George Harrison chanting Hare Krishna

A form of introspective contemplation, meditation is the act of relaxing and clearing the mind through balancing mental, physical, and emotional states, getting rid of all thoughts about the past and present and focusing on the present. This is done by shutting out the outside world and focusing within, often with the aid of sounds, words, images and/or breath.

According to H.A. Slagter of the University of Amsterdam: “Meditation is a process by which an individual controls his/her mind and induces a mode of consciousness either to achieve some benefits or for the mind to simply acknowledge is contents without being identified with the content, or just as an end in itself.” (Slagter, 2008).

According to the BBC: “Meditation is a mental and physical course of action that a person uses to separate themselves from their thoughts and feelings in order to become fully aware. It plays a part in virtually all religions although some don't use the word 'meditation' to describe their particular meditative or contemplative practice. Meditation does not always have a religious element. It is a natural part of the human experience and is increasingly used as a therapy for promoting good health and boosting the immune system.Anyone who has looked at a sunset or a beautiful painting and felt calm and inner joy, while their mind becomes clear and their perception sharpens, has had a taste of the realm of meditation. Successful meditation means simply being - not judging, not thinking, just being aware, at peace and living each moment as it unfolds. [Source: BBC]

Meditation is very important in Hinduism, yoga and Buddhism. It has also been incorporated into Chinese traditions such as T'ai Chi and Taoism. Meditation is thought of as a mental exercise that helps one tap into the infinite force of the universe, explore the true nature of existence, gain insights into true reality, see the insufficiency and unreality of sensory experience, and develop correct thoughts and actions. Meditation is usually taught by a meditation master and the methods vary from sect to sect and person to person. Some methods of meditation are based on discourses in the Pali language.

Some people practice meditation for it health benefits. Others do it for spiritual reasons. It is also a valuable tool for developing self-knowledge, improving concentrate and dealing with stress. The Dalai Lama said, "The very purpose of meditation is to disciple the mind and reduce afflictive emotions." Others call it a form of mindfulness that emphasizes paying attention to the present moment. For centuries Buddhists and Hindus have used meditation as a tool to focus their energy inward to explore the mental state of joy, get rid of negative emotions and develop wisdom, compassion and improve well being on a individual and societal level.

Some of the earliest references to meditation, dating back perhaps as far as 5000 B.C., have been found in India in Rig Veda, one of the oldest Hindu text. In between 6th and 5th century B.C. meditation was developed in Buddhism and Jainism. References to meditation are found in Torah of Judaism (Verman, 1997). Members of the Islamic Sufi sect (Lating 2002) engage in activities that have a lot in common with meditation. In Christianity meditation is used as a form of prayer to help believers concentrate upon the revelations of God. Today, meditation is practiced in many parts of the world without religious contexts using techniques that have their roots in methods used thousands of years ago by ancient Hindus and Buddhists. [Source:]

Websites and Resources on Meditation and Tantrism: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Encyclopædia Britannica article ; Erowid Meditation Vault ; Learn to Meditate ; Yoga Journal: Meditation ; National Institutes of Health, US government, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) ; How to do Zazen (Zen Buddhist Meditation) ; George Feuerstein, Yoga and Meditation (Dhyana) ; Tibetan Buddhist Meditation ; Vipassanā (Theravada Buddhist Meditation) Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Gray, David B. (Apr 2016). "Tantra and the Tantric Traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism". Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion. ; Tantra: An Analysis (in Hinduism), Damien McDonald (2007)

Types of Meditation

Four types of mediation according to the Jains

According to the BBC: “There are a number of methods of meditating - methods which have been used for a long time and have been shown to work... Some involve chanting mantras, some involve concentrating on a particular thing (such as a candle flame or a flower).” Meditation does not necessarily have to involve keeping still; walking meditation is a popular Zen way of doing it, and repetitive movements using beads or prayer wheels are used in other faiths. People can meditate on their own or in groups. Meditating in a group - perhaps at a retreat called a sesshin or in a meditation room or zendo - has the benefit of reminding a person that they are both part of a larger Buddhist community, and part of the larger community of beings of every species.” The 'three trainings' In the West, for many of those who want to explore a spiritual path, meditation is the first thing they encounter. [Source: BBC ]

According to “Within this broad definition, meditation is practices in different techniques with different objectives of the practitioners. It is practiced by some as a way to relax mind, some do it to generate positive thoughts of mind, and yet some take it as a method to enhance mind-power. Meditation is also believed to have the power to heal certain diseases of the practitioner, and in the spiritual context some practice it to regulate mind towards some divine power.” [Source:]

There are three basic kinds of meditation: 1) concentrative meditation which focus attention on breath and an image or sound for a log period of time to calm the mind and allow greater awareness and clarity to emerge; 2) companionate meditation in which practitioners ride themselves of negative energy and thoughts by focusing on compassion; and 3) mindful meditation, which involves becoming hyper-aware of sensations, feelings, images, thoughts, smells, sounds, without thinking of them or reacting, and simply sensing them as a parade that passes by. This type has also been described as “pure awareness” or “open-presence."

