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Can 10 Million People Be Wrong About Meditation?

Ed Mcdonough

More than four years ago Time magazine reported over ten million Americans meditate and since then the number has constantly grown. Once thought of as a ritual performed by men who shaved their heads, wore long robes and lived in a mountain cave, this mind quieting, stress relieving natural self-healing practice is becoming so commonplace that corporations such as Deutsche Bank, Google and Hughes Aircraft recognize the intuitive powers of it and offer meditation classes to their employees.

In addition, the scientific community has stepped up to the plate and is offering factual data to support many of the proclaimed benefits of meditation. Studies on the effects meditation has on the brain and body have been going on for quite some time at institutions such as the Brain Imaging Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Yale.

Meditation Gets High Praise

The Meditation practice of Transcendental Stress Management reduces stress, depression and insomnia. A few years ago Time magazine reported in a cover story that over ten million Americans meditate each day.

In Joel Stein's Time magazine feature article entitled 'Just Say Om', he reported that Scientists study it. Doctors recommend it. Millions of Americans--many of whom don't even own crystals--practice it every day. Why? Because meditation works.

From Stein's point of view, meditation is most beneficial as a means to good health physical, emotional and mental, in that order. Apparently, a lot of people agree with him. According to Stein, ten million American adults now say they practice some form of meditation regularly, twice as many as a decade ago, and mainly for health benefits. At least that's what they are telling interviewers.

Meditation classes are now being offered in schools, hospitals, law firms, prisons, governmental and corporate offices even airports. West Point Naval Academy offers a course on meditation.

Stein reported: But the current interest is as much medical as it is cultural. Meditation is being recommended by more and more physicians as a way to prevent, slow or at least control the pain of chronic diseases like heart conditions, AIDS, cancer and infertility. It is also being used to restore balance in the face of such psychiatric disturbances as depression, hyperactivity and ADD.

In a confluence of Eastern mysticism and Western science, doctors are embracing meditation not because they think it's hip or cool but because scientific studies are beginning to show that it works, particularly for stress-related conditions. For 30 years meditation research has told us that it works beautifully as an antidote to stress, says Daniel Goleman, author of Destructive Emotions, a conversation among the Dalai Lama and a group of neuroscientists. But what's exciting about the new research is how meditation can train the mind and reshape the brain. Tests using the most sophisticated imaging techniques suggest that it can actually reset the brain, changing the point at which a traffic jam, for instance, sets the blood boiling. Plus, compared with surgery, sitting on a cushion is really cheap.

….. What scientists are discovering through these studies is that with enough practice, the neurons in the brain will adapt themselves to direct activity in that frontal, concentration-oriented area of the brain. It's what samurais and kamikaze pilots are trained to do and what Phil Jackson preaches: to learn to be totally aware of the moment. Meditation is like gasoline, says Robert Thurman, director of the Tibet House (and father of actress Uma Thurman). In Asia meditation was a sort of a natural tool anyone could use. We should detach it from just being Buddhist.

…… Contentment and inner peace are nice, but think how many Americans would start meditating if you could convince them they would live longer without having to jog or eat broccoli rabe. More than a decade ago, Dr. Dean Ornish argued that meditation, along with yoga and dieting, reversed the buildup of plaque in coronary arteries. Last April, at a meeting of the American Urological Association, he announced his most recent findings that meditation may slow prostate cancer. While his results were interesting, it's important to note that those patients were also dieting and doing yoga.