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Archive for the ‘Research and Complementary Therapies’ Category

Sloan Kettering in New York, along with the Institute for Meditation Sciences, will be hosting Advances in Meditation Research: Genetics, Neuroscience and Clinical Applications on Thursday, Sept. 24th, 5 PM to 7:30 PM and Friday, Sept. 25th, 8 AM to 6 PM. 

The conference is organized by David Vago, PhD, BWH/Harvard, Psychiatry; Eileen Luders, PhD, UCLA, Neurology; Mahuiddin Ahmed, PhD, MSKCC; Rael Cahn, MD, USC, Psychiatry; Sonia Sequeira, PhD, MSKCC.

The Advances in Meditation Research (AMR) conference series was created to advance the growing interdisciplinary science that explores the neural correlates and associated psychological and clinical applications relevant to the practice of meditation in its many forms. It is the hope that through such investigation, contemplative practices that include meditation can be safely and efficiently translated into healthcare management and education, as supported by rigorous research. AMR is a biennal conference. Proceedings from AMR 2013 are available at: http://www.nyas.org/publications/Annals/Detail.aspx?cid=a1b8f126-1e67-4043-be36-32f4404572cb

This conference is valuable for clinicians, scientists, scholars, meditation practitioners, and all that wish to learn about the science of meditation. The registration is $270. Conference attendees will satisfy the Yoga Alliance requirements for continuing education credits.

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Happiness is a popular topic right now and there is another online Coursera course offered by the Indian School of Business, A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment, by Professor Rajagopal Raghunathan. Here is the description from the online catalog; click on the above link to read more and register.

What are the determinants of a happy and fulfilling life?

This is surely one of life’s biggest questions, and a question that has interested many of our ancestors. Buddha famously gave up his kingdom in search of happiness. Several Greek philosophers (from Aristotle to Epicurus and Plato to Socrates) had their own views on what it takes to be happy. And of course, we all have our own theories about happiness too.

How valid are our theories?

Till recently, if you wished for an answer to this question, you would’ve been forced to base it on discussions with spiritual leaders. Or, if you were lucky, you could’ve based it on late-night (and perhaps intoxicant-fueled) conversations with friends and family. Happily, all that has changed now. Over the past decade-and-a-half, scientists have gotten into the act big time. We now have a pretty good idea of what it takes to lead a happy and fulfilling life.

This course, based on the award-winning class offered both at the Indian School of Business and at the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin, developed by Prof. Raj Raghunathan (aka “Dr. Happy-smarts”) draws content from a variety of fields, including psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral decision theory to offer a tested and practical recipe for leading a life of happiness and fulfillment.

The course will feature guest appearances by several well-known thought leaders, including:
– Dan Ariely (author of Predictably Irrational and, soon to be released, Irrationally Yours),
– Ed Diener (“Dr. Happiness”),
– Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (author of Flow),
– Barbara Fredrickson (author of Positivity and Love 2.0),
– Marshall Goldsmith (author of What Got You Here Won’t Get You There and Triggers),
– Art Markman (author of Smart Thinking and Smart Change), and
– Srikumar Rao (author of Are You Ready to Succeed? and Happiness at Work)

By taking this course, you will discover the answers to questions such as:
– Why aren’t the smart-and-the-successful as happy as they could—or should—be
– What are the “7 Deadly Happiness Sins” that even the smart and the successful commit?, and
– What are the “7 Habits of the Highly Happy” and how can you implement them in your life?

By the end of the course, I expect students who have been diligent with the lectures and exercises to not just gain a deeper understanding of the science of happiness, but to also be significantly happier.

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In preparation for a series of three happiness meditations on June 12, 19, 26, I came across these two video clips from the Mind and Life Institute that are really enjoyable and engaging. Jud Brewer, now at Yale, was part of the Coursera course on Buddhism and modern psychology–so he was a familiar to me. The other is by Dr. Richard Davidson. Enjoy!

I have already reached out to people on my e-mail list about the happiness meditations. Anyone else who is interested can e-mail me or make contact via this blog.

http://www.mindandlife.org/well-skill-perspectives-contemplative-neuroscience/

http://www.mindandlife.org/judson-brewer-lecture-on-loving-kindness/

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Indian men, specifically coronary patients, responded well to Raga Desi Todi (Hindustani classical music), in a study measuring psychophysiological reactions to music at the Banares Hindu University, Varanasi, India. The men listened to the slow-paced, taped raga played on the flute for 30 minutes a day for 20 days. Healthy controls did the same.

