A Look at Some of the Benefits of Meditation Through the Lens of Science

By James McVeigh, clinic assistant

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“Meditation brings wisdom; lack of meditation leaves ignorance. Know well what leads you forward and what holds you back”

-Buddha

For Buddhists, meditation is a practice key to obtaining enlightenment and nirvana. However some of the wisdom that the Buddha refers to is in the form of qualities such as increased awareness, tranquility and concentration; qualities that appeal to a wide range of people, regardless of any belief in karma or rebirth. Given how these benefits seem separate from any religious side of the practice, it is perhaps interesting to consider what meditation might induce biologically. Have any of these mental changes been measured or objectively displayed through scientific analysis?

Unfortunately, understanding how meditation might affect the brain in terms of science is a considerable challenge. The brain and how it functions even on a fundamental basis remains mostly a mystery. Rather than trying to comprehend how and why the practice might change the brain for the better, observing its effects on structure and activity using scanners could offer clues. Even then, only recently have researchers looked at what meditations impact on the brain might actually be.

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A 2004 study by researchers at the University of Wisconcin used brain imaging both during and after meditation and compared the results with a control group. They found that changes in mental state and ‘resting electroencephalogram patterns’ occur and persist beyond the time-period of active meditation. What this means is that long-term meditation practice causes a permanent change in the activity of the brain – perhaps this is the biological representation of mindfulness.

Another study published in 2006 by researchers from Harvard and Yale went further and examined the actual physical structure of the brain before, during and after meditation. They used the process of Magnetic resonance imaging which involves aligning ions throughout the brain with a magnetic field, followed by using a radio field to change the alignment to one which reflects the consistency of the material.

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The researchers found that ‘Brain regions associated with attention, interoception and sensory processing were thicker in meditation participants than matched controls, including the prefrontal cortex and right anterior insula.’ In other words, the regions of the brain which would be involved in mindfulness are observed to increase in size. These parts of the brain are known to diminish with age, and the study also found that there was a larger size increase in older participants; showing that meditation can be an effective tool to regenerate lost brainpower.

Whilst the processes of the brain and how it might be affected by meditation remain clouded in mystery, these studies have shown that the practice has real and long-lasting biological effects on the mind, lending strong weight to claims of mindfulness and other mental state benefits. These studies are particularly important as they measure actual physical changes; laying the foundations of why and how the process works rather than merely stating that it does work by displaying a correlation.

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May 28, 2012 at 12:13 pm Leave a comment

Herbal Medicine Introduction

Herbal Medicine

An introduction

 By Ruth Baker, BSc (Hons), MNIMH

 

Historical background

Plants have been used as medicine for thousands of years, and until recently were the only form of medicine available to the majority of people. In Europe, early texts illustrating the use of medicinal plants date back to ancient Greece, and by the 16th century lavish herbals were being printed for the wealthy, giving detailed descriptions of plants and their medicinal properties. Gerard’s Herbal, first published in 1597, is still available today. By contrast, Culpeper, writing in the 17th century, championed the ordinary people – his work is also still in print. Household herbals were compiled by the women of large houses, giving recipes for plants as food and medicine – the Wellcome Library in London has an invaluable and fascinating collection.

Plant medicine continued in popularity until the advent of pharmaceutical drugs. Plants could be collected in the wild and used fresh, or dried and made into teas. Wine was also used as a preservative. Country folk would go to the local herbalist, often a ‘wise woman’, for help with their ailments. Herbalists were popular in the developing industrial cities too – the urban poor could not afford to be ill. The most well-known pharmacy, Boots, had humble beginnings as an urban herbalist in Nottingham. Older people today may remember some of the medicine their mothers gave them – slippery elm for boils and abscesses, syrup of figs for constipation (not always popular!) and thyme and liquorice syrup for coughs. Plants formed the basis of nearly all the drugs prepared by pharmacists until well after the first world war.

Herbal medicine is becoming popular once again, though surprisingly few people seem to understand what it really is. This introduction is designed to give you a much better idea of how herbal medicine is used today. It focuses on European or ‘Western’ Herbal Medicine, a term sometimes applied when referring to practices which have evolved in Europe and North America.

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May 11, 2012 at 9:21 am Leave a comment

The Origins of Reiki

by James McVeigh, clinic assistant

Reiki was founded by Mikao Usui, a Tendai Buddhist and shugenja in 1922. The Tendai sect is a doctrine of Buddhism that developed in Japan after its introduction by a Chinese monk in the 8th century. As a shugenja he practised a melding of Buddhism and Shintoism (the traditional japanese religion) where achieving enlightenment through Buddhism can be achieved using the same methods to achieve oneness with kami; the spirits that represent every part of the natural world in Shintoism.
These were the elements that formed the foundations for Reiki, which came as a spiritual revelation to Usui during a period of meditation, chanting, prayer and fasting on Mount Kurama. Usui was experiencing various personal problems in his life at this time, but through his spiritual training,  Reiki energy entered his Crown Chakra,  giving him an understanding on how to solve them. The Crown Chakra is the energy focus of the consciousness which has great importance in Buddhism.

