The Science of Meditation

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In the highlands of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, people look at life differently. Upon entering the local Buddhist monastery, there is a spectacular sculpture the size of a large oak. The intricate carving of clouds and patterns are painted in powerful colors. But as soon as winter gives way, this magnificent work will melt to nothing. The sculpture, in fact, is made of butter, and it is one of the highland people’s symbols of the transient nature of life.

And life here is not easy. Villagers bicycle to work before dawn and return home long after sunset. Many live with nothing more than dirt floors and rickety outhouses. Upon entering these modest mud-brick homes, you’ll find no tables or chairs-just a long platform bed, which sleeps a family of eight. However, when the people invite you in for tea, their smiles are wide and welcoming. How do they possess such inner calm in conditions we would call less than ideal?

When villagers cook, sew or plow the fields, they do so in a tranquil state. As an approach to life, weaving meditation seamlessly into almost every action throughout the day seems unfamiliar to Western cultures. Is there something we can glean from this way of life that will improve our own? The romantic notion of quitting everything and joining Tibetan monks on a mountaintop is not the only way to meditate. You don’t need to quit your job, give up your possessions and spend 30 years chanting. Recent research indicates that meditating brings about dramatic effects in as little as a 10-minute session. Several studies have demonstrated that subjects who meditated for a short time showed increased alpha waves (the relaxed brain waves) and decreased anxiety and depression.

To explore exactly what part of the brain meditation acts on, researchers at Harvard Medical School used MRI technology on participants to monitor brain activity while they meditated. They found that it activates the sections of the brain in charge of the autonomic nervous system, which governs the functions in our bodies that we can’t control, such as digestion and blood pressure. These are also the functions that are often compromised by stress. It makes sense, then, that modulating these functions would help to ward off stress-related conditions such as heart disease, digestive problems and infertility.

Meditation: What is It?
Aside from determining its physiological effects, defining the actual act of meditation can be as elusive as imagining the sound of one hand clapping. In his book, “What is Meditation?” (Shambhala Publications, 1999), Rob Nairn talks about it as a state of “bare attention.” He explains, “It is a highly alert and skillful state of mind because it requires one to remain psychologically present and ‘with’ whatever happens in and around one without adding to or subtracting from it in any way.”

The physical act of meditation generally consists of simply sitting quietly, focusing on one’s breath, a word or phrase. However, a meditator may also be walking or standing. It isn’t unusual, in fact, to see a meditating monk in the highlands walking a few steps and then lying prostrate over and over again until he reaches his destination many miles away.

There are many traditions and countless ways to practice meditation, and perhaps because of its polymorphous nature new meditators wonder whether they are doing it correctly. According to Roger Thomson, Ph.D., a psychologist in private practice in Chicago and a Zen meditator, there is one way to know for sure: “If you’re feeling better at the end, you are probably doing it right.”

Thomson makes it sound easy, but many people can’t seem to get the hang of it, no matter how often they try. “It can be difficult,” says Steven Hendlin, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Irvine, California. “It may be a struggle to overcome the internal chatter that we all experience.”

Seeking methods for quieting that internal chatter and reducing stress are what initially attract many people to meditation. “It is a very effective stress-reducer, which is a way into the practice for many people,” says Thomson, who sometimes refers clients to meditation. “If someone is struggling with feelings of anxiety, he or she may benefit from its calming aspects. And it’s absolutely facilitative of mental health because it brings about a higher level of self-acceptance and insight about oneself.”

But greater awareness about oneself can be a double-edged sword. Mark Epstein, M.D., a New York City psychiatrist in private practice and a meditation practitioner, extends a caution about one of the ironies of meditating. “It could actually raise your level of anxiety if there are certain feelings you are not owning.” In other words, there’s nowhere to hide when you’re practicing “bare attention.” And this, for some people, is both the good and the bad news.

