wellness

Templeton Foundation awards grant for meditation research

Templeton Foundation awards grant for meditation research

 

November 19th, 2012

 

The John Templeton Foundation has awarded a grant of $2.3 million over three years to continue and extend the Shamatha Project, the most comprehensive investigation yet conducted into the effects of intensive meditation training on mind and body.

 

The Shamatha Project is led by Clifford Saron, associate research scientist at the Center for Mind and Brain and MIND Institute at the University of California, Davis.

 

This inaugural Templeton Prize Research Grant, “Quantifiable Constituents of Spiritual Growth,” was announced Nov. 18 during a special session at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Chicago in honor of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, winner of the 2012 Templeton Prize, who gave a videotaped presentation.

 

“This project represents a true long-term perspective on the developmental consequences of intensive meditation training. Nothing quite like this has been done before,” Saron said.

 

At several meetings sponsored by the Massachusetts-based Mind and Life Institute, Saron has presented results from the Shamatha Project to the Dalai Lama, who has endorsed the project. Saron and his colleagues have also shared results from this research with scientific and lay audiences around the world.

 

“The Shamatha project is a remarkable scientific odyssey that is changing our understanding not only of how contemplative practices may affect human cognition, emotion and brain function, but also how we view the relationship between mental function and health. This major award from the Templeton Foundation will help Dr. Saron and our team expand the boundaries of this innovative research,” said Ron Mangun, dean of the Division of Social Sciences at UC Davis and a co-investigator on the grant.

 

With the new funding, Saron, project co-director Bajinder Sahdra, a former postdoctoral researcher at UC Davis and now a lecturer at the University of Western Sydney in Australia, Mangun and their colleagues will continue and expand the analysis of data from the Shamatha Project. The latest phase of the project will address two big questions: After going through intensive meditation training, what differentiates people who develop their lives in ways that relieve suffering for themselves and others close to them from those who do not; and how are measured changes in cognitive, psychological and physiological processes related to peoples’ life experience years later?

 

Michael Murray, executive vice president of programs at the John Templeton Foundation, said that the foundation was impressed with the size and scope of the project.

 

“There are more data points per subject in this study than I have ever encountered in a meditation research project,” Murray said. “The dataset is unique and unusually multidimensional in the sense of taking multiple measurements of cognition, behavior, emotion, experience, biomarkers, neural indicators, self-report and other-person judgment, and then repeating many of these at multiple time-points.”

 

The project is investigating the effects of two three-month retreats held in 2007. A total of 60 volunteers received intensive daily instruction from Buddhist scholar Alan Wallace in developing calm, focused attention and cultivating compassionate concern. Throughout the retreats, they were tested for a variety of psychological, physiological and cognitive measures. Participants in the second retreat were also interviewed about their experiences during training, and all participants provided spoken accounts of their experiences five and 15 months later.

 

In a series of papers and conference presentations, the team has described how retreat participants reported improved psychological functioning, were better able to sustain visual attention and inhibit habitual responses, and were more engaged with and sympathetic to suffering. Participants also showed greater activation of attention-related brain regions during meditation after training and had improved measures of cellular health that have been linked to aging. In addition, those participants who reported greater mindfulness had diminished stress hormone levels.

 

The new funds will aid completion of analysis of the original data set as well as support follow-up data collection. In new work, the researchers will carry out structured telephone interviews with the participants, assessing their experiences of the retreat six years later and investigating what changes it made in their lives and how those changes continue to affect them.

 

Saron, Sahdra and colleagues will use a sophisticated network analysis to see which physiological and psychological measures made during the retreats are associated with long-term personal growth years later—and which are not.

 

Additionally, they will interview other people, including family members, colleagues and friends of the retreat participants, to garner their observations about the long-term changes in the participants.

 

“We’re relating how things that we can measure in the laboratory reflect meaningful changes in peoples’ lives,” Saron said.

 

“A common way people think about meditation is as though it is a formulaic process. Take a person, follow the instructions, obtain a result—but meditation is not so mechanical,” Saron said. “We view it as a commitment to investigate the nature of one’s mind in a developmental process of becoming familiar with ‘the world within.’ This promotes a more knowing and friendly attitude towards oneself. We think this greater comfort ‘within our own skin’ will be reflected in mental and physical health, our actions in the world, and felt by those with whom we interact.”

 

“We fundamentally care about individual differences,” Saron said. “Why do people change? How can we develop a sense of purpose?”

