Saturday, November 22, 2014

MEDITATION IS TO GO BEYOND THINKING INTO HIGHER CONSCIOUSNESS

Meditation Is To Go Beyond Thinking Into Higher Consciousness
(Compilation for a Discourse by N. R. Srinivasan, Nashville, TN, USA, Nov 2014)
The amount of information available in world literature on meditation is anybody’s guess!  It is voluminous, vivid and varied bound in mystery. The word meditation is of Latin origin with the Latin root mederi meaning to heal.  Therefore Meditation is the Science of Healing from all physical and mental ailments. Hinduism talks about twenty different levels of Consciousness or mental stages. Meditation is therefore the art of making the mind still. In layman’s language meditation is the state of mind where there are no thoughts. Lord Krishna resorted to eighteen chapters and seven hundred verses of advice to Arjuna explaining different methods of meditation and paths of   God-realization in Bhagavadgeetaa.
I recall your attention to an article in Reader’s digest several years back describing human heart as the most perfect pump created by God. A  renowned chemical design engineer was asked to create a perfect  pump describing heart’s routine functions without telling what it  is,  telling  that it should work for at least for hundred and odd years  without any shutdown  or rest or any  major periodic preventive  maintenance. The engineer threw up his hands saying such a pump is not possible to design. Human heart is such an efficient pump created by God he was told. We can use its effective and intelligent functioning in unison with human brain another amazing creation of God in  our favor if we are conscious about it.
If we adopt strategies to calm our hearts, our whole body will calm down as well in a matter of seconds, not only will we reduce stress, we'll enhance healthy body functioning. 
Activities like consciously relaxing, meditating or praying nourish and calm the heart and hence, the rest of us. These activities produce what's called, the relaxation response--a physiological state that is exactly the opposite of stress, a state that reduces blood pressure and increases blood flow to the heart. It is worth recalling here a medical briefing column that appeared in Time magazine quoting several medical journals. Not only does this calming create feelings of peace and serenity in our minds, it creates them in our bodies as well. Meditation helps   for a moment on those kinds of thoughts and feelings that make us  feel calm, peaceful and relaxed or recall an experience in which we feel  those feelings and "go there in our head" while  breathing   relaxed and regular. This little   break for meditation   can actually keep us healthy as well as happy. During meditation we do not allow stress to build; the more we consciously focus positive feelings and relaxation on our heart the more we will strengthen and expand a reservoir of peace and calm within us. Heart and brain function in unison and calmness prevails.
The article in Reader’s digest also suggested that only way we can give rest to our heart is by relaxation or making it function at low speed that  consumes less oxygen (estimated to be 50% approximately) as a daily routine.  The technique of transcendental meditation seems to be during meditation heart consumes less oxygen for normal functioning.  This gives the rest to   the heart to function at low pace than while engaged in activity, increasing its life span or efficiency.
The art of meditation is misunderstood by many. Meditation does not need the help of religious devotion.  But religious devotion can benefit from meditation. Many yoga teachers make the control of mind as a prerequisite for meditation. On the other hand a controlled mind is the result of meditation.  Praanaayaama and Mantra chanting are indirect ways of watching and controlling the mind.  Mind is like a monkey running around the forest. We cannot fight with the mind and win. It is very powerful. We can only tame it down or domesticate it.  Maharshi Mahesh Yogi revolutionized the whole concept of meditation. He made it very simple and lovable by all.  He took meditation out of all religious dogmas and said it is scientific.   Even TM is not the last word in meditation. It suits some and does not suit many too. That is why Geetaa suggests different methods of meditation and paths of God-realization.
Arjuna and Krishna discuss mind in 6-34 and 6-35 of Bhagavadgeetaa.  Arjuna says in 6-34:
Chanchalm hi manah Krishna pramaathi balavad dridham |
Tasmaat aham nigraham  manye vaayooriva sudushkaram ||
Mind is very restless, Oh Krishna!—turbulent, powerful and very stubborn. I believe it is very difficult to control it as the wind. To this Krishna’s reply was:
Asamsayam mahaabaaho manoe durnigraham  chalam
Abhyaasena tu  kaunteya vairaagyena cha grihyate ||
Undoubtedly, Oh mighty armed one (Arjuna)! The mind is restless and hard to control; yet by practice and dispassion it can be controlled.
Swami Chinmayananda says: “Meditation is the silence, energizing and fulfilling. Silence is the eloquent expression of the inexpressible. The key word here is energizing. That quiet place inside us is a source of tremendous strength. There are deeper levels of silence—outer silence, the inner silence and the inmost silence. This silence is not just the absence of sound. It is   not even the absence of thought. It is the blossoming of our indomitable inner will. It is the dynamic quality which characterizes true meditation:
Beyond speech and mind
Into the river of ever-effulgent Light
My heart dives
Today thousands of doors
Closed for Millennia
Are opened wide

Meditation is not an escape exercise…The seeker who meditates is a divine warrior who faces suffering, ignorance and darkness and tries to establish the kingdom of wisdom—light.  And with perseverance, we reach the depths of our being, our true self.

How do we meditate silently? Just by not talking, just by not using words, we are not doing silent meditation. Silent meditation is totally different. When we start meditating in silence, we feel the bottom of the sea within us and without. The life of activity, movement and restlessness is on the surface, but deep below, underneath our human life, there is poise and silence. We imagine this sea of silence within us, or we feel that we are nothing but a sea of poise itself”.

Sri Chinmayananda once described the difference between prayer and meditation as follows: "When I pray, I talk and God listens. When I meditate, God talks and I listen".