That’s why some experts suggest marrying meditation to psychotherapy. “Both allow the person to be present for the moment, open and nondefensive,” says Thomson, who explores the complementary nature of the two in a paper published in the American Journal of Psychotherapy. “In both meditation and psychotherapy, we are trying not to get caught up in internal preoccupation, but to be intimately present with what is happening here and now.” To explain his thoughts on the connection, Thomson compares Zen to relational psychoanalytical theories. He writes that it “encourages its practitioners to become aware of the fundamentally distorted aspects of an overly individualistic view of human experience. Recognizing that the true nature of all individuals is emphatically non-individual, neither lasting nor separate, is the wisdom of Zen.”

Silence and Science
Certainly anything that helps us fight stress is a welcome tool. But what else might meditation be doing for us? Since researchers like Herbert Benson, M.D. began amassing data, many studies have shown that indeed meditation has not only a mental but a profound physiological effect on the body. Studies have shown that, among other benefits, meditation can help reverse heart disease, the number-one killer in the U.S. It can reduce pain and enhance the body’s immune system, enabling it to better fight disease.

More new research offers additional encouragement. In a study published last year in the journal Stroke, 60 African-Americans with atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, practiced meditation for six to nine months. (African-Americans are twice as likely to die from cardiovascular disease as are whites.) The meditators showed a marked decrease in the thickness of their artery walls, while the nonmeditators actually showed an increase. The change for the meditation group could potentially bring about an 11 percent decrease in the risk of heart attack and an 8 percent to 15 percent decrease in the risk of stroke.

A second study, published last year in Psychosomatic Medicine, taught a randomized group of 90 cancer patients mindful meditation (another type of practice). After seven weeks, those who had meditated reported that they were significantly less depressed, anxious, angry and confused than the control group, which hadn’t practiced meditation. The meditators also had more energy and fewer heart and gastrointestinal problems than did the other group.

Other recent research has looked at precisely what happens during meditation that allows it to cause these positive physical changes. Researchers at the Maharishi School of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, found that meditation has a pervasive effect on stress. They looked at a group of people who had meditated for four months and found that they produced less of the stress hormone cortisol. They were therefore better able to adapt to stress in their lives, no matter what their circumstances were.

Diana Adile Kirschner, Ph.D., a Philadelphia-area clinical psychologist, sometimes refers her clients to learn meditation and has seen firsthand how helpful it can be. “Not only is meditation an absolutely marvelous destressor, it helps people better relate to one another,” she says. “I can tell when clients are following through with meditation. For instance, I had a couple who consistently bickered. After they started meditating, they came in less angry, more self-reflective and more loving.”

So why aren’t more people taking up the practice? “Because it puts us in the middle of ourselves, which is not always where we want to be,” suggests Thomson. “Often, we want to fix things rather than accept them the way they are. Many of us feel as though we can’t afford the time and energy to meditate, when in fact we can’t afford not to.”

Epstein and several other experts feel that meditation’s effectiveness has to do with putting aside attachment to one’s ego. As he says, “When you look directly at a star at night, it’s difficult to see. But when you look away slightly, it comes into focus. I find it to be the same way with the ego and meditating. When one zeroes in on a sense of self through a practice of meditation, the self-important ego paradoxically becomes elusive. You become more aware that you are interconnected with other beings, and you can better put your own worries into their proper perspective.”

A group of elderly Chinese maintain their connection by meeting every daybreak in the village common in Monterey Park, California. They swoop their arms and stretch their torsos in graceful harmony, and then stand absolutely still, simply meditating. Only puffs of warm air flow from their nostrils. All of them look vibrant and relatively young, when in fact they are well into their years.

While western scientists are still exploring exactly how and why meditation works, we already know that it has both physiological and psychological benefits. And many therapists consider it a valid complement to more traditional therapies. So perhaps we should simply take Thomson’s advice-and the Tibetans’ lead-and do what makes us feel better in the end.


Cary Barbor has been a health writer and editor for 15 years. Her most recent project was The Secret Life of Teen Girls, in which she worked with author Evelyn Resh to edit and refine the manuscript of this forthcoming book on teen sexuality. Before that, she was Health Director for the award-winning More magazine.

