Archive for the 'breathing techniques' Category

Apr 22 2015

Meditation study shows changes associated with awareness, stress

Participating in an eight-week mindfulness meditation program appears to make measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress. In a study that will appear in the Jan. 30 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, a team led by Harvard-affiliated researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) reported the results of their study, the first to document meditation-produced changes over time in the brain’s gray matter.

“Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day,” says study senior author Sara Lazar of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program and a Harvard Medical School instructor in psychology. “This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.”

Previous studies from Lazar’s group and others found structural differences between the brains of experienced meditation practitioners and individuals with no history of meditation, observing thickening of the cerebral cortex in areas associated with attention and emotional integration. But those investigations could not document that those differences were actually produced by meditation.

For the current study, magnetic resonance (MR) images were taken of the brain structure of 16 study participants two weeks before and after they took part in the eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness. In addition to weekly meetings that included practice of mindfulness meditation — which focuses on nonjudgmental awareness of sensations, feelings, and state of mind — participants received audio recordings for guided meditation practice and were asked to keep track of how much time they practiced each day. A set of MR brain images was also taken of a control group of nonmeditators over a similar time interval.

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Meditation group participants reported spending an average of 27 minutes each day practicing mindfulness exercises, and their responses to a mindfulness questionnaire indicated significant improvements compared with pre-participation responses. The analysis of MR images, which focused on areas where meditation-associated differences were seen in earlier studies, found increased gray-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.

Participant-reported reductions in stress also were correlated with decreased gray-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress. Although no change was seen in a self-awareness-associated structure called the insula, which had been identified in earlier studies, the authors suggest that longer-term meditation practice might be needed to produce changes in that area. None of these changes were seen in the control group, indicating that they had not resulted merely from the passage of time.

“It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life,” says Britta Hölzel, first author of the paper and a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany. “Other studies in different patient populations have shown that meditation can make significant improvements in a variety of symptoms, and we are now investigating the underlying mechanisms in the brain that facilitate this change.”

Amishi Jha, a University of Miami neuroscientist who investigates mindfulness-training’s effects on individuals in high-stress situations, says, “These results shed light on the mechanisms of action of mindfulness-based training. They demonstrate that the first-person experience of stress can not only be reduced with an eight-week mindfulness training program but that this experiential change corresponds with structural changes in the amygdala, a finding that opens doors to many possibilities for further research on MBSR’s potential to protect against stress-related disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.” Jha was not one of the study investigators.

James Carmody of the Center for Mindfulness at University of Massachusetts Medical School is one of the co-authors of the study, which was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the British Broadcasting Company, and the Mind and Life Institute. For more information on the work of Lazar’s team.

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Aug 11 2009

Few Different And Important Types Of Yoga And Meditation

Published by under breathing techniques,meditation

Meditation is a universally-accepted process of cleansing, healing and restoring the mind, body and the spirit practiced not just in today’s modern world, but in ancient cultures. Yogis, or people trained with the ancient art of meditating, proclaim meditation as the highest state of mind, where clarity and self-awareness is achieved, producing a kind of mystical peace and tranquility.

Meditation and yoga, which is a highly structured mental and physical meditation, are propagated by many schools of thoughts. As such, there are various meditation and yoga principles from the Eastern to the Western cultures and from spiritually-evolved cultures like Oriental, Indian, Tibetan and Grecian. Though they have different names for the types of meditation and yoga they are propagating, these techniques often possess similar objectives and steps.

Here are a few different and important types of yoga and meditation which was practiced in the ancient world but still survives and given some modern twists today.
Prayer Meditation is considered one of the oldest and most effective types of yoga or meditation, not to mention the most basic process of connecting within one’s inner self as well as the surrounding, and the relationship between the two. This is not surprising since all religions in the world have embraced some form of meditation as a major process in the understanding and attaining of their spiritual goals. Whether it is a simple prayer, a chant or a mantra, prayer is the simplest, easiest and most accessible yoga and meditation one can perform at any time.

One of the most popular types of meditation and yoga is Mindfulness Meditation. It is a meditation technique where one focuses on the field or background and embrace all the perception around that field. In mindfulness meditation, the person is trained to have an open focus of all the inter-related senses coming from the immediate environment while concentrating on a unifying object or a foundation from which to channel all the other senses that is being absorbed or experienced.

In contrast to mindfulness meditation is Concentration Meditation, where one channels all the energy and focus on one specific object or subject, blocking all distractions around. In concentration meditation, the person holds attention on a single specific focus of thought, which could be a prayer bead, or a thought-based anchor for concentration like a mantra or repetitive prayer.

While concentration meditation trains the mind to withdraw all attachment beyond the self to develop full self-awareness, mindfulness meditation encourages the mind to recognize elements beyond the self to be able to know the whole self as a constitution of all the other elements.