The simplest form of meditation is sitting quietly and focus attention on one's breath. Breathing is a key element of meditation. If a person is stressed out or anxious their breath is shallow, rapid and uneven. With the meditation the goal is to calm the mind so that breathing is slow, deep and regular. As one focuses one's awareness on breath, the mind becomes absorbed in the rhythm of inhalation and exhalation.

The goal of compassionate meditation, Richard Davidson, a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin, told that the New York Times is to “voluntarily cultivate compassion." For practitioners, “it is something they do every day and they have special exercises where they envision negative events, something that causes anger or irritability, and then transform it and infuse it with an antidote, which is compassion. They say they are able to do it just like that.”

Posture and Breathing in Meditation

According to the BBC: “The classical meditation position is 'the lotus position'. This involves sitting cross-legged with the left foot on top of the right thigh and the right foot on top of the left thigh. If you can't manage that it is still good to sit on the floor either kneeling or cross-legged with enough support to have both knees on the ground and the back erect without having to strain. But it is possible to meditate in any stable posture that keeps the spine straight. Sitting quietly in a chair is perfectly acceptable. While it helps for the body to be alert, relaxed and stable, meditation is really about the mind and the inner experience. Posture is a support to that but most Buddhist traditions do not regard it as an end in itself. It is useful to take time before and after you meditate to settle into and emerge from the practice. It is always a good idea to have some space to let thoughts die down and tune into your feelings and bodily sensations. [Source: BBC |::|]

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“Some classical meditation methods use the meditator's own breathing. They may just sit and concentrate on their breathing... not doing anything to alter the way they breathe, not worrying about whether they're doing it right or wrong, not even thinking about breathing; just 'following' the breathing and 'becoming one' with the breathing. It is important not to think: "I am breathing". When a person does that they separate themselves from the breathing and start thinking of themselves as separate from what they are doing - the aim is just to be aware of breathing. This is more difficult than it sounds. Some meditators prefer to count breaths, trying to count up to ten without any distraction at all, and then starting again at one. If they get distracted they notice the distraction and go back to counting.”

At the beginning of a meditation session, gently close your eyes and remain aware of the posture of your body while being mindful of the breathing. Correct posture is important in meditation. There are several possible positions, but generally the body is kept upright, with the back perfectly straight. For beginners, such a posture can become uncomfortably painful within a few minutes.

Owing to one’s resolve, one’s mindfulness will gradually go towards the nostril where the contact of breathing is perceived. This point of contact is very important. This is the sign of in and out breathing. You must establish mindfulness to this point of contact. At all times allow the natural process of in and out breathing to take place. When you breath in, do not follow it to the abdomen with your mind. At all times, keep your mindfulness to the nostril area. The in breath passes this point, and so does the out breath. Keep your attention to the point of contact of the breathing at the nostril. At that time the perception of breathing begins to develop. [Source: Virtual Library Sri Lanka ^|^]

Our main object now is the process of breathing in and out. Our effort should be to be mindful and contemplate this object. It is not necessary to think and contemplate on other objects. The novice will experience other perceptions entering the mind and the process of thinking and pondering about other perceptions taking place, as a result of which there is a diffusion of the mind. An external object will find residence in the mind only if you think about it. So, you must control your thinking by restricting your thinking process only to the breathing function. When you breath in think ‘IN’. When you breathe out, think ‘OUT’ Restrict the thinking to a mere word in this manner. If you can watch without any thinking at all it is even better. There is a pace at which you think too. Harmonise the two. In this way you leave little room for external objects to find residence in the mind. As a result there will arise only the perception of breathing in the mind. ^|^

Shutting Out Thoughts and Perceptions During Meditation

Meditation teaches self-discipline because it's boring, and because the body gets uncomfortable. The meditator learns to keep going regardless of how bored they are, or how much they want to scratch their nose. Often thoughts and perceptions arise and one must know how to tranquilize them. To this one must be mindful and aware of the thoughts and perceptions but must not try to force them out. Using force, causes fatigue which makes matters worse. Instead you need to develop a method using “an untiring effort.” Note perceptions or thoughts with a relaxed mind . Be patient until the mind goes back to the breathing.

Shutting off thoughts, perceptions and internal conversation can be difficult. According to “Topics in Japanese Cultural History”: “The constant banter inside our heads has at least two undesirable effects. First, it constantly re-affirms the false sense of separate self. Second, it serves as a barrier to true introspection. In other words, the intra-cranial chatter prevents comprehending the true character of our minds. [Source: “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University ~]

“The first and most important step in meditation, therefore, is stopping the internal conversation. Try doing so for just one minute. To most people, stopping this conversation seems impossible, so accustomed we have grown to it. The ability to stop the internal conversation may take years to acquire, and there are numerous techniques to assist in this task. One of the most basic is focusing all attention on the rhythmic inward and outward flow of the breath. Merging one's full attention into this tide-like movement and becoming one with it is a tried and proven method for suspending the internal conversation. There are other concentration and visualization techniques in meditation, which me may have a chance to examine later. ~