She has contributed to many national magazines and web sites, including Shape, Salon, Health, Prevention, Tennis, Fitness, WeightWatchers.com and ReadersDigestHealth.com. She was a Knight Journalism Fellow with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during which she traveled to Kenya to study malaria and to Alaska to study disease outbreaks in remote areas.

Cary has published short stories in Natural Bridge and Full Circle Journal. Her story We Don’t Wear Shoes in the Ashram was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She has published personal essays in such magazines as Backpacker and AMC Outdoors.

She has an M.A. in literature from the University of Massachusetts and a B.A. in literature from Lafayette College. She lives in New York City with her husband. For more on Cary visit carybarbor.com

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2015-09-21T10:23:59+00:00

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    Our products will greatly help your brother but they will interfere with the medication that will cause more strokes in your brother because all medications are poisons - PERIOD! Herbs will fight against those poisons so as to heal him. Should you choose herbs from Dherbs, I recommend CEREBRAL-VASCULAR FORMULA, CIRCUL-AID FORMULA, VEINS FORMULA, and CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM FORMULA. There is healing for your brother!

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    Q: I have been anemic since my cycle started age 11. In the year 2001 I had the first tranfusion and found out that I had fibroids. At that time they were small. It took three years later to find out that you can shrink them and disolve them from a book called healing fibroids a natural cure. I have always been a heavy bleeder but in 2004 the bleeding got worse where i had to leave work to go to the emergency room. I got IV fliud and was told this is my normal period. I never had to go to the hospital because of bleeding too much. Any way in 2001 I was on the pill and taking iron 3* a day 325ml. Got off the pill because of the weight gain and was still bleeding hard due to everyday stress. 2006 I had two more transfusions with in 5 months of each other. All the doctors want to do is cut me. I refuse. After the last transfusion, I decided to get iron through IV. What a dissaster. The hospital gave me too many things at once. I was fine when I got home but, at 11pm I could not sleep too well. I began having heart palpitations. Rushed to the ER in such pain, I was in pain to stand up, in pain to sit down. I had to pace the floor and sit down and get back up again several times. The intense pain did not stop until I stood bent over my mother's lap for 10 mins. It stopped at 4:30am. Well they kept me for four days. Every test and xray done on me and they found nothing wrong with my heart. Good. But what on earth caused the pain. I have not been able to work for the past 3 years. Every time my cycle starts I lose a lot of blood, I am weak, I can't walk like a normal person and my heart is always pounding hard at every little movement I make. I blacked out in the shower in 2007. I am currently taking cold pressed wheat germ oil to put oxygen in my blood and to stop the pain in my chest. I look worn, my skin from head to toe is covered in scars, and I have no finger nails and my hair is greying all over. I am 36 and I am literally half dead. Can any of your products help me get me up off the couch and walking like a normal person again.

    A:

    Beloved, I recommend that you first perform the FULL BODY DETOX. After this kit, I recommend that you perform the FIBRIOD BUSTER CLEANSE AND REGIME. After this kit I recommend that you perform the 10-DAY SUPREME COLON CLEANSE. After this kit, I recommend that you perform the TOTAL WOMAN CLEANSE followed by the WEIGHT RELEASE CLEANSE AND REGIMEN. While performing all these cleanses above, when drinking water make sure you add KHEMETIAN GOLD and OXY-DROPS to every glass of water you drink. In addition to performing these kits, please read our FREE articles and begin to properly educate yourself. There is healing from all that you suffer from!

