Herbert Benson

The Big Chill-Out: How Meditation Can Help With Everything | Fast Company | Business + Innovation

Changing the way your genes express themselves, coaxing you to actually understand yourself, and finally letting you really relax: Meditation is well worth getting familiar with.

By: Drake Baer

At the start of the monsoon season two summers ago, I was sitting cross-legged in a humid classroom in in the foothills of the Himalayas. As an aside to her laughing explanations of contemplative life, our teacher was telling us that just as Arctic people have many words for snow, Tibetans have a rich vocabulary for mental actions–and among all those words for ascertaining and understanding, the Tibetan word for meditation is göm.

Göm, she says, translates most directly as familiarization. Not stillness or clarity or insight or any of the other transcendental yearnings that I had heaped upon my meditation practice, but a simple becoming-familiar-with-ness. Just as you come to know neighborhoods by wandering around them, people by talking to them, or darkened guesthouse rooms by stumbling into their furniture, you become familiar with your mind by sitting still with it.

What is it to become familiar? A sort of intimacy, and with that, a sort of vulnerability; The sociologist Brené Brown writes of how people insulate themselves from their experiences for fear of the shame they’d feel for feeling the way they feel. The practice of meditation, then, is a becoming familiar with these layers of feeling the way that you feel in the same way you get to know a friend: like those little Russian matryoshka nesting dolls, you get to know an identity layer by layer.

What meditation does for you

Interestingly, the modern Western tradition of objective research is increasingly corroborating the ancient Eastern tradition of subjective research into meditation–and the results are as intuitive as they are fascinating, as intriguing as they are motivating.

We’re usually not very good at reporting on our experiences: We’re more racist than we care to admit; we’re all sure we’re plenty popular; and if we think we’re good at multitasking, at least we aren’t the worst. But experienced meditators are adept at introspection: As the authors of one study on the topic conclude, “the simplest interpretation … is that subjects with greater meditation experience may provide more accurate reports of mental experience.”

But perhaps even more profound than that, a Massachusetts General Hospital study found meditation changes your gene expression. How? While when we experience stress, we usually have the tense mobilization of fight-or-flight response, people with a little meditation training are able to instead bring to mind what psychologists call the relaxation response to stress, allaying anxiety and hypertension.

Meditation isn’t “just relaxing,” co-author Dr. Herbert Benson told Atlantic writer Lindsay Abrams. Instead, when you begin to mediate, you start to have “a specific genomic response that counteracts the harmful genomic effects of stress.” The genes associated with inflammation turn off; the genes involved in energy metabolism and other functions turn on.

And these microscopic changes have macro effects.

How meditation translates into work

As we’ve discussed, cultivating a meditation practice can help you become a better leader and more creative–it worked for Disney.

So how to begin? Therapist and meditation teacher Ron Alexander once gave us a place to start:

Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position, or in a straight-backed chair with your feet on the floor, or lie down. If seated, close your eyes gently; if you lie down, keep your eyes slightly open.

Set an alarm for between 12 and 20 minutes.

Focus on your breath as it enters and leaves your nostrils or on the rise and fall of your belly.

When thoughts, feelings, or sensations arise, don’t try too hard to push them away. Acknowledge them, but then refocus on your breathing.

And after enough hours of on-the-cushion familiarization, you gain a hard-to-articulate skill.

Study: How Yoga Alters Genes

via The Big Chill-Out: How Meditation Can Help With Everything | Fast Company | Business + Innovation.

 

Meditation: “It’s Not New Age nonsense” | 360 Degrees of Mindful Living

Meditation: “It’s Not New Age nonsense”

By Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.

In meditation research the news keeps getting better and better:

“Previous studies have reported changes to the brain while people practise [meditation, yoga and prayer] activities, but a new study shows for the first time that gene activity changes too. […] “It’s not New Age nonsense,” says Herbert Benson of the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He and his colleagues analysed the gene profiles of 26 volunteers – none of whom regularly meditate – before teaching them a relaxation routine lasting 10 to 20 minutes. It included reciting words, breathing exercises and attempts to exclude everyday thought.”

An 8-week course of meditation of this kind resulted in a change of gene profile:

“The boosted genes had three main beneficial effects: improving the efficiency of mitochondria, the powerhouse of cells; boosting insulin production, which improves control of blood sugar; and preventing the depletion of telomeres, caps on chromosomes that help to keep DNA stable and so prevent cells wearing out and ageing.”

Plus there was a decrease in the activity of “a master gene called NF-kappaB, which triggers chronic inflammation leading to diseases including high blood pressure, heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease and some cancers.”

Furthermore: “by taking blood immediately after before and after performing the technique on a single day, researchers also showed that the gene changes happened within minutes.”

So, I ask you, why not sit down for a few minutes to settle down your mind? The news doesn’t get any better than this! With news like this, this whole business of meditation is now really a matter of mental hygiene. Indeed, what if we – as a culture, as a civilization, – framed the matter of meditation as a matter of hygiene? Chances are you brush your teeth every day. Why not scrub your mind of “everyday thoughts” every day too?!

Ref: Meditation Boosts Genes That Promote Good Health, Andy Coghlan, New Scientist, May 2, 2013

via Meditation: “It’s Not New Age nonsense” | 360 Degrees of Mindful Living.

 

Meditation Produces Opposite Effect of ‘Fight or Flight’ | Psych Central News

By Traci Pedersen Associate News Editor

Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on May 4, 2013

Meditation Produces Opposite Effect of ‘Fight or Flight’ A new study reveals that practitioners of meditation experience changes in gene expression that are the exact opposite of what occurs during the “flight or fight” stress response.

Specifically, genes associated with energy metabolism, mitochondrial function, insulin secretion, and telomere maintenance are turned on, while those involved in inflammation are turned off.

These effects are more significant and consistent for long-term practitioners.

People who practice simple meditation aren’t “just relaxing,” explained the study’s senior author, Dr. Herbert Benson. Instead, they’re experiencing “a specific genomic response that counteracts the harmful genomic effects of stress.”

It’s been shown that repeating a yoga pose, prayer, or mantra while disregarding other thoughts protects against anxiety and depression as well as physical conditions such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and types of cancer that are exacerbated by stress.

For the study, published in the open access journal PLoS One, researchers at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Subjects trained 26 adults with no previous meditation experience for eight weeks.

The participants practiced deep breathing, repeated mantras, and learned to ignore intrusive thoughts.

At first, they were given blood tests immediately before and 15 minutes after listening to a 20-minute health education CD. This was repeated after their training, except this time with a CD that guided them through meditation. Twenty-five other individuals, who had long-term experience in evoking the relaxation response, were tested as well.

All of the subjects’ blood samples revealed changes in gene expression following meditation. The changes were the exact opposite of what occurs during flight or fight. In the long-term practitioners, the effects were more pronounced and consistent.

Although the study only explored one way of reaching a relaxation response, people have been figuring this out for themselves for thousands of years, through yoga, prayer, and other forms of meditation.

This is the first time, however, that researchers have been able to show that these practices actually produce a change in gene expression.

The findings show that the effects of the relaxation response become stronger with practice, typically twice a day for 10 to 20 minutes. “Do it for years,” said Benson, “and then these effects are quite powerful in how they change your gene activity.”

Source: PLoS ONE

via Meditation Produces Opposite Effect of ‘Fight or Flight’ | Psych Central News.