 

A sense of “purpose in life” is gaining increased recognition within the field of psychology as a key to sustained health, Saron explained, whether or it not involves meditation as such.

 

Saron sees a wide potential impact for the project to health and medicine, law, business and society at large. He has spoken about the Shamatha Project to audiences as diverse as former California state prison administrators, agricultural leaders, and major corporations such as Google. Saron is currently working with researchers at UC San Francisco and other colleagues to develop a short intervention to help reduce stress for parents of children with autism.

Provided by UC Davis

Templeton Foundation awards grant for meditation research.

Hard evidence grows for including meditation in government-sponsored health programs | Science Codex

More people still die from cardiovascular disease than any other illness. Dubbed the number one killer and the silent killer, modern medicine has been researching and incorporating complementary and alternative approaches to help treat and in some cases reverse and hopefully prevent this health problem at an earlier stage of the disease. One of those modalities is meditation.

A new research review paper on the effects of the stress-reducing Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique on the prevention and treatment of heart disease among youth and adults provides the hard evidence needed to include such evidence-based alternative approaches into private- and government-sponsored wellness programs aimed at preventing and treating cardiovascular disease.

The paper, “Prevention and Treatment of Cardiovascular Disease in Adolescents and Adults through the Transcendental Meditation® Program: A Research Review Update” is published in Current Hypertension Reviews, 2012, Vol. 8, No. 3.

In teens, the TM technique has been found to reduce blood pressure, improve heart structure and improve school behavior. According to the paper, the technique has been shown to be a safe alternative. The NIH-sponsored clinical trials conducted with TM mentioned in this review did not observe any adverse effects from TM practice.

In adults the technique reduced stress hormones and other physiological measures of stress and produced more rapid recovery from stress, decreased blood pressure and use of blood pressure medication, decreased heart pain in angina patients, cleared the arteries, reducing the risk of stroke, improved distance walked in patients with congestive heart failure, and decreased alcohol and tobacco use, anxiety, depression, and medical care usage and expenditures. The technique also decreased risk of death from heart disease, cancer, and all causes.

“These findings have important implications for inclusion of the Transcendental Meditation program in medical efforts to prevent and treat cardiovascular disease,” says Dr. Vernon Barnes, lead author and research scientist at Georgia Health Sciences University, in Augusta, Georgia.

“This review is potentially more important than individual research papers because it shows that TM has an integrated, holistic effect on all levels of cardiovascular disease,” says co-author, Dr. David Orme-Johnson.

Orme-Johnson says that no other meditation technique has been shown to produce this constellation of changes, especially when it comes to hard measures of cardiovascular disease.

This model shows how regular practice of the Transcendental Meditation Program may reduce chronic stress, which in turn reduces CVD risk factors and improves stress reactivity, thereby decreasing cardiovascular disease, and consequential morbidity and mortality.

(Photo Credit: Vernon A. Barnes)

Dr. Barnes said it was important to start preventing heart disease with adolescents before the disease sets. “Adding Transcendental Meditation at a young age could prevent future cardiovascular disease and save many lives, not to mention reduce the national medical bill by billions of dollars.”

Uniqueness of the Transcendental Meditation technique

The uniqueness of the outcomes of the TM technique may have something to do with the mechanics of the practice of the technique itself says Dr. Barnes. “Meditation practices are different from each other and therefore produce different results. And this is a very important consideration when evaluating the application of meditation as an alternative and complementary medical approach.”

A paper in Consciousness and Cognition discusses three categories to organize and better understand meditation. See Are all meditation techniques the same?

The two common categories are focused attention, concentrating on an object or an emotion, like compassion; and open monitoring, being mindful of one’s breath or thoughts, either contemplating the meaning of them, or just observing them.

Transcendental Meditation uses a different approach and comes under the third category of automatic self-transcending, meditations that transcend their own activity.

The TM technique does not employ any active form of concentration or contemplation, but allows the mind to effortlessly experience the thought process at more refined levels until thinking comes to a quiet settled state without any mental activity. The mind is awake inside and the body is resting deeply, a level of rest much deeper than deep sleep. It is this state of restful alertness that allows the body to make the necessary repairs to rebalance its normal functioning. This cumulative process resets the physiology and shows up as reduced symptoms of cardiovascular disease and improved health.

Source: Maharishi University of Management

via Hard evidence grows for including meditation in government-sponsored health programs | Science Codex.