“Meditation is that listening, attentively and in silence, to the voice of the Absolute within us. There is a special way to listen to the Voice of God, and that is to meditate in silence. Then there is no tomorrow, there is no such thing even as today. It is all now. The Eternal Now is the only Reality”.
Jagadguru Chandrasekharananda Saraswati says: “When a person does his job earnestly and whole-heartedly, we say that he does it “holding his breath”. Sandhyaavandana is to be performed “holding one’s breath”. If we do these all the evil forces will be destroyed. Nowadays all we do is to hold our nose with our fingers. Scriptures do not say, “naasikaam aayamaya but “praanaan aayamaya”. It means, instead of merely holding the nose, control the vital breaths, the Praanas or the Life’s vital forces—Praana, Apaana, Vyaaana,  Udaana and Samaana. When we control our breath the mind will be still. The mind stops when it is enwrapped or absorbed in something”.

Through reasoning we must understand that we have to go beyond our mind to apprehend the greatest truth and realize that all form and substance is ultimately illusion. We have to perceive the highest truths through meditation. In such a state, the pure self directly realizes its oneness with the total Brahman.”


The Art of Living an organization founded by Ravi Shankar   employs inner peace through meditation as a powerful tool in resolving conflicts, and in spreading the message of peace and non-violence in this troubled and agitated world. They have their branches all over the world including Iraq.

Praanaayaama is the most scientific method of controlling vital currents in the body. It has to be practiced only under the guidance of a capable Guru and is associated with Ashtaanga Yoga of Patanjali for spiritual uplift. It is not a mere physical exercise. Now-a-days it has become to call mere preliminary approach to yogasastra by physical exercise preparation as Yoga, a business or material approach.  Patanjali has spent very little on this modern practice of Yoga, may be 8 or 9 Sutras or aphorisms out of his voluminous contents.

We normally experience four states of being—Wakeful, Dream, Deep Sleep and Tureeya (inexpressible) state.  Tureeya State is the state in which we are momentarily in unison with Self. That is you are in meditation or we reach the depths our being or Self.

The Tantras are a branch of Hinduism whose literature is still kept a secret and its meaning are still a mystery.  Their scholars generally do not discuss the subject but pass on the technique to their devoted disciples.  Tantra generally means “to expand”.   Tantrism believes in the enjoyment of material life though its focus is on spiritualism.  Mystic Mantras are the gifts of the Tantras to 
Hinduism which are effectively used in meditation, the Symbols AUM and Hreem leading the rest.

Tantras mention of three important nerves Susshumna, Ida, and Pingala which start from the base of the Spinal column. Sushumna is the most important of all nerves which is subtle and invisible.  Upanishads talk a lot about these. Sushumna runs through the central channel of the spinal cord and extends   to the topmost point on the head. Ida and Pingala run parallel and meet Sushumna at Ajna chakra the psychic center which is considered to be the focus point for meditation and concentration.
Tantra followers believe Kundalini power, the mighty force in all humans remains dormant throughout in one’s life time lying like a serpent in coiled form or inactive form at the base of the spinal column called Moolaadhaara Chakra. It is believed this power, about which most people are unaware of its existence, slowly rises up through Sushumna nerve while engaged in meditation or Praanaayaama and does not shoot up in a straight line. This journey of the Kundalini power passes through seven psychic centers called Chakras starting from Moolaadhaara chakra at the base of the spine. The next center called Svaadhishthaana is at the base of the   genitals with six petals and controls the faculty of taste. The third center is opposite to the navel and has ten petals and is called Manipura. It controls the   faculty of sight. The fourth center called Anaahuta with twelve petals is at the level of the heart. It controls the faculty of touch. The fifth center called Visuddha is at the medulla oblongata in the throat with sixteen petals. It controls the faculty of hearing. The sixth center with two petals is between the eyebrows called Ajnya Chakra control the faculty of mind.  The seventh and last psychic center called Sahasraara with one thousand petals is located at the topmost point of the Head where the Yogi attains Cosmic Consciousness or Samaadhi.

Ashtanga yoga talks about eight limbs. The fourth to eighth limb culminating in Samaadhi   relate to gradual elevation of soul through meditation. The object of meditation is not to just sit in silence and think but to go beyond all thoughts into Higher consciousness.


Samaadhi in Yoga Saastras is a state where Praanas (life’s vital forces) and consciousness merge into one another where conditioned Self disappears and the mind settles in the pure void or nothingness. The illusion of individual Self disappears and the Yogi enters into the unified field of pure Consciousness. He acquires the special ability to stay in union with the super-consciousness (or what Vedanta says   Brahman) as long as he   likes and then descend to other levels.  Everyone can pass through this exciting   journey to the infinite Bliss through the seven stations in body mentioned above called Chakras or psychic centers along the route of Sushumna naadi in the spinal cord progressively by meditation. We often talk about meditation in our yoga   designed with the goal of physical exercise and so we are familiar with the word meditation. But meditation in Yogasaastra still remains a mystery journey to the Supreme Consciousness which rarely few liberated people realize.
Meditation literally means to attend to thoughts with intention which gradually leads to the silence of the soul. The aspirant moves through several stages of Consciousness till reaching the stage of super consciousness where one is in perpetual communion with the transcendental Self even while engaged in the activities of daily life as we learn from the lives of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Ramana Maharshi, Aurobindo etc. of modern times apart from Sankara, Ramanuja, Madhwa and others of the ancient past. It may not be too wrong to call such men as Stithaprajnyas as described in Bhagavadgeetaa about which I will talk in my next discourse.

The disciplined practice of Yoga and meditation strengthens our immune system, promotes healing ability. Modern medical science agrees to the fact that most of the physical ailments originate primarily from worries and resentments of the past. The cure for these psychosomatic sufferings is within the reach of every individual.  Our sages have recommended meditation not only for spiritual evolution but also as the cure for physical ailments to lead healthy and happy life.  Healing is not in the hands of therapists alone; we often forget our own healing and enduring ability which comes from   the intelligence of our own body.