“Upon successful at suspension of the internal conversation, the meditator gains great insight into his or her mental states and feelings owing to an acute awareness of sensory perceptions and sensations as they first begin to form deep within the mind. Like buds on a plant, should any of these perceptions or sensations be improper (a feeling of anger, for example), the meditator can nip it at the bud before it becomes fully manifest. Proper perceptions and sensations, on the other hand (like a feeling of compassion) are allowed to become fully manifest. In this way, a monk can purify his thoughts and feelings, making them wholly good. (The average person, head full of chatter, is unaware of these perceptions and sensations until they have become fully manifest. At that point, it is too late to do anything about them.)” ~

Chants and Mantras

Mahamantra: Hare Krishna chant

Chants and mantras are a fixture of meditation, rituals and other religious activity. Technically they are not prayers but are reminders of the beneficence of The Buddha, Dharma and the monk community. Buddhists appeared to have borrowed the practice from Hindus who used mantras to call their gods before prayers. Repeating chants is said to relax the body and refreshes the mind. Monks often chant in low moaning voices to the rhythm of sticks striking an instrument that looks like a wooden cowbell.

According to the BBC: “A mantra is a word, a syllable, a phrase or a short prayer that is spoken once or repeated over and over again (either aloud or in a person's head) and that is thought to have a profound spiritual effect on the person. A very well known mantra is the mantra of Avalokiteshvara: om mani padme hum. This is sometimes said to mean "Behold! The jewel in the lotus!", but this translation isn't much help - the phrase isn't really translatable because of the richness of meaning and symbolism it contains. [Source: BBC |::|]

“It's common to use prayer beads to mark the number of repetitions of a mantra. Mantras may also be displayed on a prayer wheel and repeated by spinning the wheel, or written on a prayer flag - in which case the prayer is repeated each time the flag moves in the wind. Prayer wheels can be tiny things that a Buddhist carries with them or enormous objects up to nine feet high found in monasteries. These physical prayer devices are very common in Tibetan Buddhist communities.” |::|

See Buddhist Meditation

Absorbed Concentration

As one notes the breathing and the mind begins to gradually develop some tranquillity and concentration, one may perceive bright lights like tiny little stars which are very attractive. This is merely a positive sign of improvement in your practice. However, do not delight in them. If you do so, they will vanish and the level of your concentration also will drop. These stars like lights will come and go. Now, as you proceed to develop serenity and concentration, the five hindrances tranquilise and the mind goes into samadhi. This stage is referred to as "upachara samadhi" (access concentration) in the commentaries. [Source:Virtual Library Sri Lanka ^|^]

Now at this stage one might also experience the "perception of light". This is a very bright and lustrous light. This light may completely encompass you. This perception of light is of significance, because it is the sign that one uses to abide in the jhänas. One must allow the brightness to stabilise. So just keep on watching the breadth until it stabilises well. Once it is established, one can direct one’s mindfulness to the light and will then experience an absorption into that light. It is like putting your head into a bucket of water. That is why it is called absorbed concentration. This is the first jhäna. All this is in the path of serene concentration. Abiding in a jhäna sharpens the minds. Makes it powerful it is like sharpening a knife. It also brings with it great bliss. However, one does not develop insight whilst abiding in a jhäna. The upachära (access) state where the mind is released from the five hindrances in the state in which one practices insight meditation. ^|^

So if one is able to acquire a jhäna, by all means do so. But do not try to spend all your time in that state. Emerge from it and get on to insight meditation. Otherwise, it would be like sharpening a knife all the time and never using it to cut. Whilst samädhi temporarily tranquilises many defilements, it does not cut or destroy them. It is insight, wisdom, that cuts, destroys and uproot the defilements that bring about dukkha. So ideally, insight meditation is carried out in the state of upachära samadhi, i.e. a mind released from the five hindrances. One must prepare and arrange one’s mind in this manner, and get onto developing the four foundations of mindfulness. ^|^

Increasing the Time Span of Meditation

As you go on in this manner, one-pointedness of mind will arise, concentration will begin to arise. One must increase the time span of one’s meditation gradually and steadily. An ideal time span is a period of one and a half hours (90) minutes. However, no novice or beginner can go on for such a period of time straight away. A novice can commence with about 15 to 20 minutes. Always resolve the time duration you intend to meditate when you sit to it. Do not get up until this time period lapses, irrespective of the quality of the practice. Part of the practice is to develop resolve and effort. If you stop before the determined time duration, your resolve and effort will weaken. This must be avoided. Now gradually increase your time duration, say on a weekly basis, about 5 or 10 minutes every week. In this way, go on till you reach the hour. [Source: Virtual Library Sri Lanka ^|^]

Jain pindastha meditation

As you proceed towards the hour, you may experience a tremendous level of agitation and restlessness after about 40 to 45 minutes. At that time you may feel that there is absolutely no purpose in going on any further, because whatever mindfulness, concentration and serenity that had been developed is all gone. The urge to stop the practice is very very strong, and many do so at this point. However, this is a fatal error. This is the test of your resolve, effort, patience and forbearance. Do not get deceived by the setback, because this is very natural. It happens to almost all. Patiently wait until the agitation passes away. If you cannot watch the breath, watch the posture or even the mind. Whatever you watch, do not get up from your seat. This torment will last about 10 minutes only, but it may appear very long to you. Gradually, this massive level of agitation will pass away, as all things are of that nature. Thereafter you can complete the hour. ^|^

