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Benefits of Meditation
Here are just a few of the many benefits you can expect from starting a meditation practice, even if it is only 15 minutes per day:
1. Meditation keeps your brain cells young!
Christine Reed reports in her article “Talking Up Enlightenment: Neuroscientists hear, and applaud, the Dalai Lama” in Scientific American, February, 2006 issue - that Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, has found in her research that meditation may prevent the rate of cortical thinning that occurs with age. Brain scans show that as people get older, the white matter typically degenerates. This material envelops the neurons and helps them work more efficiently. Lazar discovered that older meditators had active cortical regions that were comparable with those of younger non-meditators. Sara Lazar was a delegate at the annual meeting of the Society of Neuroscience on Sunday, November 12, 2005, in Washington, D.C. His Holiness the Dalai Lama presented an inaugural lecture before the 30,000 scientists who attended. This meeting is considered the most important annual forum for the neuroscience research community, offering attendees the opportunity to learn about the latest research in neuroscience. In commemoration of its 35th year, the Society launched several new activities, one of which was a new lecture series, "Dialogues between Neuroscience and Society." This series features leaders from fields outside of neuroscience whose work relates to subjects of interest to neuroscientists. The Society chose His Holiness to be the first lecturer in the series. His talk was titled "The Neuroscience of Meditation."
2. Reduced stress, or more accurately, a change in your perception of the level of stress you experience.
Stress, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder, and a regular meditation practice on specific and beneficial objects will have an effect on the way you view your world and everything that occurs in it, including events that may cause or have caused you stress. Olivia Carter of Harvard University, also present at the proceedings in Washington, DC, found it fascinating to hear about the Dalai Lama's personal interest in neuroscience and the importance he places on the scientific method of inquiry. "It should not matter that the observations associated with meditation arise through introspection or contemplation, as long as the observations can be used to generate objective testable predictions," she says. Carter's own work in the field examines meditation's effect on perception.
3. Improved performance
Bruce F. O'Hara of the University of Kentucky, another participant at the annual meeting of the Society of Neuroscience has found that meditation improves the performance of sleep-deprived individuals about as much as drinking a cup of coffee does.
4. Improved ability to concentrate and focus on an object of your choice.
My main meditation teacher, Geshe Michael Roach (www.world-view.org), often points out that anyone can meditate – just recall the last time you got really annoyed at someone at work, and how focused you were, and how long you were able to maintain that focus! The point, of course, is to be able to direct this focus and concentration onto something of your choosing.
Now, let’s begin. Follow these steps for best results:
1. Prepare a quiet space that is neat and tidy where you will not be interrupted or distracted by voices, telephones, music, cars or other noise.
2. Sit comfortably, either cross-legged and up tall on the floor or upright on a chair, but hold yourself up rather than leaning against the back of the chair. Your ankles, knees and hips should be in line with each other, with your feet resting on the floor.
3. Let your head float back and forth in a gentle wave motion and from side to side until it finds its spot – directly over the shoulder girdle and the pelvic girdle – the bony structures of the shoulders and pelvis. Your cheekbones should end up being in the same plane as your pubic bone.
4. Raise your shoulders up towards your ears, then draw them back and down, so that your shoulder blades drop down along either side of your spine, leaving your shoulders relaxed and level.
5. Allow your jaw to slacken and your lips to be slightly separated, with your tongue resting on the roof of your mouth – where it goes when you swallow.
6. Now soften the area around your eyes, allowing your eyes to sink a little deeper into their sockets, and flutter your eyelids several times to relax your eyes. Close them very softly.
7. Now bring your attention to your breath, and imagine that you are a sentry person posted at the end of your nostrils, whose job is to count ten breaths, starting on an exhalation. Feel for the sensation of the breath as it leaves your nostrils and then comes back in. If you lose count, or lose your sharp focus, start back at one, even though you only end up counting from 1 to 3 three times.
8. Now you are ready to follow the instructions from “Meditation Corner.”
To read Christina Reed’s full article in Scientific American, February, 2006, on the Mind and Life website, go to www.mindlandlife.org
For more information on the Dalai Lama’s involvement in neuroscience, visit Dalai Lama Stanford.
The MeditationsThe Teacher
Place in the air before you a person who for you, embodies wisdom. Perhaps a grade school teacher, a business mentor, your bank manager, your five-year-old daughter, your departed grandfather, Jesus, Gandhi – it doesn’t matter who, but somebody who taught you something priceless, helped you to understand something. (Pause here to meditate on who this person might be for you.)
See them very clearly – their face, their features, the shape and form of their body. They are seated about one body length in front of you, facing you. They gaze at you with clear, warm eyes. Now soften your focus a little bit, and imagine that there is an aura of soft light surrounding them – it seems to pass right through them. (Pause here to meditate on this image for a bit.)
Recall their qualities – what is it about them that evokes in you this sense of deep respect? Is it their patience in explaining an impossibly difficult concept? Is it their thoroughness –stopping at nothing until you understand perfectly? Is it their remarkable ability to transform seemingly impenetrable concepts into simple truths? Their way of putting things into a frame of reference just for you? Maybe it’s their uncanny sense of distilling things into their essence – enabling you to look directly at this essence and hold your focus on it. Concentrate clearly on how you would like to emulate them, absorb their qualities. (Pause here to allow yourself to recall other characteristics of this person that come up for you – just let the thoughts drift in.)
Just thinking of this person relaxes your jaw, softens your mouth into a smile and sends a wave of love up your spine. Now picture clearly this person coming towards you – the thought strikes you that they are a vast ocean of wisdom – they know all there is to know. You bow your head to them in respect, and ask them to share their knowledge with you. Their eyes light up! They want nothing more than to reveal what they know. You get the very distinct feeling that they exist only for you – solely for this moment when you asked them to teach you. And what they teach you is that it was always there within you. You experience an overwhelming sense of gratitude at this realization. (Pause here to meditate.)
Your Teacher starts to slowly shrink down in size until they are only about the size of your thumb and you see now that they are sheer light – they float up into the air in front of you and come to rest on the crown of your head, facing the same way as you. You can distinctly feel their warmth there. Enjoy and savour this warmth for a moment. Now ask your Teacher to stay with you and teach you. At this request, you experience some intensification of the warmth at the crown of your head. Imagine now that they are melting into liquid azure blue coloured light which starts to stream down along the front of your spine and fill your body. You notice that the inside of your body is hollow and that the light is reaching to all your extremities. Now clearly visualize yourself as an outline, filled with blue sky light. Hold this image.
". . . the beauty and the magic . . . is that every single thing around [you] is infinitely changeable just by doing something differently in your own mind..." - Lama Christie McNally, Diamond Mountain University, Bowie, Arizona (www.diamondmtn.org)