Music’s historic role in healing, cultural and religious rituals, spiritual traditions, yoga (kirtan is devotional chanting, often of mantras), nada yoga (includes Indian classical music), has led researchers and neuroscientists to explore ways in which music can improve health and a sense of well-being. The study concluded that

1. music significantly lowered both systolic and diastolic and heart  blood pressure and heart rate in the coronary patients

2. music had no significant effect on these measures in the control group

3. both groups reported reduction in stress, anxiety, and depression; and an enhancement in life satisfaction, hope, optimism, and meaning in life

Source: “Psychophysiological reactions to music in male coronary patients and healthy controls”, Psychology of Music, June 2014  http://pom.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/06/05/0305735614536754.abstract

Several other studies have found that listening to music, playing music, increases positive emotions by stimulating parts of the brain that produce dopamine (makes us feel good). In fact, almost all brain centers light up. Levels of cortisol, associated with anxiety and stress, are lowered.

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Following through on the previous post, music (not just kirtan) can have a profound role in some diseases like Alzheimer’s  with the accompanying memory loss and dementia. Here is the lead to a scientific documentary:

Slowly, inevitably, Alzheimer’s disease robs a person of profound memories, like the names and faces of loved ones. Right now, there’s no cure. But one researcher thinks he may have found a way to help mitigate the effects of the disease—using music. Listen in to learn how.

Check out this moving and inspiring PBS documentary http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/body/alzheimers-music-au.html.

 

 

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This is the first time I have come across the term “medical meditation”. A specific meditation called Kirtan Kriya (KK) looks very promising if the numerous research studies cited in “A White Paper: Yoga and Medical Meditation™ as Alzheimer’s Prevention Medicine” , by The Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation‘s Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D., are well-designed and statistically valid. The foundation offers a structured prevention program, online resources and information, and offers this background:

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) affects 5.4 million Americans and many more millions world-wide. As baby-boomers age, these numbers are predicted to sky-rocket to 16 million in the USA alone by 2050. Women especially bear the brunt of this raging epidemic, both as caregivers and patients. They are twice as likely as men to develop AD in their 60’s. A  woman’s lifetime risk for AD is higher than for breast cancer: 1 in 6 vs. 1 in 11. AD costs society as much as heart disease and cancer. Every 67 seconds someone is diagnosed with AD. It is our 6th leading cause of death. Two-thirds of all AD patients are women.

The paper goes on to make a long series of claims, with brain images or charts, supported by studies cited at the end of each claim.

  • reverses memory loss
  • enhances mood and well-being
  • provides anti-aging effect on the brain, body, and genes
  • leads to less tress, increased telomerase, and reduced depression
  • dramatically increases telomerase activity
  • down regulates inflammatory genes
  • up regulates 19 health-promoting genes
  • replenishes vital neurotransmitter and brain chemicals
  • improves sleep
  • promotes clarity of purpose
  • enhances psychological and spiritual well-being
  • activates the whole brain

Kirtan Kriya uses the four stages of mantra japa (repetition of a mantra) with the Sikh mantra Saa Taa Naa Maa (Sat Naam) coordinated with finger movements and visualization. Readers interested in all the details should go to the paper via the link above. The practice from the paper is reproduced below but we cannot reproduce the figures that illustrate the movements.

How To Do Kirtan Kriya

KK is a 12-minute singing exercise that people have been practicing for thousands of years. It brings together several actions: breath work, singing or chanting, finger movements (mudras), and visualization. Hence, it is a multifaceted, multisensory exercise that engages the whole brain and increases cerebral blood flow.

Posture: Sit comfortably in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Alternatively, you can sit on the floor with your legs crossed, although older adults are not likely to choose this option. The essence of the posture is to be comfortable and sit with the spine straight with only the natural curvature.

Breath: Breathe naturally as the meditation unfolds.

Eyes: The eyes are closed.

The Chant, or Mantra: The chant uses the sounds, Saa, Taa, Naa, Maa. These ancient sounds taken together mean “my true identity” or “my highest self.” The tune to which these sounds are sung is the first four notes of the familiar children’s song, “Mary had a Little Lamb.” That is, the notes are “Mar-y had a.” See Figure 1.