Once you reach an hour, consolidate it, by practising and hour every day. It is also preferable to carry out your practice at a set time of day, which can vary with the individual. After consolidating the hours practice, gradually take it up to one and a half hours. Very often, samadhi (serene concentration) arises only when an hours practice is well established. Exceptions to this rule are rare. The arising of samadhi is a vital point and experience to every meditator. To acquire this state of samadhi, one must have a firm resolve, make sacrifices, have an unwavering effort and be prepared to go on and on, until one reaches this state. The tranquillity and happiness that arises with the mind going into samadhi itself is well worth it. Above all, you have prepared and arranged your mind to develop insight, because wisdom dawns only to a mind in samadhi. ^|^

Hinduism, Buddhism and Yoga

Meditation is a central part of Hinduism, Buddhism and yoga. Jayaram V, a leading author of Indian religions, wrote: “Yoga is essentially a Hindu tradition with its roots in the Vedic ritual symbolism and its internalization. Yoga is mentioned and explained in several ancient Upanishads, long before the emergence of Buddhism. Prior to the Buddha, yoga was practiced in many forms by the ascetics and ascetic traditions of ancient India, including Jainism. The rudiments of yoga practice are found in the Katha and Svetasvatara Upanishads, while a more advanced version in the Maitri Upanishad. The epic Mahabharata makes many references to yoga. According to Edwin F. Bryant, the terms yoga and yogi occur about 900 times in the epic. [Source: Jayaram V, |*|]

“By all accounts, Patanjali did not invent the wheel of yoga. He codified it and standardized its teaching. During his wanderings as an ascetic monk, the Buddha practiced various forms of austerities and yoga. His enlightenment was a direct result of dhyana, an ancient form of meditation. The ascetic practices of both Buddhism and Hinduism draw heavily from ancient Yoga traditions in their respective ways to practice self-transformation. Both rely upon Yoga to restrain human nature and overcome desires and attachments. They use many common terms to explain the practices of yoga or stages in self-absorption. However, yoga has a much wider connotation in Hinduism than in Buddhism. |*|

“Hindu yoga aims to achieve liberation through union with the inner Self and in some yogas through union with the Supreme Self, whereas in Buddhism it is meant to suppress the modification and disperse the formation of ego. In Buddhism self-absorption denotes the end of all desires and modifications and an experience with emptiness. In Hinduism also it denotes the end of all desires and modifications but an experience with transcendence or union with the transcendental Self.” |*|

Superhuman Abilities Attributed to Meditation

There are descriptions of monks and holymen in ancient Indian and Chinese texts, who after years of meditation, were able to perform miracles and attaining superhuman powers like flying, astral projection, altering basic body functions and breaking objects by looking at them.

Some Bhutanese monks have reportedly mastered a form of meditation known as "lunggom" — meaning "walking on air" — which allows the monks to project themselves and travel around the countryside without leaving the monastery. One monk told a National Geographic writer who asked him demonstrate, "Unfortunately, it takes much time to learn the theoretical aspects of lunggom before one can put it into practice so I'm afraid that we will just have to walk normally."


On the superhuman abilities ascribed to Buddha, Donald Lopez Jr., a professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies at the University of Michigan, wrote: “ With this enlightenment, he was believed to possess all manner of supernormal powers, including full knowledge of each of his own past lives and those of other beings, the ability to know others’ thoughts, the ability to create doubles of himself, the ability to rise into the air and simultaneously shoot fire and water from his body. . . . Although he passed into nirvana at the age of eighty-one, he could have lived “for an aeon or until the end of the aeon” if only he had been asked to do so.” See Miracles In the Story of Buddha. [Source: “Buddhism and Science: A Guide for the Perplexed” By Donald S. Lopez Jr.]

Swami Rama wrote in “Living with the Himalayan Masters”: “I had never before seen a man who could sit still without blinking his eyelids for eight to ten hours, but this adept was very unusual. He levitated two and a half feet during his meditations. We measured this with a string, which was later measured by a foot rule. I would like to make it clear, though, as I have already told you, that I don’t consider levitation to be a spiritual practice. It is an advanced practice of pranayama with application of bandeaus (locks). One who knows about the relationship between mass and weight understands that it is possible to levitate, but only after long practice.” He had “the power to transform matter into different forms, like changing a rock into a sugar cube. One after another the next morning he did many such things. He told me to touch the sand – and the grains of sand turned into almonds and cashews. I had heard of this science before and knew its basic principles, but I had hardly believed such stories. I did not explore this field, but I am fully acquainted with the governing laws of science. ” [Source: “Supernormal: Science, Yoga, and the Evidence for Extraordinary Psychic Abilities” By Dean Radin PhD]

