suggesting more formal research is needed before some of the therapies can be officially recommended.

As patients with breast cancer and other forms of cancer continue to seek other ways to deal with some of the emotional side effects that stem from serious illness, it will become increasingly important for hospitals to find ways to answer their unmet needs—which might include a yoga class.

Zen and the art of commuting

Here’s how mindfulness experts say you can be more calm and focused and less hostile:

1. Turn your attention from when you’ll get to your destination (it’s often out of your control, anyway) to your surroundings, particularly what you notice via your senses: Sounds, the feel of your feet on the ground or your rear in a seat, places in your body that feel tight or hot from tension.

2. If you’re not driving or riding a bike, focus on your breathing. Take five breaths, with deep inhalations and slow exhalations. Then return to normal breathing, but try to notice each breath. You can gaze ahead, or slightly down, at a fixed point or close your eyes.

When you notice you’ve become lost in thought (hint: You find yourself in a thought-spiral of “Oh no, I’m going to be late. My boss is going to be so ticked. I’ll probably get fired. Then I’ll probably starve to death …”), gently return your attention to your breathing and the sounds around you. Allow thoughts to come and go without attaching any significance to them.

3. If you’re driving or riding a bike, cut the music and become more aware of the sights and sounds around you: the view of trees or taillights, the sound of birds, the feel of wind on your face. When you notice yourself lost in thought, come back to your senses.

4. When angry or annoying thoughts are triggered, notice the physical sensations of those thoughts (a tight chest, feeling of heat, tense shoulders) and consciously relax. Try a silent mantra, such as “It’s OK” or “This is out of my control. I’m doing the best I can.”

5. Use red lights or stops on a train or bus as a reminder to notice whether you’re lost in thought. Then refocus on your breathing or your senses.

6. When you walk, focus on the feel of your feet connecting with the ground, your breathing, the sounds around you (even if it’s the steady thrum of traffic) and the feel of the air on your face. When you notice you’ve become distracted or lost in thought, return to your senses.

Rock Balancing as a Meditative and Stress-relieving Art Form

It’s been over a year since we last checked in on the gravity-defying balanced rock arrangements created by land artist Michael Grab. Much of his most recent work has been created in and around Boulder, Colorado. For Grab, rock balancing is as much a meditative and stress-relieving act as a form of artistic expression.

“The most fundamental element of balancing in a physical sense is finding some kind of “tripod” for the rock to stand on. Every rock is covered in a variety of tiny to large indentations that can act as a tripod for the rock to stand upright, or in most orientations you can think of with other rocks. By paying close attention to the feeling of the rocks, you will start to feel even the smallest clicks as the notches of the rocks in contact are moving over one another.

In the finer point balances, these clicks can be felt on a scale smaller than millimeters. Some point balances will give the illusion of weightlessness as the rocks look to be barely touching. Parallel to the physical element of finding tripods, the most fundamental non-physical element is harder to explain through words. In a nutshell, i am referring to meditation, or finding a zero point or silence within yourself. Some balances can apply significant pressure on your mind and your patience. The challenge is overcoming any doubt that may arise.”

Grab is inspired by the wise words of Grand Jedi Master Yoda who famously said, “Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

To check out more of his beautifully balanced rock structures, visit Michael Grab’s website.

Meditation Covers Scientific American November 2014 Issue

In 2013, the New York Times declared that mindfulness was “having a moment” (pun intended), and just a few months later, a January 2014 TIME cover story announced that a “Mindful Revolution” was underway, challenging the stressed-out, tech-addicted American status quo. This month, Scientific American has featured meditation on its November 2014 cover, representing another major step toward a meeting of the minds between ancient Eastern wisdom and Western science.

Although Western psychologists have been studying the ancient contemplative practice since the 1970s — mindfulness pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn created Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction in 1979 — scientific interest in mindfulness has escalated in the past decade. Now, countless peer-reviewed studies have cataloged the many physical and mental health benefits of the practice, which include reduced stress, relief from symptoms of anxiety and depression, improved attention and working memory, improved sleep quality and emotional well-being and boosts in immune system function.

Scientific American’s cover story — written by French Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard and neuroscientists Antoine Lutz and Richard Davidson — dives into the latest neuroscience research to look at the ways mindfulness creates changes in the brain to improve focus and reduce stress.