In the excitement of recieving this spiritual understanding, Usai ran down the side of Mount Kurama, and in his haste, injured his toe. It was then, as he placed his hands over the wound that he realised that the Reiki energy he had received gave far more than a mere understanding of his problems; it had the capacity to heal. The universal energy, reiki, was transfered through his palms to the injury, restoring the equilibrium of ki and mending the wound.

Using Reiki requires attunement to the energy, which is a process only a Master in the discipline can perform. The energy source for anyone who practices the therapy thus orginates from Usai himself. During the 1923 Kanto earthquake of Tokyo which took in excess of 140,000 lives, Usai devoted himself to using his power to heal the many wounded. It was in the face of this devastation and suffering that he attuned others in the art; to ease the burden of his healing.

Eventually, sixteen of these attuned disciples became masters of Reiki, and among them was Chujiro Hayashi. Hayashi later attuned a woman named Hawayo Takata who moved to the USA where she spread the attunement of Reiki energy amongst followers in the West. By the time she died she had trained 22 new Western Masters who are in turn responsible for all development of the discipline outside of Japan.

For more information about Reiki at the clinic, click here
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April 11, 2012 at 2:51 pm Leave a comment

The Power of a Positive Attitude

By Clementine O’Shaughnessy, Dip.Couns, DHP, HPD, LHS, MBAC

POSITIVE THOUGHT.               POSITIVE ACTION.               POSITIVE INTERACTION.

 

A positive mental attitude enhances the immune system, improves heart efficiency, stimulates the nervous system, regenerates organs, enhances digestion, aids the colon, (IBS) improves diabetes, extends lifespan, makes you calmer, happier, more in control and lifts depression and anxiety…

Learning to live your life with a positive attitude achieves many different physical and mental improvements. Not only does it protect you from illness (everything from raised blood pressure to cancer) it makes you happier generally.

Here are a few ways to help you achieve a better quality of life:

  • Do a random act of kindness whenever you get the opportunity (at least every day). The more you give, the happier you become – smile at a stranger, open a door, give compliments, laugh at people’s jokes, forgive etc.
  • Make an effort with communicating- ask questions and be interested in answers.
  • Be grateful, even at the smallest of things (- smile and say ‘thank you, I’m very grateful for…’)
  • Volunteer at a charity. This will give you immediate feelings of satisfaction and well being together with long term happiness. Volunteering will enhance energy levels and self-worth. Your social life may also improve as an added bonus. The impact on health has been found to improve headaches, infections such as colds & coughs and insomnia etc.
  • Treat everyone as equal, regardless of age, status etc. Suffering from discrimination can lead to coronary artery calcification and raised blood pressure. It also creates feelings of guilt in the discriminator.
  • Be in the ‘here and now’ by practising mindfulness or meditation.
  • Be compassionate towards people and they will trust you more.
  • We mirror other people, so by being kind, smiley and positive- we get it back too!

 Oxytocin

When we perform an act of kindness, we produce a neuropeptide called oxytocin (also called the cuddle or love hormone). Levels of oxytocin rise when we have sex, fall in love, give birth, breast feed or connect positively with others. It is also released when we stroke or play with a pet (particularly when there is eye contact).

The result of raised oxytocin is that our barriers go down and we trust more. This in turn makes others trust us.

Trusting others brings down our anxiety, fear and depression so enabling us to think clearer and make better decisions.

Oxytocin also helps us to read people’s emotions and interact better with them. We show generosity and compassion more readily.

Other ways to raise oxytocin are also achieved by supporting a loved one, giving a warm touch or hug, have a massage, be inspired by nature, art or music, look after a plant.

This blog also appears on clementine-hypnotherapy.co.uk/blog

March 26, 2012 at 10:07 am Leave a comment

The Top Ten Most Popular Aromatherapy Oils

by Sarah Rudston, clinic assistant

Anyone who has ever used an oil burner or burnt incense in their home will know what a powerful effect our sense of smell can have. Scents can evoke memories and feelings which may have been long forgotten, instilling senses of calm or happiness in the way that visual stimuli may not be able to. Aromatherapy involves the application of aromatic oils, distilled from plant sources, to improve physical and psychological wellbeing. There are lots of different oils that aromatherapists use during therapy treatments. Here’s a list of the top ten most popular oils and what they do.