We all know the brain generates a small amount of measurable electricity.  Modern medical research studies indicate the brain waves of a person when measured by EEG are most commonly in Beta frequency, random and incoherent, all parts of the brain showing different wave lengths.  Beta waves are the fastest with thirteen or more vibrations per second, a wave pattern associated with awakened or active condition.  When a person moves into deeper layers of consciousness in meditation this incoherent pattern changes the brain waves; they become coherent, orderly and normally in the alpha frequency (one to four cycles per second), quite characteristic  of deep relaxation, peace and harmony. The discovery of alpha waves really rocked the scientific community and resulted in the development of biofeedback system. The researchers accidentally discovered that it is possible for people to consciously put themselves into the alpha brain wave state. Yoga meditation experts say that they found this principle in people who regularly practice yoga meditation. Scientists have found that some meditates go from alpha to theta and sometimes even to delta waves during meditation. Biofeedback machine only gives a gross measurement of brain activity. It has no capability to go deeper into the why and how of the brain waves and pinpoint and relate the effects to meditation. Scientists around the world are experimenting on Yoga masters, and we can only hope that we may one day discover very valuable points about Yoga meditation. The problem is finding true Yoga meditates who are willing to undergo research studies.  All Yoga practitioners are not Yoga meditates while the reverse may be true. The philosopher Hippocrates once  said (in 400 B.C.): “People ought to know that from  the  brain and brain only  arise our  pleasures, joys, laughter and jests as well as sorrows, pain,  grief and tears”

The experience of deep rest, relaxation and inner silence perceived during meditation is far deeper than what one receives during sleep.  In general meditators are able to lock the resonant field of the brain with the resonant field of the heart to create total body coherence, total alignment of mind, body and spirit. YMCA philosophy goes in the reverse order spirit, mind and body development.  People who meditate are very relaxed, peaceful, creative and precise, and live a long and healthy life.

It is important to select a quiet and cool place and try to meditate sitting erect at the same spot. It works wonders because the particular spot of meditation become energized with positive vibrations; Vivekananda Rock is an example. It is also important to sit facing East or North while meditating. East is for enlightenment and north for stability. Besides, it brings the special benefit of alignment with the magnetism of the earth. The most beneficial time for meditation is early sunrise and sunset.  This is also the time prescribed for Sandhyaavandana daily rituals as detailed in my discourse “Prologue to Sandhyavandana Rituals of Hindus”. The glories of dawn and dust when the day and night meet have been beautifully described in Vedas. This is the time air is charged with spiritual energy, the mind is refreshed and free from activities of daily routine, ready and receptive to the guidance of the soul. It is important to start with single posture of crossed legs called Sukhaasana, move to Siddhaasana with some more practice and later move to Padmaasana, lotus posture which Yoga teachers will explain by demonstration. We have to take our mind to the   rhythm of the breath   as it moves in and out within the thoughts as they go by. Gradually breathing becomes relaxed, a specific silence is perceived between the thoughts and the meditator enters into unity with breath and later with the Supreme Self.   

In Bhagavadgeetaa Lord Krishna is figured as a Yogi. Bhaagavata mentions that Lord Krishna sat up every morning for meditation merging himself with transcendental Self. We also read in Mahabharata that Krishna was in the habit of meditating on Brahman in the early hours before sunrise. Krishna in all probability was a philosopher who harmonized Sankhya yoga with Brahmavaada of Upanishads. There is a suggestion that the Song of the Celestial was originally a Yoga Upanishad which was later Vaishnavized.  Bhagavadgeetaa has been designated as Yoga Saastra.  Each chapter of it is designated as a specific Yoga: 1) Vishaada Yoga; 2) Sankhya Yoga; 3) Karma Yoga; 4) Jnaanakarma-sannyaasa Yoga; 5) Sannyaasa Yoga; 6) Dhyaana Yoga;  7) Jnyaana-Vijnyaana Yoga; 8) Aksharaprahya Yoga; 9) Raajavidyaa-Raajaguhya Yoga; 10) Vibhooti Yoga; 11) Viswaroopadarsana Yoga; 12) Bhakti Yoga; 13) Kshetra-Kshetragnya Yoga;  14) Gunatraya-vibhaaga Yoga; 15) Purushottama Yoga; 16) Daivaasura-sampad-vibhaaga  Yoga; 17) Sraddhaa traya-Vibhaaga Yoga; and 18) Moksha-Sannyaasa Yoga.

In Bhagavata Purana Brahma tells in round figures that Krishna remained on this earth planet for 125 years: Yaduvamse avateernasya bhavatah purushottama | saracchatam vyteetaaya panchvimsaadhikam prabho || Whether we believe in Puranas or not to call them historic documents, Lord Krishna is portrayed as a regular meditator and perfect Spiritual practitioner in Puranas, who took active part in life as a human being avoiding stress whenever possible while enjoying life. He did not take an active part in the Mahbharata War as he advanced to an adult and married person,   though he was a master mind behind it. He always carried his flute unlike Rama who carried his deadly weapon all the time and ever ready to fight, and often relaxed and enjoyed a romantic life.  He wielded the most powerful Sudarsana Chakra when called for without involving in stressful physical combat though he resorted to it while young when he visited his uncle. He is always shown with his flute and not Sudarsana Chakra in icons.  As age advanced he avoided too much stress.  I always felt Krishna’s life was true portrayal of human life unlike Rama who always had a stressful life ever stressful with his bows and arrows (Kodanda Rama), religiously devoted (Chanting Aadity Hridaya in distress and anxiety) and was exaggerated to have lived for 10000 years which is unthinkable for a human. To me Lord Krishna appeals as a perfect and practical yoga practitioner who upheld Laws of Dharma in totality--Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha.  May be that is why he is called Poorna Avatar as he lived full span of human life designed by the Creator. Even Yoga master BGK Iyengar lived a few years past 90.  Krishna’s life is a lesson to us to involve ourselves in regular meditation and at the same time play our role as normal human beings in day to day life avoiding stress and strain to lead a healthy life enjoying it. I also wonder at Creator’s ingenuity to design human span life almost matching to that of Lord Krishna and not Rama or other avatars which are often made for the occasion. I have not heard of any one lasting for more than 125 years. If there be one it could be the way years are calculated. Vedas speak of four types of years (Samvatsara, Parivatsara, Idivatsara and Idaavastara) as I mentioned some time back in my discourses on MNU. It is our own fault we shorten our lives and die early by leading a stressful life and without practicing regularly meditation and call it a Karmaphala. May be Karmaphala is the force behind such right and wrong motivations influenced by desire and greed.