By: Arlene Myers

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Mar 28 2009

Strengthen Immunity this Autumn

Preparation for this seasonal change can maintain health and balance during the chilly months that lay ahead. This comprehensive approach to wellness includes six detailed methods (from acupressure to food choices) that will keep us in alignment with the cycle of nature.

The fall equinox, September 22, 2005, announces the first day of autumn, when day and night are of equal length. The cooler temperatures and shortened daylight hours following the fall equinox signal the growing predominance of yin. This time of year, both animals and plants become more yin, turning inward to build up the stores of nutrients they will need to get them through the long winter. Trees store nutrients as sap, which descends down the tree, and animals store nutrients as fat, converting everything they eat into that which will protect them from the cold and be converted into energy when food sources are scarce.

Autumn brings on a time when our vital energy also becomes more yin, moving downward and inward, to be replenished, nourished and refined. As in nature, we also must prepare for the oncoming winter months by strengthening our immune system, the body’s defense against colds and flu, which are often brought on by the change in seasons.

The Metal Element

According to Chinese Five Element theory, each season is represented by an element in nature. The metal element is associated with autumn and represents the mineral ores and salts in the earth. Metal is formed and contained deep inside the earth, where high temperatures and pressures cause molecules in molten magma to separate into homogenous layers. Some layers cool quickly into volcanic basalts, while others condense gradually into minerals and ores. Others stack themselves in precise lattice-like structures to form crystals. This process of separation pushes away impurities and molecules of dissimilar composition, forming metals that are pure and distinct.

In the body, metal manifests as the organs and meridians of the lung (yin) and large intestine (yang). The lungs and large intestine, when healthy and in balance, absorb and transform food and oxygen, utilize the food and oxygen’s essence and release what is not needed. An internal weakness in the metal element can result in problems associated with these organs, such as breathing or elimination difficulties. According to Chinese medical theory, the lung and large intestine perform the following functions:

The Lungs

• The lungs purify the air that we breathe. During inhalation, the lungs extract the purest essences from the air and distribute them throughout the body while eliminating impurities through exhalation. Impaired function of this aspect of the lungs can result in breathing difficulties like asthma and general fatigue.

• The lungs defend the body from pathogenic invasion by distributing protective or defensive energy to the body’s surface. This is primarily accomplished through the opening and closing pores to maintain thermal regulation of the body. Dysfunction of this aspect of the lungs can lower immunity, resulting in colds and flu.

• The lungs keep the body dry by dispersing fluids. Fluids that accumulate in the body are dispersed through the skin’s pores as perspiration and through the bladder as urine. When the lungs fail to disperse excess fluids, dampness can accumulate, causing the mucus and phlegm associated with colds and flu.

• The energy of the lungs can be evaluated in the quality of the skin and body hair, be they moist or dry, elastic or limp, shining or dull, soft or rough.

The Large Intestine

• The large intestine separates solid wastes and impure essences and eliminates them in the form of feces.

• Dysfunctions in the large intestine can result in constipation, diarrhea or an inability to “let go” of situations or attitudes. Poor intestinal elimination may affect the skin, another area of the body governed by the metal element.


Tonify and strengthen the metal element through the lungs and large intestine by performing acupressure on Lung 1 and Large Intestine 4. View the previous article Ten Highly Effective Acupressure Points for application and location information.

Emotions and Autumn

As the energy descends during autumn, the lungs and large intestine can be affected on an emotional level. Grief, sadness and depression are possible manifestations of this energetic shift. Just as high temperatures and pressure within the earth transform molten magma into gold and other minerals, the sadness and grief within our lives must be transformed into learning experiences from which we grow our courage and wisdom.

In the action of letting go we face our grief and mourn our losses. Through our losses and honoring our grief we derive strength and the courage to persevere. Although emotionally painful, this process can bring many gifts, crystallizing the essence of what is most important to us. Grief reminds us of how much love we can feel, and there is no greater strength than this deeply humanizing experience. Transforming grief by releasing it keeps our metal element in a healthy state of balance.

Resolve, the gift that comes after grief, is the recognition of what we still have; it is the pure gold that is transformed from the ashes, the distilled essence of what we have and what we can never lose.

Keeping ourselves emotionally healthy can positively impact our physical health. Understanding the connection between physical and emotional health can help us seek courage, strength and clarity to embrace the natural process contained in the energies of autumn.

Lymphatic Drainage Massage

As the daylight hours decrease and the weather becomes cooler, people generally spend more time indoors and at home, participating in more relaxed leisure activities. The lessening of physical activity has a profound effect on the lymphatic system and our immunity to colds and flu. Through inactivity, the immune system becomes sluggish and fails to adequately move stagnant fluid out of the tissues and into the lymphatic vessels and nodes where it can be purified by lymphocytes.

