Buddha did know how to beat stress

Note: Meditation is equivalent to some forms of self-hypnosis. Self-hypnosis tends to provide more rapid results.

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By Stefanie Marsh The Times April 8 2004

IN CASE more than 20 centuries of gruelling,spiritual journeys towards harmony and balance have not persuaded you, scientists have now proved that Buddhist meditation relieves stress. (Meditation is self-hypnosis by another name - in both instances trance states are entered into. CS).

Researchers at Wisconsin University monitored the brain activity of 25 randomly chosen individuals and concluded that Buddhist meditation causes a significant reduction in anxiety and correspondingly increased levels of positive emotions.

Members of the group, who meditated for 14 hours over an eight-week period, exhibited a dramatic increase in levels of activity in the prefrontal cortex, the region of the brain that is most commonly associated with well-being and happiness.

The only problem now is to resolve which form of meditation is the most successful in combating what has been labelled Britain's "stress epidemic". While transcendental meditation has been shown to lower blood pressure, "mindfulness training" is reported to decrease symptoms in those with confirmed psychiatric diagnoses.

According to the Tibetan spiritual teacher, the Venerable Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche, it is specifically Buddhist meditation that yields the most positive results. Other forms of meditation, such as the form practised in yoga where yogis attempt simly to clear their minds, were less effective.

"Buddhist meditation is different from other forms of meditation because it attempts to rid the mind of what we call the five poisons desire, attachment to material things, pride, jealousy and anger," he said.

"Other forms of meditation say that in time you will find inner peace but do not treat the root cause of unhappiness, and the same can be said for various other forms of so-called stress- busting. Even karate or swimming require the mind to be active, so there is no fundamental change occurring."

The Venerable Lama, who has a large following in Britain, including bankers, lawyers and government officials, accused the British of being too negative. "Physically a lot of people have become incapable of enjoying their lives because they do nothing but sit in front of the television," he said.

"They have become so focused on their professions, which often require very boring repetitive skills, that they lose motivation for everything. A lot of people in Britain are very negative and are very happy to judge other people and also themselves. They have become paralysed and don't know how to be positive. In Buddhism you learn to use meditation as a target. You need to find out your poison and transform that into a positive."

The Venerable Lama came to Britain in the 1960s and is now the abbot of Kagyu Samye ling monastery in Scotland; He is a meditation master and specialises in bringing meditation into everyday life.

Buddhist Lamas, or teachers recommend 15 mins of meditiation every day, preferably in the mornings. In the "seven-point posture", for example, which can be held either cross-legged on the floor or sitting in a chair, the focus moves from the seat to the eyes, spine, shoulders, back of the neck, mouth and tongue.

Lama Zangmo (top right), a nun, is the spiritual director of the Tibetan Buddhist Centre in London. She said: "What's special about Buddhism is that it enables you to bring something with you into your everyday life. It's very different from becoming calm through yoga or acupuncture."


Meditation May Produce Lasting Changes in the Brain

Lutz, A. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, online early edition, Nov. 8, 2004.

Meditation may not only produce a calming effect, but new research suggests that the practice of Buddhist meditation may produce lasting changes in the brain.

Researchers found that monks who spent many years in Buddhist meditation training show significantly greater brain activity in areas associated with learning and happiness than those who have never practiced meditation.

The results suggest that long-term mental training, such as Buddhist meditation, may prompt both short and long-term changes in brain activity and function.

Buddhist Meditation May Change the Brain

In the study, which appears in this week's online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, researchers compared the brain activity of eight long-time Buddhist monks and 10 healthy students.

The average age of the monks was 49, and each had undergone mental training in meditation for 10,000 to 50,000 hours over the course of 15 to 40 years.

The students' average age was 21. They had no prior experience in meditation and received one week of meditative training before the start of the study.

Both groups were asked to practice compassionate meditation, which does not require concentration on specific things. Instead, the participants are instructed to generate a feeling of love and compassion without drawing attention to a particular object.

Researchers measured brain activity before, during, and after meditation using electroencephalograms.

They found striking differences between the two groups in a type of brain activity called gamma wave activity, which is involved in mental processes including attention, working memory, learning, and conscious perception.

The Buddhist monks had a higher level of this sort of gamma wave activity before they began meditation, and this difference increased dramatically during meditation. In fact, researchers say the extremely high levels of gamma wave activity are the highest ever reported.

The monks also had more activity in areas associated with positive emotions, such as happiness.

Researchers say the fact that the monks had higher levels of this type of brain activity before meditation began suggests that long-term practice of Buddhist or other forms of meditation may alter the brain.

Although age differences may also account for some of the differences found by this study, researchers say that the hours of meditation practice, rather than age, significantly predicted gamma wave activity.

Researchers say more studies are needed to look at whether differences in brain activity are caused by long-term meditation training itself or by individual differences before training.


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