Meditation is not just a religious practice. It is for sure a necessity of life.  It helps individual to live in perfect harmony with self and with others. In the description of Dhyaanayoga in Geetaa Bhagawan explains step by step the procedure for going into the state of deep meditation. Krishna suggests that the first and foremost duty of every individual is to learn to meditate and to become re-established with the indwelling divinity. The Supreme Self is not just a fantasy or a vague aspiration.  God is indeed a reality that can be experienced from within and enjoyed.


PHILOSOPHY OF MEDITATION


Meditation and Upanishads: 
The Upanishads treat the theme of meditation on two levels. To contemplate on symbols or mantras supplied by the scriptures with concentration is meditation on one level. Chāndogya Upanishad 7.6.1 praises dhyāna in this sense. The second, higher level is when we have done right ‘listening (shravana)’ and ‘reflection (manana)’; we then go for staying firm in the liberating insight (nididhyāsana). Brihadāranyaka Upanishad 2.4.5 advises this. Kaivalya Upanishad 1.2 says we can know the supreme truth through faith (Shraddhā), devotion (bhakti) and meditation (dhyāna).

 Hindu meditation involves the stoppage of all mental activities resulting from the activity of the senses in sensual objects and the bringing forth of the true Self or Atman. Atman is deluded by thousands of thoughts and by meditation one will gradually know the Self within. Jesus also said “the Kingdom is within you” meaning Atman only.  This is a gradual process in which individual ego becomes Universal ego where we realize universal oneness which Vivekananda preached. Instead of caring and loving our own children we will start loving children all over the world. It makes you get rid of possessiveness or Aham. Some Christian schools also preach their parishioners to meditate on Jesus. When the mind picks anything with name and form, it becomes restless instead of becoming calm. That is why Hindu worship on any deity is directed towards formless Brahman. But unfortunately many think that worship itself is enough without meditation.  Unless one transcends name and form, meditation is impossible.  By controlling the motion of the lungs and respiratory organs, one can indirectly control the Life’s Vital Forces called Pancha Praanaas that is vibrating inside all of us. Hindus use Sagarbha Praanaayaama which is the Praanaayaama done along with the Japa of a mantra like AUM. There are several methods of Praanaayaama. Kriyaa Yoga is the best method of Praanaayaama taught by Hindu Gurus.

Deep breathing exercises are not Praanaayaama. These need no Guru to practice. But spiritual 
Praanaayama needs expert guidance of a Guru. The body has to be conditioned to accept the power that is generated within it by the control of Praanas.  This also calls for proper dietary control. Taoism of Chinese religion uses breathing exercise called T-ai-si or embroyanic respiration for long life with no spiritual value.  Christianity in Genesis 2:7 (God breathed the   breath of life into his mouth and the man became a living being) and Sufis (Dhikr) also talk about breathing for spiritual enlightenment.

REFERENCES

1) Ed Viswanathan, Am I a Hindu? Rupa & Co., New Delhi, India
2) Prabha Duneja, Bhagavadgeetaa, Govindaram Harsdhanand, Delhi, India
3) Prabhu Duneja, Hinduism, Geeta Society, Pleasnton, CA, USA
4)  Jagadguru Chandrasekharanada Saraswati, Dharma, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, India
5) Alan Spence, Meaning of Meditation and its Practice, BBC, July 2010 and other Internet Sources
6) Swami Vireswarananda, Srimad Bhagavadgita, Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, India
7) Ramachandra Rao, S.K., Geetaa Kosha, Kalpataru Research Academy, Shankarmutt, Bengaluru


APPENDIX
MINDFULNESS FOR MEN: Yoga has some new fans—and science says that’s a very good thing
(By Mandy Oaklander reproduced from  TIME, November 24, 2014)

If the sound of OM meditating in your Yoga class seems to have dropped an octave, it’s not your imagination. From Hollywood brass and NFL linebackers to regular Joes looking to get fit, men are returning to the ancient practice to build muscle, improve balance and flexibility and get the benefit; yoga is probably best known for stress relief. “We have definitely seen an increase in men in our class over the past year” says, Jen Zweibel, a manager at the Equinox-owned chain Pure Yoga, where a third of the students in some classes are male. A 2012 poll estimates that men make up 18% of the 20 million Americans who practice yoga, and a handful of recent studies on male yogis suggest that all those downward dogs are worth it.

REDUCED STRESS: Yoga’s reputation for being relaxing is well established, and a host of recent research on active-duty soldiers backs it up. Researchers found that regular yoga reduced stress, anxiety and depression while improving memory.

LESS ANXIETY: When Vietnam vets practiced yoga, their symptom of PTSD lessened, according to a study in the Journal of Traumatic Stress Disorders and Treatment. A paper on police cadets found that just six yoga classes reduced tension and anger.

IMPROVED BALANCE: Preventing falls and injury requires good balance. And five months of regular yoga gave men substantially better posture and balance, a 2014 study in the International Journal of Yoga   found.

A HEALTHIER HEART: Daily yoga was linked to lower blood pressure and cholesterol in older men, according to a study in the journal Age. Hypertension and high cholesterol are both major risk factors for heart disease, the U.S.’s No. 1 killer.