  1. Chamomile – Known for the popular herbal drink, chamomile is said to be useful for tension and anxiety, as well as improving sleep problems. It can also be used to soothe stress-related skin conditions.
  2. Eucalyptus – Eucalyptus is sometimes known as the natural antiseptic – useful for coughs, colds, aches and pains. It has a woody, camphorous scent.
  3. Geranium – The floral, earthy scent of geranium is said to be helpful for stimulating the nervous system as well as various skin conditions.
  4. Lavender – A well-known scent, the soothing qualities of Lavender can be used to combat anxiety and stress. It’s also said to be useful for burns or skin conditions.
  5. Peppermint – Peppermint tea has been oft recommended for digestive problems, and the refreshing scent can also be used to combat nasal congestion which arises from colds.
  6. Lemon – The sharp, tangy scent of lemon can help stimulate the nervous system and it is also said to be useful for the circulatory system.
  7. Tea tree – Another natural antiseptic, the fresh scent of tea tree oil can help with lung congestion (as well as warding off bugs and insects!)
  8. Rosemary – The well-known herb can produce an essential oil which can help with muscle aches and fatigue.
  9. Ylang Ylang – This oil has been known as a natural antidepressant, soothing anxieties and reducing muscle tension.
  10. Sandalwood – The rich, sweet fragrance of Sandalwood is used mainly for skin complaints (however it’s a wonderful scent just to enjoy for the sake of it!)

Clare Garland, Claire Rees and Paul Tilbury all offer aromatherapy treatments at The Natural Health Clinic, Bristol.

March 14, 2012 at 12:40 pm Leave a comment

Acupuncture and Migraines

  By Sam May, BSc, LicAc, MBAcC

One of the more commonly known uses of acupuncture is the treatment of headaches, and in particular migraines. Migraines tend to relate to the temple region and the sides of the head, and often involve the eyes, either in the form of distorted vision or pain behind the eyes. The headache usually has an intense quality, sometimes described as ‘throbbing’ or ‘thumping’, and can often last for several days.

In Chinese Medicine, headaches such as these are most commonly associated with  an underlying energetic pattern known as ‘Liver Yang Rising’, resulting from some form of ‘Yin’ deficiency. Yin is grounding, cooling energy, and can easily become depleted in a person who is overdoing it in some way, perhaps working long hours or not getting enough sleep for example. Yin and Yang are opposites and balance each other, but when one becomes relatively weaker than the other then this balance is lost. In the case of Yin deficiency, the Yang energy is not sufficiently grounded and so rises upwards. If the Liver is involved energetically in some way, this rising Yang affects the associated energy channels – in particular the Gall Bladder channel which travels up the back of the neck and over the ears to the temples, eyes and forehead. The Liver is also understood to ‘open into the eyes’ in Chinese Medicine, such that Liver patterns often involve eye symptoms. With this relative excess of Yang energy rising up to the head, a migraine (or a bad headache) develops, usually following the line of the Gall Bladder channel in some way.

The treatment principles in this case are to subdue the Liver Yang energy, pulling this downwards, and also to nourish Yin energy, in order to ground the Yang. Commonly used acupuncture points for these purposes are located on the feet and lower legs, as well as on the temples and the back of the neck. Depending on how chronic the problem is, results can generally be seen quite readily from treating this pattern, in some cases even after just one treatment. Patients may also find that they feel less irritable as well.

Sam May combines both Five Element and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) styles of acupuncture, and practices at Evolve. In addition to practising acupuncture, Sam also teaches meditation for health and wellbeing, and works as a health consultant for complementary and alternative medicine. For more information please visit: http://www.lucentacupuncture.com 

February 27, 2012 at 11:01 am Leave a comment

Do You Find Public Speaking A Challenge?

  by Clementine O’Shaughnessy, BA Hons, Dip Counselling, DHP, HPD, LHS

Have you ever clammed up at a party or found yourself tongue-tied at a meeting for fear of saying something stupid? This happens with the best of us – even though we are as intelligent as others in the room…

6 ways you can help yourself

• Pair up with person who is confident and out-going , or has a higher position within the group. In a social situation, this person can introduce you and keep talk flowing, or bring up your points in a business meeting and then throw you an opening into the conversation.

• Talk to the person running the meeting beforehand. Mention the points you want to discuss and ask for an opportunity to bring them up. Explain why you are asking.

• Prepare. In a business meeting, know what you want to say, practice your delivery and bring notes. This will help prevent you from being distracted by what others are saying.

• Rehearse the meeting / party going really well for a few seconds before you begin. If your brain has a mental picture of success- it will be more likely to present that in reality.

• Take a break. If you feel anxious or that your mental energy is dwindling, drink some water or go for a stroll to refresh your mind and body. Your mind and body often need re-setting like a computer.

• Realize others in the room are likely to feel the same way. Most of all – don’t beat yourself up about it – everyone gets nervous sometimes – it often looks endearing!

 

This blog post also appears on Clementine’s personal blog clementine-hypnotherapy.co.uk/blog

February 22, 2012 at 1:18 pm Leave a comment

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