Editor’s Advice: Cultivating a Clean Mind With Meditation

One of the biggest excuses most people use for skipping meditation is they can’t seem to find the time – especially in the morning when the race is on to get out the door.

I recently had an “aha moment” when listening to Marianne Williamson speak at an event on love relationships, and wanted to share it with our readers. She spoke about using the tools of prayer and meditation to help us build the spiritual muscles we need to tackle our days, including the intimate relationships we have in our life.

“The first thing you do when you wake up in the morning is meditate because that is when the mind is most open to new impressions,” she said. “Just like you wash your body because you don’t want to carry yesterdays dirt with you into today, you meditate because you don’t want to carry yesterdays stress with you into today.”

And the light bulb went off! Wow, that just makes so much sense! We all find the time to shower each day because who wants to walk around dirty, but what about cleaning our minds? Why is O.K. to walk around with yesterday’s stress and dirt in our heads when we don’t do that to our body?

Whether it’s a matter of waking up 10 minutes earlier, or skipping that stop for a latte in the morning, if we can change our perception about morning meditation, and make it as big of a priority as cleaning our body (and getting that coffee!), we will be much more likely to sit and be still before starting our day.

It’s time to start giving the same time and attention to our mind as we do our body. It’s the only way to center and balance our spirit.

Blessings and love to you all!

Tammy Mastroberte
Founder, Publisher & Editorial Director
Elevated Existence Magazine


UCLA Researchers Find Evidence Meditation Strengthens the Brain

Evidence out of UCLA suggested in the past that meditating for years thickens the brain and strengthens the connections between brain cells. Now a further report by UCLA researchers suggests yet another benefit.

Eileen Luders, an assistant professor at the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, and colleagues, have found that long-term meditators have larger amounts of gyrification (“folding” of the cortex, which may allow the brain to process information faster) than people who do not meditate. Also, a direct correlation was found between the amount of gyrification and the number of meditation years, possibly providing further proof of the brain’s neuroplasticity, or ability to adapt to environmental changes.

“Rather than just comparing meditators and non-meditators, we wanted to see if there is a link between the amount of meditation practice and the extent of brain alteration,” said Luders. “That is, correlating the number of years of meditation with the degree of folding.”

Of the 49 recruited subjects, the researchers took MRI scans of 23 meditators and compared them to 16 control subjects matched for age, handedness and sex. The meditators had practiced their craft on average for 20 years using a variety of meditation types — Samatha, Vipassana, Zen and more. The researchers found pronounced group differences (heightened levels of gyrification in active meditation practitioners) and a positive correlation between the number of meditation years and the amount of insular gyrification.

“The insula has been suggested to function as a hub for autonomic, affective and cognitive integration,” said Luders. “Meditators are known to be masters in introspection and awareness as well as emotional control and self-regulation, so the findings make sense that the longer someone has meditated, the higher the degree of folding in the insula. The positive correlation between gyrification and the number of practice years supports the idea that meditation enhances regional gyrification.”

Meditation More Powerful Than Morphine to Relieve Pain

New research published in the Journal of Neuroscience shows meditation produces powerful pain-relieving effects in the brain, according to a report by Sciencedaily.com. In fact, meditation proved to be more helpful in pain reduction than morphine.

“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,” Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., lead author of the study and post-doctoral research fellow at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center said in the report “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.”

For the study, 15 healthy volunteers who had never meditated went to four, 20-minute classes to learn a mindfulness meditation technique called focused attention, where people are taught to pay attention to their breath and let go of distracting thoughts and emotions. And before and after meditating, participants had their brain activity examined using an ASL MRI or arterial spin labeling MRI.

The scans taken after meditation training showed every participant’s pain ratings were reduced, with decreases ranging from 11 to 93 percent, Zeidan said in the report. Also, meditation significantly reduced brain activity in the primary somatosensory cortex, an area involved in creating the feeling of where and how intense a painful stimulus is, ScienceDaily reported.  While the scans taken before meditation training showed activity in this area was very high, when participants were meditating during the scans, activity in this pain-processing region could not be detected.

The research also showed meditation increased brain activity in areas including the anterior cingulate cortex, anterior insula and the orbito-frontal cortex, which shape how the brain builds an experience of pain from nerve signals, Robert C. Coghill, Ph.D., senior author of the study and associate professor of neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist said in the report.

“Consistent with this function, the more that these areas were activated by meditation the more that pain was reduced,” he explained. “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.”

As a result of the study, Zeidan and colleagues believe meditation offers great potential for clinical use since there is not much training required to product dramatic results. “This study shows that meditation produces real effects in the brain and can provide an effective way for people to substantially reduce their pain without medications,” Zeidan said in the report.

Study Shows Meditation Reduces Healthcare Costs

For many, chronic stress is the top factor contributing to high medical expenses. Researchers believed by reducing stress reduction, healthcare costs may also decrease, and according to a recent study published in the September/October 2011 issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion, this may be correct.

The study showed people with consistently high health care costs experienced a 28 percent cumulative decrease in physician fees after an average of five years practicing the stress-reducing Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique, compared with their baseline, reported Psychcentral.com.

This new study, done over five years in Quebec, Canada, compared the changes in physician costs for 284 consistent high-cost participants. A total of 142 practiced Transcendental Meditation and 142 were non-practitioners, Psychcentral.com reported.

The non-TM subjects were randomly selected from Quebec health insurance enrollees with the same age, sex, and region to match the TM participant profiles, and the TM participants had began the technique one year prior to choosing to enter the study, the report stated.

After the first year, the TM group health care costs decreased 11 percent, and after 5 years, their cumulative reduction was 28 percent.

Additionally, in a previous Canadian study, the TM group exhibited reduced medical expenses between 5 percent and 13 percent relative to comparison subjects each year for 6 consecutive years, and in a Canadian study of senior citizens, the TM group’s five-year cumulative reduction for people aged 65 years and older relative to comparison subjects was 70 percent, the report stated.

The same has been found in the United States, with an 11-year, cross-sectional study in Iowa showing that subjects age 45 and over who practiced the TM technique had 88 percent fewer hospital days compared with controls, and their medical expenditures were 60 percent below the norm, according to Psychcentral.com.