In the 1980s, a team led by Harvard Professor of Medicine Herbert Benson, visited remote monasteries in the Himalayan and studied monks who used Tum-mo (a yoga technique) to raise the temperatures of their fingers and toes by as much as 17 degrees F. In 1985, the research team made a video of monks drying cold, wet sheets with body heat alone. It is still unknown how the monks are able to generate such heat. The researchers also studied advanced meditators in Sikkim, India, where monks were able to lower their metabolism by an astonishing 64 percent. Monks spending winter nights in meditation caves at 4,800 meters in the Himalayas are still found today. [Source: Arjun Walia,]

Meditation and Health

Monks and yogis have been able to lower their heart beats and body temperatures and stress markers like perspiration through meditation. Abhudharma describes a tradition of Buddhist scholarship in which inquiries of the mind and its connections and relations to the body. Central to this tradition is the belief that the mind and emotions can be changed through meditation.

Studies suggest that stress-related illnesses like cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure can be helped by meditation. Doctors in the United States have used Buddhist-influenced “mindfulness meditation” and “nonjudgmental” awareness to reduce stress. Studies have shown that psoriasis sufferers who meditate heal four times faster than psoriasis sufferers who don’t; cancer patients who meditate have a more positive mental outlook than ones who don’t; and patients with chronic pain who meditated suffered less than with the same afflictions who didn't meditate. Some Buddhist centers are oriented towards helping Type-A personalities find inner calm. At some places like this there are bans on talking so participants won't be distracted.

meditation and conciousness-latering techniquesand blood pressure

Deborah Netburn wrote in Los Angeles Times, “Research has shown that just one month of mindful meditation can have a significant impact on humans both physically and psychologically. It reduces self-reported anxiety and decrease the amount of the stress hormone cortisol in the blood. Imaging studies of meditators’ brains also have detected increased activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, or ACC. This area of the brain is involved in a wide variety of functions, including emotional regulation and cognitive control. Scientists also have seen an increase in white matter around the ACC of meditators. That’s important because white matter serves as a kind of insulator, enabling electrical impulses to move more easily between neurons.” [Source: Deborah Netburn, Los Angeles Times, Feb 20, 2017]

Research on Meditation and Health

Among the scholars who are doing research on the impact of meditation on the long term health of brain and body are Richard Davidson, a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin;Matthieu Ricardo, a French-born monk with a Ph.D. in molecular biology; Dr. Jon abat-Zinn, a professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical school; Paul Ekman of the University of California at San Francisco; and Stephen Kossylyn of Harvard University.

Michael Posner, a psychologist at the University of Oregon, showed meditation could change the rhythms of the brain. Specifically, he found that particular oscillations near the ACC became “louder” after a meditation session. “Everyone has these oscillations in their ACC, but they are stronger and more powerful in people after they do meditation,” said Aldis Weible, a researcher at the University of Oregon’s Institute of Neuroscience. [Source: Deborah Netburn, Los Angeles Times, Feb 20, 2017] Although scientists have observed positive physical effects of meditation on the human brain, they still don’t know what causes them. “We think of meditation as a human thing, a high-level thing, but we want to examine the low level biology of it,” said Cris Niell, a neuroscientist at the University of Oregon, told the Los Angeles Times. [Ibid]

Research on Meditation and Health by Matthieu Ricard

According to the BBC: “Matthieu Ricard is officially the “happiest person in the world”. Neuroscientists in the US have declared Ricard, the French translator of the Dalai Lama, to be the happiest man they have ever tested. As a young man he gave up a privileged life in Paris and the promise of a distinguished career as a genetic scientist to train as a Buddhist Monk in India. He has now brought the scientific rigour of his early life to collaborating in research into how the brain can function better through meditation and happiness. [Source: BBC]

Cortical areas of the brain thicker in people that meditate

Ricardo has wired Buddhist monks to 256-electrode electroencephalograph (EEG) machines to measure brain activity and scanned their hands scanned by magnetic resonance imaging machines while when they were meditating and found that senior monks asked tomeditate on compassion had intense activity in their left prefrontal cortex — an area associated with positive temperaments (the right prefrontal cortex is associated with negative temperaments).

Another study by Ricardo found that mindfulness meditation can increase prefrontal cortex activity and boost the immune system of normal Americans. Non-Buddhist subjects who received eight weeks of meditation training displayed more activity in the “happy” left cortex and showed a healthier immune response to flu shots than subjects who did not receive meditation training.