INSOMNIA RELIEF: A study in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research found that after eight weeks of yoga, 40 males with insomnia, which can increase stress, were significantly less stressed and more self-control. Other Research suggests that regular yoga might improve sleep quality and duration.

MORE SATISFACTION: Men who practiced yoga had a better body image than those who worked out in a gym, a recent study found. Yoga also improved their sex lives, with men reporting more desire, control and stamina in a Journal of Sexual Medicine study.


 APPENDIX  II
 E-Mail sent by N.R.Srinivasan to HRA participants on November 27, 2015

What made our sages sharp and great thinkers  to the day they gave up their ghost? Probably the secret behind is Meditation. Of course meditation on the Supreme Being calls for self purification by strict discipline and control of habits which help the process. Let us hear what modern scientists have to say in this regard:
Scientists Say Long-term Meditation May Slow Brain Aging

Posted by Author | Nov 26, 2015  | IndiaDiovine.Org
Meditation may slow age-related brain atrophy, new research suggests. An imaging study conducted by investigators at the University of California, Los Angeles, showed that long-term meditators experienced less gray matter loss compared with matched control persons who did not meditate.
Particularly surprising was the magnitude of this effect in nine clusters throughout the brains of meditators, suggesting that the practice affects more areas of the brain than previously thought.
“We expected that there would be small regions in the brain where we would see an effect ― mostly in regions where there was a difference reported before,” lead investigator Florian Kurth, MD, PhD, postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Brain Mapping Center, told Medscape Medical News. “What we found, however, were effects throughout the whole brain, which is something really different; it’s really huge.”
The researchers report that this is the largest related study of the effects of meditation on the brain, and it is also unique because it looked at long-term meditators.
The article was published online January 21 in Frontiers in Psychology.
Widespread Effect
The study included 50 meditators (28 men and 22 women) ranging in age from 24 to 77 years (mean age, early 50s) who had practiced meditation for from 4 to 46 years (mean, almost 20 years). It also included 50 matched control participants (28 men and 22 women) who did not meditate.
All participants underwent MRI of the brain at the same site using the same scanner and following the same scanning protocol.
The investigators examined the association between age and whole-brain gray matter and between age and local gray matter.
For whole-brain gray matter, they found a significant negative correlation in both control persons and meditators (for both, P < .001), suggesting age-related gray matter decline in both groups.

However, on slopes depicting global gray matter volume and age in years, the regression lines were considerably steeper in control persons than in meditators. The group-specific correlation coefficients were higher in control persons, and the group-by-age interaction was highly significant (P = .003).
This suggests less age-related gray matter decline in meditators than in control persons.
When looking at localized sections of the brain, researchers found significant negative correlations in control persons and in meditators, again suggesting age-related gray matter decline in both groups. However, once more, the analysis showed that age-affected brain regions were much more extended in control persons than in meditators.
“In other words, echoing the global gray matter effect, the age-related decline of local gray matter was less prominent in meditators,” the authors note.
The study also revealed nine clusters spread throughout the entire brain where the difference in meditators was particularly significant.
“We were surprised at how widespread the effects were,” said Dr. Kurth.
Potential Mechanisms
There are several mechanisms by which meditation may protect the brain. It may relieve stress, which is “almost toxic” to neurons in some brain areas, said Dr. Kurth. The effects of stress reduction might be particularly strong in regions that are particularly vulnerable to stress ― for example, the hippocampus.
The investigators plan to zero in, using different analytic methods, on these brain regions “to see if we can replicate this effect.”
Another way that meditation may protect the brain is that intense mental activity may stimulate dendritic branching and/or synaptogenesis, which might manifest as increased gray matter.
Over time, such gray matter gain may “mask” the gray matter loss that is normally observed in aging, sort of counteracting the normal age-related decrease. Dr. Kurth likens this to “body building” of the brain similar to physical workouts that increase muscle mass.
It might just be that meditators start off with a healthier lifestyle ― eating healthy foods, avoiding smoking and exercising regularly ― and have the type of personality that helps protect the brain.
“In order to keep meditating for close to twenty years, individuals need to possess a minimum level of discipline and commitment, a well-organized life that allows them the spare time, an awareness of the possibility to control their own life, perhaps even a calm nature to begin with,” the authors note.
Although the current study cannot rule out the possibility that other factors contribute to brain protection in meditators, the new research should prompt more follow-up studies, said Dr. Kurth. Ideally, this would involve two groups ― identical except that one meditates and the other does not ― who are followed during a long period.
It is not clear from this study whether the type of meditation or the frequency of meditation sessions played a role in protecting the brain, said Dr. Kurth.
Note of Caution
Commenting on the findings for Medscape Medical News, David Vago, PhD, associate psychologist, Functional Neuroimaging Laboratory, Department of Psychiatry, ​ Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and instructor, Harvard Medical School, in Boston, Massachusetts, said that because the study was not reviewed by major neuro-imagers, he cannot say at first glance that the methods used were perfect.
“But in  general, I think it’s safe to say that this study has merit indeed.”
Although the results support previous research, Dr. Vago cautioned against “hyping” the findings. “They are remarkable in that they help move the science forward, but interpreting them incorrectly can lead to broad generalizations that are really not true.”
He stressed that there are always issues in interpreting such data. “Anyone who is a non-imager ― and definitely any non-scientist ― should realize that we don’t have a firm understanding of what such gray matter changes really mean. It implies that gray matter loss is correlated with cognitive decline in aging, but this is not certain.”
He added that because the data are cross-sectional in nature and because the meditators in the study varied so widely in terms of type of practice, frequency of practice, and years of experience, “it’s hard to make a definitive statement of anything related to this group or to generalize it to anyone outside this group or any particular style of meditation.”
Dr. Vago agreed that the effects may be due to the meditators’ lifestyle or personality type. “There very well could be differences in gray-matter volume that have nothing to do with the fact that they sit on a cushion.”
​Future studies will have to follow novice practitioners of specific forms of meditation longitudinally to get a more accurate picture how practice time may map onto changes in the brain, he said.
Source: medscape.com