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    Q: I am a 29 year old African American female. I would like to tell you my story and get your advice. Before Sept. 28, 2008 I was a healthy fun loving female but after sept. 28th my health has not been the same. I wake up in the morning weak with nausea and headaches. I went to Kaiser and they said I had a virus and I had to let it take its course. I work with kids and it was hard for me to go back to work because 1. I kept getting sick. 2. My boss was mad that I was sick and not able to work. So I went back to Kaiser and then they said I was sick and had a virus with a mix of anxiety(due to my boss going crazy on me). They said I need to rest and stop being anxious, so I can heal.(well the anxiety is gone) Next I started to get sharp pains in my stomach area(which I have had before on and off for the past couple of years but it would only happen like once or twice a year) but I was scared because the pains we're very sharp and happening like two weeks apart. So Kaiser told me to go see a Upper GI Dr. I went to see one and had an endoscopy done and they found a yeast infection in my throat and that also my esophagus was irritated to but my stomach looked fine. So they put me on Prontiox (for the irritated esophagus and Difucan (for the yeast infection). Well as soon as I finished the medication for the yeast infection in my esophagus, I lost my voice and could not talk for 4-5 days and I still have the stomach pains. So the Upper GI dr. told me the sore throat and losing my voice was a side effect to GERD and that is what I may have. So he asked to up the dose of the Prontiox (so now I am taking 80 mg instead of 40 mg a day). But guess what still having stomach pains and my voice still goes in and out and it feels like something is stuck in my throat and now when I eat, I feel food get stuck in my chest like right in the middle of my breast. So what is going on with me...they have done blood work on me from blood count to checking me for STD's (even HIV) and everything came back normal/negative. And they keep saying all my blood work is healthy...So what is going on and what can I take, because I am a natural person and my system is sensitive to a lot of stuff and I don’t like being on these medications. And now the DRs may think I have IBS..Oh boy Help!! And oh yeah I have had very bad cramps when I have my period and take Motrin and I would like to know is there anything I can take that is sensitive to my stomach... HELP

    A:

    Beloved, first perform the FULL BODY DETOX. Next, perform TOTAL WOMAN CLEANSE, and lastly, perform the 10-DAY SUPREME COLON CLEANSE. These kits will repair your system!

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    Q: I recommend this site to all because it has helped me in so many ways, that I was hoping it may be of help to my 11 year old niece. She is really shy towards others, even at school. To the point where last year, it started affecting her school work. Because, at school you have to interact with others, as well as participate in class. At home with family she's active, sociable, and lot's of fun. When she gets around others she shuts down, believe it or not. I was talking with her mother, my sister and she realized that we was that same way aswell growing up. I don't want her to go through life like that, if there is a way to help her. My sister mentioned pills. Since I have found your site there is no way that I'll have her popping man made pills, when there are herbs that are safe. Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated. I know they have tea I saw for adults (Stress/Anxiety), but for kids I wasn't sure. I need something that will definately work. Thanks for all you do, and look forward to hearing from you.

    A:

    It's probably just a personality thing. However, it's not a sickness. It's more astrological, and personal essence than anything. I would suggest that the child have its natal chart and numerology chart done. Everything about the child is written "In the Wheel."

    Product Links:
    Natal Chart
    Numerology Chart

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    Q: I'm 17 years of age and go to a boarding high school in Florida. I just moved here from L.A. Over the summer. I've always been passionate about picking up valuable information that is not taught in schools. Even though I've always gotten good grades in all classes, I have always had a dislike for school. I feel like it is trapping me, because I have very little time to study topics that are truly beneficial such as law, herbs, history and many other topics. I just wanted to give you a brief background image of me; bottom line is this... I want to be part of what you are doing. I know you probably have so many positions filled. And I've never been materialistic and never liked school, but I also understand that if I want to get out in the world on my own right now I need to have a situation where I can make a sufficient amount of money to support myself. So I'm just letting you know I'm very passionate about helping people heal themselves and I would be very committed to what you are trying to accomplish in terms of healing people mentally and physically. I feel so thankful because most people don't get the opportunity to come across TRUE herbalism, TRU history, TRUE law, etc, until they are deep into adulthood, if ever. And I feel like I must fulfill my opportunity starting NOW. Because if I don't, I would be failing the mission I was incarnated here to do. Peace

    A:

    Greetings, Beloved! You have recognized at a very young age that school is a waste of time as measured against the subjects of your heart. Make the time to study the topics of your interest. It's well worth it, Beloved! I did it for many years of my life and when I was out of school and got into knowledge, I spent almost whole days studying the interests of my desires which has led me to the life I am now living. I'm glad I followed my heart. In regards to Dherbs, unfortunately Beloved, I am an Inter-net company only and thus have no positions available. What is your zodiac sign? Maybe we can help you to find work that is suitable to your interests. Your 10th House explains the area's best for you work-wise. Hey, thanks for reaching out, Beloved! One day I would like to employ thousands of people. If you ever want to talk or need advice, give me a call!