MEDITATION TECHNIQUES FOR PEOPLE WHO HATE MEDITATION

When actor and comedian Wali Collins was in first grade, his teacher, Miss Dunn, would lead the class in a group meditation–except that none of the 6-year-olds realized that’s what she was doing. Having everyone close their eyes, Miss Dunn would ask the class to tell her what they heard.

“Someone might say ‘I hear birds,’ and Miss Dunn would ask, ‘Can everyone hear the birds?’” says Collins. “The class would answer, ‘yes.’”

Other children would add what they heard, such as “the leaves in the trees moving from the wind,” and Collins says someone would always say, “I hear myself breathe.” Once everyone agreed that they could hear their own individual breath, she would have the class open their eyes and she would begin teaching.

“This woman was a genius; she made a game out of meditating,” says Collins. “She took a group of highly energized 6-year-olds to a relaxed place so that our minds were clear from distractions and we could soak up all that she wanted to teach us.”

Collins, who is a regular on Late Show With David Letterman, uses these techniques today before he performs: “I can still hear the calming words of Miss Dunn,” he says. “If you’re feeling crazed, this is the easiest way to relax and clear your mind from stress or unnecessary distractions.”

Miss Dunn might not have realized it, but she was teaching what Mike Brooks, an Austin, Texas-based psychologist, calls “meditation hacks.”

“We should all learn to stop and smell the roses,” he says. “Unfortunately, most of us aren’t present for most of the day. We’re thinking about what we need to do or what we should have done. But if we have one foot in the future and one in the past, we’re pissing on the present.”

Brooks, director of the Austin Psychology and Assessment Center, says our thoughts are like a river. When we’re thinking about what we need from the store, the river is calm, but when we’re having negative thoughts–worrying about a presentation, for example–the current becomes more turbulent.

Mindful people–those who live in the present–can step back and stay on the riverbank, watching their current of thoughts and not getting swept away by their content.

Meditation fosters mindfulness, but the practice seems difficult in today’s world of constant stimulation: “People think the goal of meditation is to empty the mind,” says Brooks. “It’s not about clearing the mind; it’s about focusing on one thing. When the mind wanders, the meditation isn’t a failure. Our brain is like a wayward puppy, out of control. Catching it and putting it back to the object of focus is the mediation.”

Brooks says meditating is like exercise; a full workout is preferred, but there is value in short bursts.

“Research shows that a total of 15 minutes of meditating each day for several weeks produces detectable, positive changes in the brain as well as corresponding reductions in stress, anxiety, and an enhanced sense of well-being,” says Brooks. “You can get the benefits of a formal meditation practice by weaving mini-meditations into your daily life.”

He offers six ways you can effortlessly incorporate meditation into your daily life:

1. WALKING MEDITATION
While walking your dog, taking a hike, or simply getting the mail, focus your attention on one item, such as the sound of the cicadas, the feel of the ground beneath your feet, or the color of the tree. When the mind wanders, catch it and return to your original focus.

“Research has found that just being in nature reduces stress,” says Brooks. “We weren’t meant to sit in cubicles all day and when we disconnect from nature, we suffer a lot of stress.”

2. RED LIGHT MEDITATION
While stopped at a red light, turn off your radio and focus on deep breaths. When your mind wanders, go back to your breath.

“Breathing meditation is one of the easiest because it’s always with us and exists in the present moment,” says Brooks. “You can’t listen to yesterday’s breath.”

3. RUNNING/CYCLING MEDITATION
If you run or bike, leave your headphones at home and focus on the experience.

“Tune into a physical sensation, such as the ground beneath your feet, the wind in your hair, or the warmth of the sunlight,” says Brooks. “Choose one item and maintain your focus. Don’t jump mindlessly from one sensation to another.”

4. EATING/DRINKING MEDITATION
As you eat or drink, focus on the various flavors, textures, and sensations of the particular food or drink. Drinking a cup of tea or enjoying a piece of chocolate can be a form of meditation, says Brooks.

“Savor what you have in the moment,” he says.

5. WAITING MEDITATION
While in line, observe your breath or surroundings. Use the time to do some inner observations. For example, are your muscles tense? Are you cold or hot?