Meditation, a Powerful Tool Against Pain

Meditation can ave powerful pain-relieving effects to the brain with even just 80 minutes' training for a beginner in an exercise called focused attention, a study released in the Journal of Neuroscience reported. "This is the first study to show that only a little over an hour of meditation training can dramatically reduce both the experience of pain and pain-related brain activation," said Fadel Zeidan, lead author of the study and a post-doctoral research fellow at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina. "We found a big effect — about a 40-percent reduction in pain intensity and a 57-percent reduction in pain unpleasantness. Meditation produced a greater reduction in pain than even morphine or other pain-relieving drugs, which typically reduce pain ratings by about 25 percent," he added. [Source: AFP, April 2011 \=]

AFP reported: “Researchers looked at 15 fit volunteers who had never meditated. The subjects each took four 20-minute sessions to learn how to control their breathing and put aside their emotions and thoughts. Before and after sessions, subjects' brain activity was monitored with a special type of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Called "arterial spin labeling magnetic resonance imaging" (ASL MRI), it is able to give readings on longer duration brain processes, such as meditation, better than a standard MRI scan of brain function. \=\

electroencephalogram (EEG) recording

“When ASL MRIs were being taken, a pain-inducing heat device was put on participants' right legs. It heated a small area of their skin to 120° Fahrenheit, which most people would find painful, for five minutes. Scans taken after meditation training showed that all of the volunteers' pain ratings were reduced, with drops from 11 to 93 percent, Zeidan said.”

“Meanwhile meditation also reduced brain activity in the primary somatosensory cortex, an area that is involved in creating the feeling of where and how intense a painful stimulus is. Scans done before meditation training showed activity in this area was very high; but when participants were meditating during scans, activity in this important pain-processing region could not be detected. "One of the reasons that meditation may have been so effective in blocking pain was that it did not work at just one place in the brain, but instead reduced pain at multiple levels of processing," Zeidan added.”

Can Mice Meditate?

In a study an published in PNAS in February 2017, researchers from the University of Oregon in Eugene reported that mice produced some of the same brain patterns exhibited by human meditators, with experiments showing that the “meditating mice” were more relaxed and less stressed than those with no rodent meditation training. [Source: Deborah Netburn, Los Angeles Times, Feb 20, 2017]

Deborah Netburn wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “The team’s first step in this quest was to create a mouse model that could replicate a human meditator’s brain. They called it, jokingly, the mouse meditation project. Training mice to focus on the breath, or spend 20 minutes on a body scan was obviously not an option, but the scientists had another plan up their sleeves. The authors knew they couldn’t get mice to meditate in a traditional way, but they wondered if they could make the mouse’s ACC oscillate in the same rhythm as human meditators.

a wood mouse

“To do this, they genetically engineered mice that have a special protein in their brains that causes neurons to fire when they are exposed to light. The researchers were able to put the genetic code for these proteins exclusively in the neurons of the ACC. Next they connected a light source to the mice’s brains so they could expose these proteins to different patterns of light. By flashing the light, they were able to make the ACC neurons fire at the same pace that they saw in human meditators. “We are not necessarily making the mice meditate, but we are changing the pattern of activity in the brain region,” Niell said.

“Tests revealed that mice that were exposed to the same patterns exhibited by human meditators were more relaxed than those that did not get the “meditation” treatment. When placed in a box that had a dark side and a light side, the meditating mice were more likely to explore the light side, and to rear up on their little hind legs and look around than other mice. Both these behaviors indicate a de-stressed mouse and suggest that the behavioral effects of meditation in humans can be recreated in mice.

“The authors also experimented with getting the ACC to oscillate at different frequencies, but they saw the most calming effects when the mouse brain was set to oscillate at the same pace as a human meditator’s brain — about eight times per second. Niell said the work is significant because it gives researchers a scientific tool to study how meditation works in the brain, and it suggests that periodic stimulation could be used to affect change in the brains of people who don’t want to meditate.”

Following in Yoga’s Footsteps, Meditation Becomes more Mainstream

Catherine Triomphe of AFP wrote: “Practiced by millions around the world, meditation promotes mental wellbeing through concentration, breathing techniques and self-awareness. For a long time, those singing its praises were intellectuals, celebrities or people dedicated to spirituality. Its popularity in the West is owed in part to the Beatles, who promoted the practice on their return from India in the late 1960s. [Source: Catherine Triomphe, AFP, 15 October 2017 ~]

“But these days, meditation can be found in all areas of life — from hospitals exploring its benefits for patients with serious illnesses, to schools who recommend it for children and television shows. The craze is a result of many factors — waning attendance at places of worship, lives spent submerged in smartphones, not to mention neuroscientists' confirmation of the benefits. As a result, demand is spreading across American cities — perhaps a natural continuation of the yoga craze, which firmly embedded the search for nirvana in the health and wellbeing industry.” ~

Mary MacVean wrote in the Los Angeles Times, Meditation “has moved from its Asian, monastic roots to become a practice requiring no particular dogma on a path not necessarily toward nirvana but toward a more mindful everyday life. Some serious advocates worry it's becoming another feel-good commodity. The practice of mindfulness meditation has become more widespread at a time when the fastest-growing group demographic is made up of people who say they are unaffiliated with a particular denomination, said Varun Soni, the dean of religious life at USC, which has launched a university-wide effort toward mindfulness. "Every religious tradition changes when it moves to a new place," Soni said. [Source: Mary MacVean, Los Angeles Times, February 16, 2015 ]