Harvard neuroscientist: Meditation not only reduces stress, here’s how it changes your brain
Posted by Brigid Schulte | Jun 01, 2015  | IndiaDivine.Org
Sara Lazar was one of the first scientists to take the anecdotal claims about the benefits of meditation and mindfulness and test them in brain scans. What she found surprised her — that meditating can literally change your brain.
She explains:
Q: Why did you start looking at meditation and mindfulness and the brain?
Lazar: A friend and I were training for the Boston marathon. I had some running injuries, so I saw a physical therapist who told me to stop running and just stretch. So I started practicing yoga as a form of physical therapy. I started realizing that it was very powerful, that it had some real benefits, so I just got interested in how it worked.
The yoga teacher made all sorts of claims, that yoga would increase your compassion and open your heart. And I’d think, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m here to stretch.’ But I started noticing that I was calmer. I was better able to handle more difficult situations. I was more compassionate and open hearted, and able to see things from others’ points of view.
I thought, maybe it was just the placebo response. But then I did a literature search of the science, and saw evidence that meditation had been associated with decreased stress, decreased depression, anxiety, pain and insomnia, and an increased quality of life.
At that point, I was doing my PhD in molecular biology. So I just switched and started doing this research as a post-doc.
Q: How did you do the research?
Lazar: The first study looked at long term meditators vs a control group. We found long-term meditators have an increased amount of gray matter in the insula and sensory regions, the auditory and sensory cortex. Which makes sense. When you’re mindful, you’re paying attention to your breathing, to sounds, to the present moment experience, and shutting cognition down. It stands to reason your senses would be enhanced.
We also found they had more gray matter in the frontal cortex, which is associated with working memory and executive decision making.
It’s well-documented that our cortex shrinks as we get older – it’s harder to figure things out and remember things. But in this one region of the prefrontal cortex, 50-year-old meditators had the same amount of gray matter as 25-year-olds.
So the first question was, well, maybe the people with more gray matter in the study had more gray matter before they started meditating. So we did asecond study.
We took people who’d never meditated before, and put one group through an eight-week mindfulness- based stress reduction program.
Q: What did you find?
Lazar: We found differences in brain volume after eight weeks in five different regions in the brains of the two groups. In the group that learned meditation, we found thickening in four regions:
1. The primary difference, we found in the posterior cingulate, which is involved in mind wandering, and self-relevance.
2. The left hippocampus, which assists in learning, cognition, memory and emotional regulation.
3.  The temporo parietal junction, or TPJ, which is associated with perspective taking, empathy and compassion.
4. An area of the brain stem called the Pons, where a lot of regulatory neurotransmitters are produced.
The amygdala, the fight or flight part of the brain which is important for anxiety, fear and stress in general. That area got smaller in the group that went through the mindfulness-based stress reduction program.
The change in the amygdala was also correlated to a reduction in stress levels.
Q: So how long does someone have to meditate before they begin to see changes in their brain?
Lazar: Our data shows changes in the brain after just eight weeks.
In a mindfulness-based stress reduction program, our subjects took a weekly class. They were given a recording and told to practice 40 minutes a day at home. And that’s it.
Q: So, 40 minutes a day?
Lazar: Well, it was highly variable in the study. Some people practiced 40 minutes pretty much every day. Some people practiced less. Some only a couple times a week.
In my study, the average was 27 minutes a day. Or about a half hour a day.
There isn’t good data yet about how much someone needs to practice in order to benefit.
Meditation teachers will tell you, though there’s absolutely no scientific basis to this, but anecdotal comments from students suggest that 10 minutes a day could have some subjective benefit. We need to test it out.
We’re just starting a study that will hopefully allow us to assess what the functional significance of these changes are. Studies by other scientists have shown that meditation can help enhance attention and emotion regulation skills. But most were not neuroimaging studies. So now we’re hoping to bring that behavioral and neuroimaging science together.
Q: Given what we know from the science, what would you encourage readers to do?
Lazar: Mindfulness is just like exercise. It’s a form of mental exercise, really. And just as exercise increases health, helps us handle stress better and promotes longevity, meditation purports to confer some of those same benefits.
But, just like exercise, it can’t cure everything. So the idea is, it’s useful as an adjunct therapy. It’s not a standalone. It’s been tried with many, many other disorders, and the results vary tremendously – it impacts some symptoms, but not all. The results are sometimes modest. And it doesn’t work for everybody.
It’s still early days for trying to figure out what it can or can’t do.
Q: So, knowing the limitations, what would you suggest?
Lazar: It does seem to be beneficial for most people. The most important thing, if you’re going to try it, is to find a good teacher. Because it’s simple, but it’s also complex. You have to understand what’s going on in your mind. A good teacher is priceless
Q: Do you meditate? And do you have a teacher?
Lazar: Yes and yes.
Q: What difference has it made in your life?
Lazar: I’ve been doing this for 20 years now, so it’s had a very profound influence on my life. It’s very grounding. It’s reduced stress. It helps me think more clearly. It’s great for interpersonal interactions. I have more empathy and compassion for people.
Q: What’s your own practice?
Lazar: Highly variable. Some days 40 minutes.  Some days five minutes. Some days, not at all. It’s a lot like exercise. Exercising three times a week is great. But if all you can do is just a little bit every day, that’s a good thing, too. I’m sure if I practiced more, I’d benefit more. I have no idea if I’m getting brain changes or not. It’s just that this is what works for me right now.
Comments on "Harvard neuroscientist: Meditation not only reduces stress, here’s how it changes your brain"
A greater version of meditation is chanting, which can also bring change in brain and mind. AUM chanting or any syllabic chanting, which create vibration and bring  therapitical change in neuron position of brain. So meditation combined with chanting is a very good brain exercise.
You can find extensive literature on Vipassana Meditation which is the Buddhist origin of mindfulness meditation. There are many great teachers, but a good place to start would be with the work and foundation of S.N. Goenka. His foundation has centers all over the world. Note that his approach can be difficult and is certainly not for everyone, but it produced great results in my life and the lives of many others I know.
Such scientific works strengthen the ancient, traditional and much professed sacred science of our country. Our saints and Rishis practiced and preached Yoga and meditation and attained high levels of spirituality, control over mind and body. Yoga and meditation helps the students to concentrate on studies and curricular activities. But, the sorry state of affairs is that the politicians paint a communal colour and prevent from introducing this in educational institutions as a curriculum. Irony is, many western and oriental countries (China) have understood the importance of this ancient science and propagating. A time will come when westerners will start teaching this science to Indians.C
Correlating meditation by neuro imaging with behavioral aspects is a great idea….the impact of yogic practices ..then will have a well -tested scientific bearing..calming all these religious fanatics .in fact such studies should have been carried out by India by now..I am happy some part of globe is coming up with this stdudy..n ..I am sure ..the results will be astounding n beneficial to all the humanity in the long run n definitely drive away all ill-conceived notions on yoga  till date 