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    Q: My grandmother's disease is getting progressively worse these days. Thus, I would like to know why you referred to the dementia as so-called? This has really peaked my curiosity, however, it is obvious that she is forgetting things and very confused about her day to day surroundings; ex: asks frequently to be taken to her home, although she's already there, can no longer drive, cook, or be left alone. She even thinks that her children are other people at times. To be quite frank, she is severely depressed, overweight, and has almost zero desire to do anything, but perhaps die as she often says. I think a great deal of this stems from the fact that she feels her independent life is gone. Yet, allof this is linked to the fact that she is forgetting how to do basic things. Sorry for the lack of brevity, but as you said, an attempt to ask or try, is better than not asking or trying at all.

    A:

    Start giving her our Brain Booster Tea and Tropical Tea daily to improve oxygen flow to the brain.

     

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    Q: I am very sensitive. I feel like there are invisible things entering my body. I feel things going into my feet, my crown, my female parts the openings of my body. I keep having serious lung problems. I saw something dark jump into my chest. I feel it moving thru my body, like a snake. I have been checked for parasites but nothing was found. I had all types of x-rays and blood tests done, but nothing found. I am of sound mind and strong in my faith. I sometimes see brown or white oil spots on my car and on the ground where I walk. By the time I past this I begin to have these sensations. I believe this is a bacteria by nature or man that is causing this problem. I went for acupuncture for the problem the Chinese man said something was in my body. Have you heard of this problem before? Do you think you can help me? Thank you for taking the time to read this.

    A:

    Spiritual healing and cleansing are my areas of expertise! Please consider a consultation ($100, 1-hour). There is much you can do to heal from these attached entities that have entered your body via your chakras. Your feet have chakras, your vagina has a chakra, and your crown has a chakra. No coincidence you feel things going on in these chakra centers. I can help you! There's nothing to worry about. Every problem has a solution or answer. Please call 866-434-3727 or 323-817-9929 to schedule.

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    Q: I have been married 5 years and my husband and I are not seeing eye to eye after the birth of our two kids. It seems like he has drawn farther away from me. It could be stress or job related issues, but the fact remains that he does not communicate to me about anything important in his life. He just has a closed shell when it comes to telling me things. Also, he stop paying the the rent for a while now. I don't know if this has anything to do with me making more than him financially. How can I approach my husband, with out hurting his ego and get him to talk to me about anything? But, I must say we are not affectionate to each other only when it comes to be sexual. What can I do?

    A:

    Sometimes men feel like an outsider after children are born. It's because the wife has to give the children so much of her attention. He cant help feeling a little resentful or jealous. If you want him to open up. Give him some attention. Tell him you appreciate him often. Kiss him and love on him too. Men also shut down when they are not getting enough sex. Tell him when you feel sexual. Tell him you want him, and are attracted to him. This will help him to feel close to you again, and he will begin to share himself with you again. Treat him the way you want to be treated.

    Sending love and light.