“It is important that when you do the observations, you do them without judgment,” says Brooks. “If you’re in the supermarket checkout line, for example, avoid judging people for what they have in their shopping carts. Observe and notice without opinion.”

6. TASK-RELATED MEDITATION
You can also incorporate mindfulness meditation into daily activities, says Brooks. For example, washing your hands, folding laundry, taking a shower, washing dishes, or brushing your teeth can serve as mini-meditations if you focus on the experience and stop your mind from wandering.

“Focusing on what’s happening now pulls us out of our river of thoughts,” says Brooks. “The benefit of meditation is that when something in the real world comes up, we’re much better at catching our thoughts instead of getting swept into their current.”

Source: Fast Company

18 Science-Backed Reasons to Try Loving-Kindness Meditation

Many of us have heard of meditation’s benefits. We may have even tried meditation once or twice. And many of us will have found it hard and concluded that “meditation is not for me.” But wait! Did you know there are many forms of meditation? There are mantra meditations, visualization meditations, open-focus meditations, breath-based meditations and so many more. You just have to find the shoe that fits. An easy one to start with is one that evokes a very natural state in us: kindness.

What is Loving-Kindness Meditation?
Loving-Kindness meditation focuses on developing feelings of goodwill, kindness and warmth towards others (Salzberg, 1997). As I’ve described in my TEDx talk, compassion, kindness and empathy are very basic emotions to us. Research shows that Loving Kindness Meditation has a tremendous amount of benefits ranging from benefitting well-being, to giving relief from illness and improving emotional intelligence:

WELL-BEING

1. Increases Positive Emotions & Decreases Negative Emotions

In a landmark study, Barbara Frederickson and her colleagues ( Fredrickson, Cohn, Coffey, Pek, & Finkel, 2008) found that practicing 7 weeks of loving-kindness meditation increased love, joy, contentment, gratitude, pride, hope, interest, amusement, and awe. These positive emotions then produced increases in a wide range of personal resources (e.g., increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, decreased illness symptoms), which, in turn, predicted increased life satisfaction and reduced depressive symptoms.

2. Increases vagal tone which increases positive emotions & feelings of social connection
A study by Kok et al (2013)found that individuals in a Loving Kindness Meditation intervention, compared to a control group, had increases in positive emotions, an effect moderated by baseline vagal tone – a physiological marker of well-being.

HEALING

We don’t usually think of meditation as being able to help us with severe physical or mental ailments, but research shows it can help:

3. Decreases Migraines
A recent study by Tonelli et al (2014) demonstrated the immediate effects of a brief Loving Kindness Meditation intervention in reducing migraine pain and alleviating emotional tension associated with chronic migraines.

4. Decreases Chronic Pain
A pilot study of patients with chronic low back pain randomized to Loving Kindness Meditation or standard care, Loving Kindness Meditation was associated with greater decreases in pain, anger, and psychological distress than the control group ( Carson et al., 2005).

5. Decreases PTSD
A study by Kearney et al (2013) found that a 12 week Loving Kindness Meditation course significantly reduced depression and PTSD symptoms among veterans diagnosed with PTSD.

6. Decreases Schizophrenia-Spectrum Disorders
Also, a pilot study by Johnson et al. (2011) examined the effects of Loving Kindness Meditation with individuals with schizophrenia-spectrum disorders. Findings indicated that Loving Kindness Meditation was associated with decreased negative symptoms and increased positive emotions and psychological recovery.

EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE IN THE BRAIN

We know that the brain is shaped by our activities. Regularly practicing loving-kindness meditation activates and strengthens areas of the brain responsible for empathy & emotional intelligence

7. Activates empathy & emotional processing in the brain
We showed this link in our research (Hutcherson, Seppala & Gross, 2014) and so have our colleagues (Hoffmann, Grossman & Hinton, 2011)

8. Increases gray matter volume
in areas of the brain related to emotion regulation: Leung et al (2013); Lutz et al (2008); Lee et al (2012)

THE STRESS RESPONSE

Loving Kindness Meditation also benefits your psychophysiology & makes it more resilient