Lymphatic drainage massage (LDM) is an excellent means of assisting in this process. A massage therapist performing LDM moves his/her client’s skin in different directions: lengthwise, horizontally and diagonally. These movements, which stretch the microfilaments just below the skin that control the openings to the initial lymphatics, allow interstitial fluid to enter the lymphatic system while stimulating the lymph vessels to contract. Fluids are propelled forward through the lymph vessels and away from tissue areas where fluid has pooled from inactivity. LDM stimulates the lymphatic vessels to contract more frequently.

As the lymphatic fluid flow is enhanced, the body is put into a parasympathetic state, which slows the heart rate and breathing, relaxes muscles and allows organs to resume normal functioning. A deeper, more relaxed rhythm of breathing occurs during this massage and the therapist can work simultaneously with the client to perform specific breathing techniques that rejuvenate the lungs and increase the body’s defensive vital energy via the lungs.

Breathing Techniques

Inhalation nourishes every cell in our body, while the exhale eliminates byproducts and waste that no longer serve us. Every breath offers the opportunity to cleanse and purify the body. The two breathing techniques below can be done separately or combined to ensure maximum expansion of the lungs.

• Abdominal Breathing: Massage therapists can assist their clients with this exercise. Begin by breathing normally. Slowly direct the focus of breathing to the abdomen. Place your hand lightly on the client’s abdomen and ask them to inhale and expand the belly to push your hand upward. At this time, the diaphragm sinks downward, allowing the lungs to expand more fully. When exhaling, the shoulders drop, the chest sinks inward, the diaphragm rises and the belly should contract gently and easily. This action pushes the stale air out through the lungs. Do this exercise for at least three minutes.

• Yin/Yang Breathing: Make a loose fist with the index and middle fingers of the right hand, leaving the thumb and last two fingers extended. Using the ring and pinky fingers, gently close off the left nostril and breathe deeply in through the right. At the top of the inhalation, release the left nostril and close off the right one with your thumb. Exhale slowly and smoothly. At the inhalation, breathe in deeply through the uncovered left nostril. When complete, open the right nostril and close the left one again with the last two fingers, exhaling deeply and slowly through the right nostril. Do this exercise for two to four minutes.

Autumn Diet

Autumn offers an array of fruits and vegetables that can support the lungs and large intestine as well as our overall health. A week of juice cleansing in early autumn will provide a boost of energy and may eliminate any potential illnesses by flushing out excess toxins. Fresh fruit juices in the morning and vegetable juices in the afternoon or evening are ideal.

Since it is autumn, grapes are harvested and prove to be a fine cleanser, harmonizer and tonic for both the lungs and large intestine. Juice the dark grapes in a juicer with organic apples and pears or oranges, or eat them as a snack during the day. Balance the sweetness of the grapes by drinking a glass of lemon water.

Pungent foods penetrate the lung and large intestine, where they can be used in combination with other foods to affect various disorders in those organs. Eating warming pungent foods in moderate amounts such as garlic and onions, chili peppers, horseradish, fennel, anise, dill, mustard greens, cinnamon, nutmeg, basil, rosemary, scallions, cloves, ginger, black pepper and cayenne can disperse excess dampness in the lungs and large intestine. Cooling pungent foods like radishes, cabbage, marjoram, white pepper, parsnips and turnip roots can help balance excess heat in the lungs and large intestine.

Eating root vegetables in season can strengthen deficiencies and support the lungs and large intestine. Sweet potatoes, turnips, carrots, radishes, ginger, garlic and onions are plentiful in the autumn and help to consolidate the lower body energy so that it doesn’t become too dispersed. Baking and/or roasting foods like squash, pumpkin and meats help draw heat energy into the foods to keep our bodies warmer in the winter months.

Those foods that congest the large intestine are sweets (cookies, cakes, etc.), cheese, noodles and breads. To keep the large intestine healthy and balanced, eat ample foods that lubricate this organ such as nuts (pecans, brazil, walnuts), seeds (sunflower, pumpkin) and oils made from seeds (sunflower, sesame, olive). To support the large intestine, include soups that are made from the pungent food groups, roots and squash, which are also plentiful in the autumn.

Exercise and Meditation

Because the energies of nature are turning inward and becoming more yin, it is important to concentrate more on staying relaxed and loose. Stretching, calisthenics, yoga, tai chi and qigong all keep the body flexible and the energy moving during this season and can be done indoors during the cold months. Meditation is also valuable during the autumn to quiet the mind and regulate our breathing. Setting aside 15 to 30 minutes each morning to focus on abdominal and yin/yang breathing can contribute to strengthening of the body’s vital energy.

Change is a recurring process in nature and in our lives. Adapt to this change in season by taking advantage of lymphatic massage, acupressure, eating seasonal foods, exercising and meditating. These proactive lifestyle suggestions can support the immune system, the lungs and the large intestine helping to maintain our health and vitality during the autumn months.

Posted by Nicole at 05:48 PM |
© 2009 Institute for Integrative HealthCare Studies. This work is reproduced with the permission of the Institute.

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