 Meditation Better Pain Reliever than Morphine: Journal of Neuroscience
Posted by Zee News | Dec 07, 2015 |  IndiaDivine.Org
You may want to get on the “Breathe in, breathe out” bandwagon as a team of boffins has suggested that meditation, a science-backed, no-prescription-needed way to reduce pain, is way better than taking morphine.
The study conducted at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre in North Carolina suggests that just a few minutes of meditation each day could prove better pain relief than powerful drug medication.
The study showed that those individuals who had been taught to use relaxation and breathing techniques to cope with the pain had calmer brain scans. These people reported a 27 per cent reduction in pain intensity and 44 per cent less emotional pain.
Lead researcher Fadel Zeidan believes these findings prove that mindfulness meditation can produce different patterns of brain activity.
He said that based on the findings, they believe that as little as four 20-minute daily sessions of mindfulness meditation could enhance pain treatment in a clinical setting, adding “However, given that the present study examined healthy, pain-free volunteers, we cannot generalise our findings to chronic pain patients at this time.”
The study is reported in the Journal of Neuroscience.




Vipassana: The Golden Silence 

Posted by Hitenvyas | Jan 20, 2016  

Vipassana meditation is an ancient technique, which the Buddha practiced on his journey to enlightenment. The objects of Vipassana meditation are thoughts, emotions and sensations throughout the body. When practiced with persistence, it can impact your life in a number of positive ways.
The key benefits of Vipassana meditation are as follows:
Development of Wisdom
A unique effect of Vipassana is it enables you to understand and experience the Law of Impermanence in action. This law states that everything is changing. Nothing lasts. This is true in our outer world. For instance, you buy a piece of clothing. Your wear it and wash it over again. All the time it is disintegrating.
The Law of Impermanence also applies to our inner world and our thoughts, feelings and sensations, which emerge, stay for a while and then pass away. By meditating on the arising and passing away of mind-body phenomena, one develops true wisdom of what is going on inside them.
Witness How Suffering is Caused
Related to the point above developing wisdom, by practicing Vipassana meditation, you also experience how you are responsible for your own suffering. When you become attached to your thoughts, emotions and feelings, you suffer. For instance if you have an unpleasant thought, you will resist it and become uncomfortable.
On the other hand, if you have a pleasant thought, you will enjoy it. However, it won’t last for long. As soon as it passes, there is potential for you to suffer again as you may become frustrated.
Non-Attachment
Through practice of Vipassana, you learnt to develop non-attachment to your thoughts, emotions and sensations. You know that whatever arises in you will pass away, anyway. By understand and experiencing this, you will become less and less attached to your mind-body phenomena.
You will learn how to stop creating a false Self, which happens through attachment. By meditating on non-attachment, over time you will experience reduced stress and become less agitated.
More Present Moment Living
By observing your thoughts, emotions and sensations objectively, you are living in the present moment, as you are not getting caught up in the contents of your mind-body phenomena. You’re just a detached observer. This is true living in the moment.
How to do Vipassana Meditation
When first starting out with Vipassana, aim to meditate for 20-30 minutes a day in one sitting.  A basic outline for Vipassana meditation in the S.N. Goenka style is as follows.
1. Sit in a quiet place, cross-legged on a meditation cushion or a pillow. If it’s too uncomfortable to sit like this, you can also sit upright on a chair. Close your eyes.
2. Starting at the top of your head in the center of it, observe sensations arising and passing away, objectively, without getting attached to them. These sensations could be prickling, tickling, heat or cold spots. If it’s a pleasant sensation, just observe it without labelling it as being pleasant. If it’s an unpleasant one, do the same.
Don’t react to it. Just observe it. Continue observing such sensations working your way down all over your body, your arms, chest, abdomen and your legs, until you reach the tips of your toes. Once you reach your toes, go back the other way from your toes to your head, observing sensations, arising and passing away.
3. As you’re observing sensations, if a thought or emotion arises in you, just observe it objectively, without becoming attached to it. For instance, if a pleasant emotion arises, don’t become attached it. On the other hand, if it is an unpleasant emotion arises, just observe it objectively. Maintain complete balance of your mind.
Source: hitenvyas.com