“In the case of meditation, it's also moved full force into the academic realm. Aside from the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, the UCs in San Diego, Los Angeles and Berkeley are among universities that also have meditation programs. Hundreds of research papers have been published. At Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., students can earn a master's degree in mindfulness studies. "It's mind-blowing," said Sharon Salzberg, co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts and one of the people who brought Buddhist meditation to the United States in the 1970s. "It fits a lot about the American spirit," she said. "You don't have to join anything. It's very private. It's a very direct answer to an awful lot of stress and confusion."”

bunch of Westerners at a Navratri event in Bangalore

Meditation in the Modern High-Stress America

MacVean wrote: Meditation “has gone viral. The unrelenting siege on our attention can take a good share of the credit; stress has bombarded people from executives on 24/7 schedules to kids who feel the pressure to succeed even before puberty. Meditation has been lauded as a way to reduce stress, ease physical ailments like headaches and increase compassion and productivity. [Source: Mary MacVean, Los Angeles Times, February 16, 2015 ]

“Religious practitioners have long claimed that, adopted by enough people, meditation could bring us world peace. Now we hear that from Chade-Meng Tan, a Google executive charged with making the company more mindful. You needn't even put down your phone, with apps like Insight Timer, which has guided meditations and ways to track your stillness.”

Suze Yalof Schwartz, the owner of the Unplug meditation studio in Los Angeles, told the Los Angeles Times: "We're all over-stimulated. It doesn't matter whether you are 3 or 93. People are not going to the bathroom without their iPhones, and if they tell you they are, they're lying. We need a place to take a time out."

“Olivia Rosewood, a teacher at Unplug who said she learned to meditate from former Beatle George Harrison when they happened to meet in Fiji, pointed to other 21st century stresses. "There is an acceleration of a level of suffering and an acceleration of the violence in the world. And I don't think anyone is untouched," she said. "That intensity increases the value of any experience that brings you to your own inner peace."

“A sign outside Unplug calls passersby to find that peace: "Hurry up and slow down." It's advice Jason Garner eventually took. A child of poverty who grew up in the Arizona desert, he rose to become CEO of global music at the concert promoter Live Nation and on Forbes list of Top 40 Earners Under 40. Through all that, he never felt "good enough." He was unhappy, married and divorced twice, more wrapped up in quarterly results than in his true self.

"In the business world, we were just so bombarded with work all the time. The mobile devices - you're expected to be on call at the movie theater, at your children's recital, even in bed. I was just looking for a way to find peace," said Garner, now 42, sitting cross-legged in the cushion-filled meditation room of his Manhattan Beach home one gray afternoon with his wife, Christy, and Salzberg, who has become a friend.

In his book " And I Breathed," he chronicled his journey, including time with monks at the Shaolin Temple in China, to a more mindful life - not a checked-out life. These days, he consults people in the entertainment, sports and business worlds using "the blend of my experiences from the executive desk to the meditation cushion to share with them on their journeys," he said. Garner noted, with a touch of wonder, that the interconnectivity that has made so many people stressed out also can offer them a solution. "The Beatles and Sharon went to India. They took a plane to far-out places," he said. "Now you can just go to YouTube."”

Mahashivatri crowd

Meditation Business

AFP’s Triomphe wrote: Lodro Rinzler, the 34-year-old "chief spiritual officer," of a meditation business called Mndfl “opened his first studio in Greenwich Village at the end of 2015, and now owns two others in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Elsewhere in the US, studios can be found in Los Angeles, Miami, Washington and Boston. Introduced to meditation as a child by his parents, who converted to Buddhism in the 1970s, he says business "is going well." "The people who come here are really a cross section of all New Yorkers," he explains. "If the common denominator is, 'I am really stressed out, I need to know how to deal with my mind' — that's basically everyone." [Source: Catherine Triomphe, AFP, 15 October 2017 ~]

“Rinzler refuses to talk money, revealing only that classes are often full — and the 75 numbered pads in his studios have been reserved online 70,000 times in just 18 months. The reason for success? A model offering a well-rounded introduction to this ancient practice for a reasonable price. For years, Rinzler explains, Buddhist centers only offered long introductions — sessions of several hours, or even seminars lasting a number of days and costing up to several thousand dollars. With classes priced at just $10 for half an hour, and options for unlimited subscriptions, new studios in New York or Los Angeles hope to capture a wider audience. Their model is similar to gyms, but with "zen" in abundance — including dimmed lights, plant walls, and unlimited organic tea. ~

“Companies are also reaping meditation's benefits. More and more organizations in Silicon Valley and other sectors are introducing employees to the practice, convinced of the long-term benefits for the workforce. Emily Fletcher, an ex-actress who has taught meditation since 2012, launched a special program for companies 18 months ago. Starting from 150 students in the first year, she now has over 7,000 — and hopes to reach tens of thousands more with online courses, including in medium-sized cities such as Cleveland, Ohio or Tallahassee, Florida. "The most common way that I find myself teaching at companies is I teach the CEOs to meditate, and they start to benefit and they bring me on to do a talk with the company," Fletcher, CEO of Ziva Meditation, says. ~