The Mudras, or Finger Movements: The thumb is touched to each of the other four fingers in sequence. Both hands perform the same mudra set simultaneously. 

 On Saa, touch the index fingers of each hand to the thumbs.

On Taa, touch your middle fingers to your thumbs.

On Naa, touch your ring fingers to your thumbs. 

On Maa, touch your little fingers to your thumbs.

Always go forward in sequence: thumb to index finger, middle finger, ring finger, and pinky; never go backwards. 

The Visualization: Visualize energy coming down from above into the middle of the top of the head, proceeding straight down into your brain, and then changing to a lateral direction so that it comes out of your head at a point in the middle of your forehead in the center, lined up with the nose (the spot referred to as “the third eye” in some Eastern traditions). Hence, the energy is visualized as following the path of a capital letter “L.” One may think of this action as sweeping through like a broom. 

The Sequence: Sing the sounds Saa Taa Naa Maa while also performing the mudras with the fingers of both hands. At the same time, visualize the sound flowing in through the top of your head and out the middle of your forehead in an L shape.

1. For two minutes, sing out loud.

2. For the next two minutes, use a stage whisper.

3. For the next four minutes, say the sound silently to yourself.

4. Then whisper the sounds for two minutes and then out loud for two minutes, for a total of twelve minutes.

To come out of the exercise, inhale very deeply, stretch your hands above your head, and then bring them down slowly in a sweeping motion as you exhale.

 

 

 

 

 

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Dietary supplements, yoga, mindfulness, are successfully sold to help weight loss–what are the facts and what is fiction? Read on as many marketing claims are myths with no scientific evidence. Worse, there are some serious safety concerns and potentially negative side effects. This is the topic in the highly regarded National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health’s January 2015 e-newsletter. As a society, our obsession with the body rises along with body weights and circumferences. Are we ready to believe anything for a quick fix?

Acai: No scientific evidence for weight loss or anti-aging properties.

Safety: People allergic to acai or plants in the family should not consume acai.

Bitter orange: Insufficient evidence.

Safety: Avoid taking bitter orange supplements, alone or with caffeine, if there is a heart condition or high blood pressure; or taking medications such MAO inhibitors, often used to treat depression; caffeine, other herbs/supplements used to increase rate. Pregnant women or nursing mothers should avoid products that contain bitter orange. Bitter orange oil used on the skin may increase the risk of sunburn, particularly in light-skinned people.

Ephedra: Little evidence of ephedra’s effectiveness, except for short-term weight loss.

Safety: In 2004, according to the newsletter, “the FDA banned the U.S. sale of dietary supplements containing ephedra after finding that these supplements had an unreasonable risk of injury or illness—particularly cardiovascular complications—and risk of death. Between 1995 and 1997, the FDA received more than 900 reports of possible ephedra toxicity. Serious adverse events such as stroke, heart attack, and sudden death were reported in 37 cases. Using ephedra may worsen many health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, and diabetes. Ephedra may cause seizures in otherwise healthy people as well as in people with seizure disorders.” And there are more negative side effects.

Green tea: Insufficient reliable data.

Safety: Drinking moderate amounts as a beverage is safe.  Some people taking concentrated green tea extracts have reported liver problems. Green tea and green tea extracts, containing caffeine, can cause insomnia, anxiety, irritability, upset stomach, nausea, diarrhea, or frequent urination in some people.

Hoodia: No evidence.

Safety: Profile unknown.

Mindfulness meditation: Only a few studies on the effects of mindfulness as a component of weight-loss programs–the evidence is intriguing and research is ongoing.

Safety: There are few systematic studies, the methodology is weak, the variability across randomized trails is sufficient to limit the strength of the evidence. Meditation is considered safe for healthy people; however, there is “theoretical concern” that meditation could cause or worsen symptoms in people who have certain psychiatric problems. (I think it is a legitimate concern.)

Yoga: Potentially, therapeutic yoga programs can be frequently effective in promoting weight loss and successful intervention for weight maintenance and prevention of obesity.

Safety: There is a low rate of side effects and the risk of serious injury is “quite low”; however “certain types of stroke as well as pain from nerve damage are among the rare possible side effects of practicing yoga”. Many styles of yoga are low-impact and therefore safe for people when practiced under the guidance of a well-trained instructor.

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