Training of Body, mind and Spirit through Yoga, Meditation and Bhakti
(N. R. Srinivasan, Hindu Reflections, E-Mail to SDI Participants, February  15, 2016)
I had an opportunity to attend a seminar on Meditation and Bhakti on Sunday 14, 2016 at Sri Ganesha Temple, Nashville, TN, USA. The topics on which lectures were given by specialists in the field were: Scriptural basis for meditation practices in Hinduism:
Practice of yoga in preparation for meditation; Yoga as a Healing Art; Art of happy living through meditation practice: Bhakti and Surrender in Meditation Practice;  Inner Engineering: Technologies for Wellbeing .  I was quite educated by these lectures and I left the hall   gaining wisdom though    I have spoken on these subjects in detail in the past and as posted on the Blog Hindu Reflections.
Swami Chinmayanada once said when we pray we speak and He (Atman) listens and when we meditate He (Brahman) speaks and we listen. What he conveys by this is Yoga, meditation and contemplation prepares us for Bhakti Vedanta which in turn takes us to direct dialogue with Him and leads us to Liberation. One learned speaker talked about Dhyana. As you all know every deity we worship has a Dhyana sloka and Gayatri Mantra specific to the deity. Dhyana Sloka is meant for Bhajans and Prayers while Mantra are  for Meditation (mananaat traayate iti mantrah), meditating on which one who comes into direct  communion with the Atman contained within.  Every Gayatri Mantra has a Rishi and meter.   Yoga helps in progressive building of Body, Mind and Spirit to elevate one self. A healthy body and mind is part of the game and a pre-requisite on which the expert spoke. As we are born we pass through a short period of care-free life, happiness and no worries and then when we pass on to bachelorhood we go after   desires,   ambitions, ego, anxiety etc. This stage needs yoga and meditation says the speaker from ISHA Foundation. This is the age of eight at   which   Hinduism prescribes Upanayana or Vedic studies.  Here don’t go by what our religious Pundits say that this should be restricted to Brahmin boys only though in the past it was also applicable to Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and girls too. Vedas have no reservation on this except to say seek a good and knowledgeable Guru.
If you seriously go through my discourses on Prologue to Sandhyavandana and the three times Sandhyavandana discourses, they only prescribe guidelines and mantras for Yoga, Meditation and contemplation by turning inwards. These are the simplest rituals and easier to follow by all which the authors above have explained in a complicated way. This also keeps your body, mind and spirit properly directed to the Supreme.  We often think we are doing Pranayaama but what we are doing   is only Nasikayama (breathe control) without spiritual thought in modern Yoga Schools. Another speaker quoted 10 slokas from chapter 6 of Bhagavd Gita, Dhyana Yoga--the  Way of Contemplation. In fact Lord Krishna, to whom Vedavyasa has shifted his authorship out of his modesty, used to spend his early hours in meditation on Brahman as mentioned in Gita Kosha of Sankar Math.  Gita was initially   called Yogopanishad and in fact is a compendium of all Upanishads.  One of the speakers mentioned of 20 Upanishads which can be called Yogopanisahads. Of these five are called Bindu Upanishads—Tejo, Naada, Dhyaana, Brahma and Amrita. Of the twenty such Upanishads  I have talked about Kaivalya Upanishad in the past and will be talking about Amrita Bindu Upanishad next week. Those of you who have missed these lectures will not be lost if you go through my various discourses given at different times. As far as the   healing powers are concerned I have collected lot of information which is contained in my Yoga Digest sent to you.
ISHA Member also talked about the merits of meditation on the river banks in cool and calm atmosphere. Here again please go through my discourse "Why am I called  Hindu and my Religion Hinduism". My conclusion was the word Hindu comes from sindhu in Sanskrit which means river and not modern Indus which is mistakenly ascribed to us while describing  us as Hindus. Our origin goes back to Sarasvati Valley as evinced by Harappa and Mohenjadoro and hence our philosophy is Riverine Philosophy. or  Saras  which again means flow. Our sages were known for flow of thoughts and therefore children of Sarasvati.  My name nadipuram also refers to Kaveri River (river-town) near Mysore. It is no surprise Sadguru who is also from Karnataka suggests river banks for meditation.  He should have known about   Vedic Scholars Settlement (Agrahara) near Mysore  on the river bank as patronized by the  then rulers to which heritage I belong to be called Nadipuram Srinivasan.
I was looking forward to a moderation summary of all the speeches for our education but that did not come due to lack of time.  This was an unique event and first of its kind  probably inspired by the Seminar on Jagannatha of Puri by Jagannatha Society of USA in the same temple and the importance given to Yoga Practice and Research by United Nations last year declaring Dakhinayana Punyakala Day  as The International Day of Yoga(IDY). I am confident wisdom will prevail on Ganesha temple to celebrate IDY as a Special Religious Events Day and Meditation Day every year since this is the day on which all spiritually inclined people begin their study of Vedas
One of the misconceptions one needs to try to prevent from happening when modern meditation movements (Such as Art of Living or ISHA foundation) teach quick fix breathing techniques to an effective meditation. It is a misconception that meditation is easy and results are quick. Practice of Yoga is a lifelong discipline and as one of the speakers spoke    the practice of Yama and Niyama are the prerequisites and so meditation calls for sustained practice.     Lifelong humility and surrender are critical (Saatveeka Bhaava and Saranaagati) - so that your self-improvement efforts don't become an end in itself but a means to and end of self-purification."







    
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[This discourse material is a compilation from the reference above    as well as other sources for a prepared lecture for delivering at Vedanta Class of Sri Ganesha Temple which is gratefully acknowledged. I do not claim anything as original though I have included my explanations and comments elaborately suitably editing. Anybody is free to download partly or fully this discourse, modify and redistribute this as well as other  discourses from the blog Hindu Reflections <nrsrini.blogspot.com> for spreading the wisdom of Vedas and scriptures further.  These  lectures are  posted on the blog for the benefit of those who are not able to attend my lectures personally due to personal reasons or due to not living in Nashville or able to go through the various sources as I have done.]