“Employees take part on a voluntary basis, mostly "for some selfish reasons," the 38-year-old explains. "Either they want to speak better, please their boss, want to make more money or have better sex..." But Fletcher insists she has no issue with people starting out of self-interest. "If you actually practice you will start enjoying your life more, your brain will function better, your body will feel better, you get sick less often," she says. "Those altruistic things will happen as a result of the practice anyway."” ~

Mobile Meditation

“Another aspect of the industry gaining traction is meditation apps. One of the most popular, Headspace, had already been downloaded more than 11 million times in the spring — and boasts over 400,000 paying users. ~

“But meditation's newfound popularity is of such high intensity, neither Rinzler nor Fletcher is concerned about competing studios popping up over time. "I am sure they are going to be exactly like yoga studios, you are going to find them on every block..." Rinzler predicts. "If you look at it as a business, there is competition," Fletcher reflects, adding, "if you see it as a mission, there are colleagues." "There are not too many teachers when it comes to teaching four billion people in my lifetime!"” ~

Meditation for Executives and Bankers

Reporting from New York, AFP’s Triomphe wrote: “It is 5 pm, otherwise known as rush hour in Manhattan. Julia Lyons, 31, finishes work and heads straight for her daily dose of peace and quiet — half an hour at meditation studio "Mndfl." Since April 2016, when she discovered the then-brand new studio, the investment bank employee has abandoned yoga and embraced meditation. "I have been meditating pretty regularly — probably five times a week, 30-minute sessions," says Lyons, sipping a cup of tea on the studio's sofa. "I just need a moment to chill out. This city — you are always running place to place and there are not a lot of quiet spaces," she explains. "I think it's made me a lot happier and also just helped me make better decisions, more thoughtful decisions." [Source: Catherine Triomphe, AFP, 15 October 2017]

Reporting from Los Angeles, MacVean wrote: “One hundred fifty people sat in the big meeting room, hands on laps, eyes closed, feet flat on the floor. "Bring your attention to this moment," Janice Marturano instructed. "Be open to sensations of warmth or coolness, sensations of fullness from breakfast, or perhaps hunger." Minutes later, the meditation ended with the traditional strikes of little hand cymbals...Buddhists? Old hippies? New Agers?... Nope. The room was full of hospital executives and managers in lab coats and scrubs, jeans and sports coats at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center. And the teacher was Marturano, once a top executive at General Mills. [Source: Mary MacVean, Los Angeles Times, February 16, 2015]

“The founder of the Institute for Mindful Leadership, Marturano is about as far from woo-woo as the spectrum allows - and a sign that meditation has snaked its way into every sector of our lives. The hospital employees were learning a practice shared by millions these days: college students, parents and prisoners; soldiers, the overweight and the lovelorn; the Seattle Seahawks, public school kids and members of Congress; Oprah, Chopra and Arianna.

Marturano was one of those modern jugglers: a spouse, mother to school-age children, daughter to aging parents, president of an arts board in the Twin Cities and a top executive at General Mills. "Every day I juggled faster and faster, and on most days, most of the time, most of the balls stayed in the air," she told the hospital group...She was put in charge of a protracted buyout of Pillsbury by General Mills; failure would have meant 10,000 layoffs (as she put it, 10,000 families losing an income, some of them people she knew). Then, within months, both of her parents died.

“Marturano was depleted; a friend suggested a spa — not really her thing. Her friend insisted, and what finally lured Marturano was that it was an "intensive" retreat to study mindfulness. She figured, if it was intensive, then it might be OK. And so she found herself at a spa in Arizona, studying with Jon Kabat-Zinn, pioneer in bringing meditation to a secular audience. She was hooked. When she returned to General Mills, she was for a time a "closet meditator." Slowly, she shared what she'd learned and her thinking on about using mindfulness as a leader. The company now has dedicated meditation rooms, and Marturano left in 2010 to found her institute. "You do not have to chant, shave your head or wear a robe," she told the Long Beach group. "Being mindful or meditating does not mean that thoughts don't intrude, that the mind doesn't wander. It does," she said. "Mindfulness occurs at the moment you are aware of the distraction. Then, escort the mind back to the breath."

When Suze Yalof Schwartz opened her pristine, white-walled West L.A. meditation studio nearly a year ago, she kept in mind just the sort of people Marturano knows well. Unplug aims to be a place where "my husband, who's a venture capitalist and has zero tolerance for woo-woo things, won't walk out." There are no zafu cushions or incense sticks. Instead, meditators come into the studio and take a sleek black folding floor chair - no sitting cross-legged required. The lighting is a pink-violet, inspired by the artist James Turrell. Unplug appeals to the meditation skeptics, to "the people who don't want to meditate but their shrinks told them they should," said Schwartz, who calls herself a spiritual entrepreneur. The formula for classes is simple, she said: Tell people what the point is, show them how to do it.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: East Asia History Sourcebook , “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University, Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia, Asia Society Museum , “The Essence of Buddhism” Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius, 1922, Project Gutenberg, Virtual Library Sri Lanka “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World's Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures: Volume 5 East and Southeast Asia” edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1993); “ National Geographic, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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