the Mind, Heal the Body With Meditation
Hilary E. Macgregor / Los Angeles Times / December 29, 2003
Many people are taking up this practice, which the counterculture
generation embraced in the '60s, for improving their health,
not spiritual enlightenment
ANGELES, California (USA) -- Inside a church community room,
beginning meditators close their eyes, straighten their spines
in their folding metal chairs and try to rein in, for just 10
minutes, the thoughts that race like wild horses through their
minds. A woman in the back row yawns. The woman next to her
fidgets. Another student sneaks a peek.
mind still wanders," Jeremy Morelock, 33, says of the Buddhist
meditation class he has attended for three months in search
of stress relief and spiritual growth. "I have these imaginary
conversations with people, and then I think, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa
meditation practice is supposed to quiet the mind and allow
the body to tap into its own innate healing mechanisms. Yogis
and monks have preached the powers of meditation for thousands
of years, and the counterculture generation of the '60s embraced
transcendental meditation -- a still-thriving form of internal
mantra-chanting -- as a method to alter consciousness.
many people today are taking up meditation for reasons that
have little or nothing to do with spiritual enlightenment and
a lot to do with improving their health.
health benefits Scientists are using MRI and other advanced
technologies to study the physiological changes that occur in
meditating Buddhist monks. These researchers are starting to
demonstrate, with the type of laboratory science that can influence
even skeptical physicians, what those who engage in this ancient
practice have believed for many centuries: Meditation works.
growing body of research has shown that meditation has clear
benefits. Now, doctors and other health-care professionals are
recommending meditation as a way to treat a variety of ills,
from depression to high blood pressure and hyperactivity. In
some cases, meditation -- or as it's sometimes called, "relaxation
techniques" -- is prescribed when other treatments, such
as prescription drugs, haven't worked, or as a complement to
drug therapy. Recent research has shown that meditation can
help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as
reduce pain and enhance the body's immune system.
is free, accessible and portable. It has no negative side effects
-- a fact that makes doctors feel comfortable recommending it.
Meditation requires only that you be able to sit quietly for
10 minutes or more, while focusing on your breath or a word
or phrase. Anyone can do it. And while millions of Americans
already are meditating in some fashion, many more would likely
believe that meditation is the most important thing a person
can do for their health," said Dr. David Simon, medical
director and chief executive of the Chopra Center at La Costa
Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, Calif., the wellness clinic founded
by New Age author and physician, Dr. Deepak Chopra.
for everyone No one knows for sure how many of those who begin
meditating continue the practice. Gen Kelsang Lekma, a Buddhist
nun who has taught meditation for a decade in Los Angeles, said
the dropout rate is fairly high: Only about half the students
who begin a typical 13-class series will complete it, she estimates,
and perhaps two out of 10 students who begin meditating will
still be doing so after a couple of years.
abandon the practice for a variety of reasons, Lekma said. Some
don't like it or can't get the hang of it, and others lack the
discipline to practice it regularly, usually daily. Some students
are attracted to meditation out of a desire to learn something
about Buddhist philosophy, but eventually lose interest.
a person comes to meditation may also have an impact on his
or her willingness to stick with it. For example, an increasing
number of physicians are recommending meditation as a form of
therapy to patients with heart disease, high blood pressure
and even infertility. Dr. Herbert Benson, a Harvard University
professor and president of the Mind/Body Medical Institute in
Chestnut Hill, Mass., said that in his clinical experience,
about 60 percent to 70 percent of those who begin a meditation-type
practice primarily for medical reasons (sometimes at the recommendation
of their doctor) adopt the teachings.
more than 25 years ago, Benson's pioneering book, "The
Relaxation Response," showed how 10 minutes of meditative
technique a day could increase concentration and counteract
the harmful effects of stress, such as high blood pressure and
with it Newcomers need to stick with meditation long enough
to make it a habit. Taking a meditation class or attending a
meditation retreat can be a shortcut to feeling the positive
effects of meditation faster and establishing a routine, experts
people find it very difficult to begin a meditation practice
on their own," said Lekma, 37, resident teacher at Khandakapala
Buddhist Center in Los Angeles. "When you meditate with
others, you get some kind of group dynamic going. When you get
some people who are experienced, you kind of feed off it."
caution, however, that meditation won't produce the immediate
"hit," such as reduced stress or increased energy,
that a workout in the gym or other brisk exercise will do. Meditation
takes time to learn, and even people who have been doing it
for years still have times when their minds wander.
is important to be patient and start slowly. Lekma, the Buddhist
nun, suggests starting with tiny steps, such as a single weekly
session with others, followed by a small personal commitment
that you could stick to -- for example, five to 10 minutes a
come in with a lot of enthusiasm, but have unrealistic expectations,"
Lekma said. "Instead of taking very small steps they say,
'I want to run a marathon.' First you have to run half a block."