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    Q: I have been experiencing very trying health issues for many years (over 25 years). The trouble began when my gall bladder was removed 26 years ago. I had mood swings, lack of energy, and severe diarrhea. Approximately 13 years ago I had an additional surgery for an umbilical hernia. Due to pre-op tests, my physician diagnosed me with thyroid disease and placed me on synthroid. This medication dramatically improved the digestive issues I had experienced for many years. I had very loose bowels when menstruating and when I was ill. I am overweight and have dealt with weight issues all my life. Three years ago I had a scare where I thought I experienced a heart attack. I spent three days in the hospital and learned of many health risks. My triglycerides were extremely high along with my sugar being borderline. I have been tested for diabetes on a number of occasions in my life but never show to be. There are numerous cases of diabetes in my family. My mother and one sister are insulin dependent and one other sister is on some form of pill medication for diabetes. At that time, I gave up sugar and began a regime at the gym. The have not eaten any sweets other than what I get in a little ketchup occasionally or some other kind of sauce that may contain some sugar. I have gone to the gym with minimal results in losing weight. I had a total hysterectomy six weeks ago. My regular GP has been on vacation and I've been dealing with one of her associates. This dr. sent me in for glucose tolerance and she has since diagnosed me as Type II Diabetic. She put me on a medication called "Metformin" and has me taking a 500 mg pill twice daily. I have only been on this medication for three days. I have been very careful to eat only what they say I can. I am experiencing the same issues as before with the diarrhea. Last night I was up all night with this and it is like water coming out of me. I am unable to find a physician who understands that I want to lose the weight, but cannot when I'm constantly dehydrated and feeling lethargic. When I have this constant problem, I am not able to do what I need to do for my overall health. Sorry to be so wordy but I wanted to explain the full extent of what I am experiencing. My friend told me to get on this website and explain my issues. He feels that you may be able to guide me in the direction of a natural product or products that can help me to have normal bowel movements and therefore begin doing the physical exercise that is needed for me to reduce my chances of becoming an insulin dependent diabetic.

    A:

    I WOULD LIKE FOR YOU TO FIRST TRY THE FULL BODY DETOX (TAKING THINGS ONE DAY AT A TIME). AFTER THIS CLEANSE, I WOULD LIKE FOR YOU TO PERFORM THE PANCREAS CLEANSE AND REGIMEN . LET'S TAKE THIS SLOWLY AND GET YOU BACK TO OPTIMAL HEALTH AND WELL-BEING. FIRST THINGS FIRST, OKAY? ALSO, PLEASE CONSIDER A CONSULTATION AS THERE'S ONLY SO MUCH TIME I CAN GIVE TO RESPONDING VIA E-MAIL DUE TO ALL THE E-MAILS WE GET DAILY.YOU CAN HEAL. JUST CONCENTRATE ON HEALING, NOT DIABETES. LET'S START HERE, OKAY?

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    Q: I think it is interesting that you spend a lot of time pushing your personal opinions and share limited advice. What do you understand about integrity and professionalism? Or even respect for others? I do not see it. If people are looking to you for help why do you spit on their problems? I was researching your site to help a client resolve their addiction to smoking. I have to say I was sadly disappointed to read your article. It is not helpful nor is it informative. In fact it enforces shame and negativity on those who seek help and positive life changes. I would hope you could restructure your article to benefit all. It would be beneficial to check out higher consciousness sites on herbal healing. I wish for you in this moment to find peace and resolve your anger and prejudice that is so apparent in your articles. Love, light and peace.

    A:

    YOUR perception is not MY reality, Love. I am doing me and you do you. Tell you what: you do what I am failing to do or what you feel I am failing to do. This would be more appropriate. Pick up the ball where you deem it dropped. Talk is cheap and actions speak. I have done the actions and am doing them (read the reviews and testimonies on Dherbs.com). It speaks for itself. My new smoking article will reflect where I am presently, but it will still blast the ignorant cigarette smokers. One can't just blame government and the cigarette industry for the actions of the dumb cigarette smoker. Dumb and weak Americans must also foot partial blame, actually most of it, because they had a choice and there was no gun to their head forcing them to smoke. These people were simply weak and stupid and not to mention unconscious. Period! It doesn't sound nice but it's factual and truthful. I don't sugar coat the truth because sugar is a poison! The first article was written 6-7 years ago and that's why it's so brief. Thank you for visiting the #1 website in all-natural herbal products and raw uncompromising information that people all across the world are eating up and just can't get enough of.