9. Increases respiratory Sinus Arrythmia (RSA)
Just 10 minutes of loving-kindness meditation has an immediate relaxing effect as evidenced by increased respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), an index ofvparasympathetic cardiac control (i.e. your ability to enter a relaxing and restorative state), and slowed (i.e. more relaxed) respiration rate (Law, 2011 reference)

10. Decreases Telomere length – a biological marker of aging
We know that stress decreases telomere length (telomeres are tiny bits of your genetic materials – chromosomes – that are a biological marker of aging). However, Hoge et al (2013) found that women with experience in Loving Kindness Meditation had relatively longer telomere length compared to age-matched controls! Throw out the expensive anti-aging creams and get on your meditation cushion!

SOCIAL CONNECTION

11. Makes you a more helpful person
Loving Kindness Meditation appears to enhance positive interpersonal attitudes as well as emotions. For instance, Leiberg, Klimecki and Singer (2011) conducted a study that examined the effects of Loving Kindness Meditation on pro-social behavior, and found that compared to a memory control group, the Loving Kindness Meditation group showed increased helping behavior in a game context.

12. Increases Compassion
A recent review of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) concludes that Loving Kindness Meditation may be the most effective practice for increasing compassion (Boellinghaus, Jones & Hutton, 2012)

13. Increases Empathy
Similarly, Klimecki, Leiberg, Lamm and Singer (2013) found that Loving Kindness Meditation training increased participants’ empathic responses to the distress of others, but also increased positive affective experiences, even in response to witnessing others in distress.

14. Decreases Your Bias towards others
A recent study (Kang, Gray & Dovido, 2014) found that compared to a closely matched active control condition, 6 weeks of Loving Kindness Meditation training decreased implicit bias against minorities.

15. Increases Social Connection
A study by Kok et al (2013) found that those participants in Loving Kindness Meditation interventions who report experiencing more positive emotions also reported more gains in perception of social connection as well.

SELF-LOVE

How many of us are slaves to self-criticism or low self-esteem? How many of us do not take as good care as we should of ourselves?

16. Curbs Self-Criticism
A study by Shahar et al (2014) found that Loving Kindness Meditation was effective for self-critical individuals in reducing self-criticism and depressive symptoms, and improving self-compassion and positive emotions. These changes were maintained 3 months post-intervention

IMMEDIATE & LONG-TERM IMPACT

The nice thing about Loving Kindness Meditation is that it is effective in both immediate and small doses (i.e. instant gratification) but that it also has long-lasting and enduring effects.

17. Is Effective Even in Small Doses
Our study – Hutcherson, Seppala and Gross (2008)
– found an effect of a small dose of Loving Kindness Meditation (practiced in a single short session lasting less than 10 minutes). Compared with a closely matched control task, even just a few minutes of loving-kindness meditation increased feelings of social connection and positivity toward strangers.

18. Has Long-Term Impact.
A study by Cohn et al (2011) found that 35% of participants of a Loving Kindness Meditation intervention who continued to meditate and experience enhanced positive emotions 15 months after the intervention. Positive emotions correlated positively with the number of minutes spent meditating daily.

Source: Psychology Today

Mindfulness meditation improved quality of life in adolescents with cancer

A diagnosis of cancer is accompanied by a high degree of emotional stress.

Consequently, psychological interventions have become a vital and integral component of cancer care.

One example is mindfulness meditation, a form of meditation derived from the Buddhist practice of insight meditation. It is designed to develop the skill of paying attention to both inner and outer experiences with acceptance, patience and compassion. It focuses on experiencing life in a nonjudgmental way, in the moment.

The practice strives to help patients develop stability, inner calmness and non-reactivity of the mind. In essence, it tries to train the person to not worry about what has happened in the past or what will happen in the future but to live in the present and accept what is happening.

‘A promising option’

Malboeuf-Hurtubise and colleagues evaluated mindfulness meditation as an intervention to improve the quality of life of teenagers with cancer. They presented their findings at the American Psychosomatic Society’s Annual Scientific Meeting in March.

The researchers enrolled 13 adolescents with cancer in the 8-week trial. Participants completed a questionnaire at baseline that assessed mood, quality of life and sleep. At that point, researchers assigned eight adolescents to weekly 90-minute meditation sessions, and the other five were assigned to a control group. After 8 weeks, participants completed the same questionnaire again.

