Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Therapy, aka meditation

"Meditation is gradually becoming a part of normal life."

When I quoted the above from an email by a friend in India on 3 December 2010, it was with admiration (and maybe a bit of envy) that I looked at the fairy-tale life of this friend, which was also marked by yoga activities and trekking in the snow in the Himalayas. I didn't have a clue what meditation really is.

Not that I have learned much more now. But since then, one reading after another, some force has been drawing me towards this time-honored practice and here I am, at the door-step and ready to knock. I am fascinated by the idea of learning mindfulness and awareness by focusing on one's breath, and the very rudimentary practices I have taken have been promising. It is a long, long way away from my being able to claim any progress, but I have developed the resolved to persist.

The book I have been reading, called Mindfulness in Plain English, suggests that one is able to handle distraction, fear, greed, anger and pain better by developing mindfulness and awareness. An online article, called Changing Your Brain by Changing Your Mind, quotes research evidence over the past 10 years or so which shows how meditation may change the brain and improve mental and physical well-being. Research studies showed that meditation practice:

  • changed the pattern of electrical activity in the brain
  • was associated with increased grey matter in the hippocampus, which is responsible for learning and memory, and decreased grey matter in the amygdala, which is the initiator of the brain's pre-cortical alarm system
  • reduced pain sensitivity by reducing unusual activity in areas of the prefrontal cortex
  • prompted a shift away from negative and towards more positive emotional experience through greater activation in the left cortical hemisphere

Such research evidence appears to provide support to what the book says. The benefits of such disciplined practice of mind changing is what prompted some researchers at Harvard Medical School to develop a related program to help people living with chronic pain.

The program is called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Therapy (MBSR). Aka meditation.

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