The investigators analyzed differences in mood, sleep and quality-of-life scores for each participant and between each group to evaluate if mindfulness sessions had a greater effect than the simple passage of time. The results showed a significant improvement in all areas in the treatment group compared with the control group.

Teenagers who participated in the mindfulness group had lower depression scores after the eight sessions. These results were more pronounced in girls. Female participants slept better and developed greater mindfulness skills than male participants.

The small sample size precludes generalizations about the findings until further studies are done. The observed benefits observed with regard to mood and sleep also could be explained by the social support provided to the adolescents in the mindfulness meditation group. Despite this, mindfulness interventions appear to be a promising option to help teens with cancer deal with their psychological stressors.

Deeper benefits

Although the clinical benefits of this intervention are encouraging, there are data that suggest the benefits may extend deeper to a cellular level. There is a growing body of scientific research dedicated to understanding the physiologic and cellular responses induced by stress-reduction techniques.

A study by Kaliman and colleagues examined the effect of mindfulness meditation on gene expression. A group of experienced meditators practiced mindfulness for an 8-hour period. During that same time, another group of people engaged in non-meditative leisure activities in the same environment.

The researchers used polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis to measure gene expression in peripheral blood mononuclear cells of participants in both groups. The results showed a downregulation of genes involved in inflammation — histone deacetylase 2, 3 and 9, and pro-inflammatory genes RIPK2 and COX2 — with mindfulness meditation practice.

Although I am not familiar with mindfulness meditation, I have seen the positive clinical effects of other mind–body-based therapies in practice — such as guided imagery — and the data for mindfulness meditation look promising.

The growing body of research examining stress reduction techniques is exciting on many levels. It can identify new therapies that do not involve the research and development of new medications, a long and costly process. These therapies potentially could be economical to provide, as once someone masters meditation, the technique can be repeated as needed at no additional cost. This approach also avoids negative side effects and adverse events associated with medications or other therapies.

For adolescent patients with cancer, mindfulness meditation may be another therapy to add to their treatment plans that may have positive effects extending as far as the cellular level. I look forward to seeing where this research goes.

Source: Healio

Misconceptions Of Spiritual Practice

Why is spirituality steeped in misconceptions? The answer is quite simple. Spirituality is abstract, the great unknown. Most beginners on the spiritual path don’t have access to an experienced spiritual seeker, so the bulk of their questions remain unanswered.

What is more, these novice seekers hear stories from other novice seekers, which gives rise to a myriad of projections and beliefs. It’s the mind that creates all this. In fact, any misconception is the fruit of thinking.

The spiritual path can be utterly confusing. The novice seeker often times finds herself lost in a vast ocean, without a compass. Let’s take a closer look at the most common spiritual misconceptions. Then, you will learn the principles of true spiritual practice.

Common Misconceptions

Most spiritual seekers believe that every person in a colorful robe has a pure mind, possesses great wisdom and may even be enlightened. These projections are created by the mind. Most of the time, the assumptions are false. Enlightenment is extremely rare, so is spiritual wisdom and purity of mind. Don’t mistake theoretical knowledge for spiritual wisdom.

The sad truth is that the majority of Buddhist monks in developing countries are not even interested in spirituality. Rather, they have ordained for socio-economic reasons. As monks, they eat like royalties and are treated like royalties.

Colorful ceremonies and rituals do not boost or empower spiritual practice. The inspiration is short-lived. Likewise, an exotic spiritual name with a divine meaning won’t do the hard work for you. It’s the mind that practices; not your body, colorful robe or spiritual name.

Monk and nun ordinations do not empower you either. The inspiration wears off quickly and it’s not any easier to meditate with a robe on your skin.

It’s not more beneficial to meditate in a golden temple on a hilltop, than in a grotty basement. What truly matters is giving relaxed, yet steadfast attention to your meditation object.

Having sex with your spiritual teacher, regardless weather he is enlightened or not, won’t benefit you in any way. This is a widespread misconception. It will only result in mental and emotional pain. There are no shortcuts to enlightenment. Please note that a true spiritual master would never mislead or take advantage of his students. A pure mind makes for pure intentions, which makes for pure actions.

Intellectual knowledge of spirituality is of little value to spiritual seekers. Spirituality is experiential, not an intellectual exercise.

It’s quite common that novice seekers believe they can attain enlightenment by using their own techniques and philosophies. An individual with a strong ego, can easily go astray. These seekers rarely show any signs of progress. You do need a teacher that explains the basic meditation techniques and spiritual principles. Not unlike the laws of nature, the spiritual laws cannot be changed to suit your preferences.

Another misconception is that seekers confuse religion for spirituality. Religion is faith-based while spirituality is about exploring truth and reality. A spiritual seeker does not accept spiritual teachings without first putting them to the test, no matter who utters them or how old the teachings are. Spiritual teachers encourage this approach.

The fact that religion and spirituality often are intertwined, makes for a lot of confusion.

In meditation, body postures are only of secondary importance. It’s the mind that practices. So, don’t worry about not being able to sit in a certain posture. It’s fine to meditate on a stool or chair.

True Spiritual Practice

It’s of paramount importance to have a correct understanding of spiritual practice. The essence of spiritual practice is to investigate objective reality, also called ultimate reality. That includes investigation of the mind and the spiritual worlds.

The mind has a strong tendency to think obsessively, to hold on to feelings and thoughts and to like and dislike. Spiritual seekers also take great interest in the concepts of ego and not-self.

The very foundation of true spiritual practice is steadfast awareness, as opposed to endless thinking. Another word for awareness is mindfulness. Awareness is the key to understanding the mind and it opens the doors to the spiritual realms.

Another vital ingredient in spiritual practice is a large dose of morality. The word can simply be defined as thinking and doing what is good and right. You don’t need to read volumes of books to learn what is good and right. Deep inside, you already know.

The more refined your morality is, the easier it is to make progress on the spiritual path. Having said that, don’t be hard on yourself for not being perfect. Step by step, your morality will mature into a beautiful, fragrant flower.

When you practice awareness and morality, over time, the mind will naturally be purified. It will also release deposits of negative mental energy such as anguish, frustration, anger and hatred. As a result, you feel at ease and become less emotionally reactive. By practicing morality, seekers also develop what I call spiritual warmth, which is a kind and caring quality.

Every spiritual seeker needs guidance when it comes to meditation techniques and basic know-how on spiritual practice. Other than that, there is little need for theory on the spiritual path. Spirituality is a practical, hands-on discipline.

Progress on the spiritual path is most gradual. Many times, the novice seeker is unaware of any progress. Then, it’s helpful to be around seasoned seekers who quite easily can observe progress in others.

Generally speaking, progress can be made in the areas of awareness, morality, purification of the mind, spiritual wisdom and connectedness to the spiritual worlds. So for example, releasing unpleasant emotions and a deepened sense of inner peace are signs of progress. The first one relates to purification of the mind and the latter is the fruit of improved awareness.

Spiritual practice calls for high levels of mental effort. If you want to make substantial progress, you have to stay focused on your practice. To do an intensive 3-month meditation retreat, is like running 90 marathons. Every day, you give attention to your meditation object from the moment you wake up in the early morning, until you fall asleep in the evening. Not to mention the physical aches and pains from hours of sitting and walking meditation.

You meditate for 8-10 hours a day and go about all activities mindfully. You are even mindful while you are taking a shower. Intensive retreats are mentally exhausting. I usually run out of motivation after 2-3 weeks. From then on, I’m fueled by discipline.

Further, most retreats encourage you to refrain from conversation, other than with your meditation teacher. Personally, I prefer to meet the teacher as few times as possible. These are effective ways to calm the mind. It’s natural to make progress when the mind is focused and still. If you talk to other meditators, you will continue to think about the conversations when you meditate. It’s a big distraction.

Another distraction that most novice and intermediate seekers battle with, is doubt. It can be doubt in the meditation technique, the teacher, your abilities and the spiritual path altogether. Doubt is the result of thinking; therefore, don’t entertain such thoughts. As you advance on the spiritual path, doubt gradually loses its power over you. Progress makes for confidence.

In the beginning, it’s advisable to do short and relaxed retreats where you are free to share your experiences with the other participants.

Source: AxelG