Practicing meditation can help reduce stress for individuals with HIV.

Meditation Brightens Outlook of People with HIV

The bulk of treatment for individuals diagnosed with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) focuses on pharmacological intervention. But as a complement to those treatments, mindful meditation may be able to improve the well-being of people with HIV, according to a small new study. 

The research, conducted by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the David Lynch Foundation, a nonprofit that funds research on stress reduction methods, showed that practicing meditation for 20 minutes twice a day could make HIV-stricken individuals feel better. 

"We're undertaking a very conscious move away from the old model of care to a new model of care – away from dealing with HIV/AIDS in a sickness and disease model, to a model of health and wellness," Neil Giuliano, CEO of San Francisco AIDS Foundation, said in a national webinar. 

Improving Health
Thirty-nine HIV patients participated in the study, and a variety of their health factors were measured, such as stress levels, levels of psychological distress, physical symptoms related to HIV (fatigue) and well-being (using an established spiritual well-being scale). After three months of meditation, patients had substantial improvement, the study authors reported. 

The participants had more energy, better physical health and got sick less frequently. As far as psychological symptoms, patients reported lower levels of stress and anxiousness as well as decreased anger. They also displayed fewer depressive symptoms. 

"People living with HIV – beyond the normal stress you can experience yourself, the normal stress that we face as humans in today's society – people living with HIV experience the trauma of diagnosis," Thomas Roth, director of the David Lynch Foundation HIV Initiative, stated in the national webinar. 

Roth went on to explain that HIV-impacted individuals live with the following problems:

  • Mental burden of living with an incurable disease
  • Social stigma and psychological challenges of acceptance
  • Physical challenges of living with the virus
  • Compromised immune system
  • Physical challenges of the drug regimen and side effects

For these reasons, re-establishing a mental balance through meditation can be a giant leap in the lives of patients. 

Ilchi Lee, The New York Times bestselling author, pointed out that stress can eat away at our energy levels. Because of this, we experience a certain paradox between feeling enlivened and calm.

"The sensation of energy expands with increasing relaxation," stated Lee. 

HIV patients may indeed be able to benefit from the tranquilizing effects of meditation.

Moving Forward
Currently, 1.1 million people are living with HIV in the U.S. For many of those individuals, meditation has been a key component of daily life for years. The breathing techniques and soothing concentration help to confront serious mental and emotional challenges as well as vulnerabilities of a weakened immune system. 

Researchers are hopeful that someday in the near future, there will be a day when even a single HIV diagnosis is rare. 

Two new studies show astounding effects of meditation and yoga.

Yoga and Meditation Recommended for Breast Cancer Patients

It's impossible to imagine exactly what it feels like to hear that you have breast cancer. A burden of the heaviest kind, a breast cancer diagnosis can send patients on emotional roller coasters, with some lows feeling like the ride may have gotten stuck. But to cope with the anxiety, researchers are recommending meditation and yoga, two great non-invasive alternative therapies that can help clear a stress-ridden mind. 

First Study
One new study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute Monographs looked at which alternative therapies provide the biggest benefits. The short answer? Meditation, yoga and relaxation with imagery. 

The research, which involved information from 4,900 studies published between 1990 and 2013, ranked a wide range of therapeutic practices including massage, relaxation with imagery, music therapy, energy conservation and yoga, among others. Yoga, meditation and relaxation were given a grade A and were regarded as viable care options for breast cancer patients. 

Each care option was scored based on how well it could help patients cope with stress and anxiety from a breast cancer diagnosis. The research could provide the framework for hospitals to implement new ways for patients to deal with the emotional trauma of cancer.

According to Time, up to 80 percent of American patients with breast cancer undergo complementary therapies to handle anxiety and stress after they receive a diagnosis. 

"Women with breast cancer are among the highest users [of these therapies]…and usage has been increasing," the authors wrote in their study. "Clear clinical practice guidelines are needed." 

Another Study: Analyzing Stress at the Cellular Level
A separate study, published in the journal cancer, showed that practicing mindful meditation had a positive physical impact at the cellular level in breast cancer survivors. The team working out of Alberta Health Services' Tom Baker Cancer Centre and the University of Calgary Department of Oncology highlighted that telomeres – the protein complexes at the end of chromosomes – maintain their length in breast cancer survivors who practice meditation, while they shorten in a comparison group without any intervention. 

"We already know that psychosocial interventions like mindfulness meditation will help you feel better mentally, but now for the first time we have evidence that they can also influence key aspects of your biology," Dr. Linda E. Carlson, principal investigator and director of research in the Psychosocial Resources Department at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, said in a press release.

Over the three-month period, 88 breast cancer survivors who had completed their treatments attended eight weekly, 90-minute group sessions that provided instruction on mindful meditation and gentle yoga. Patients also practiced meditation and yoga at home for 45 minutes a day. 

The blood tests demonstrated that the two practices shield telomeres from the shortening effects of stress.

"I was skeptical at first and thought it was a bunch of hocus-pocus," Allison McPherson, who underwent a full year of chemotherapy and numerous surgeries, said in a press release. "But I now practice mindfulness throughout the day and it's reminded me to become less reactive and kinder toward myself and others."

Practice yoga during National Apnea Week.

Sleep Apnea Awareness Week

Sleep Apnea Awareness Week takes place from Oct. 6 to 13, 2014. While you might have heard about some of yoga's benefits, few people realize that the ancient mind-body technique can go as far as to help relieve sleep apnea. Yoga develops one's breathing skill, which can play a big role in getting a good night's rest!

Characterized by recurrent pauses in breathing, sleep apnea is one of the most distressing sleep disorders. While there are a handful of treatments available on the market for alleviating sleep symptoms, most simply address symptoms without solving the root cause. But yoga provides a holistic, natural treatment that can get to the bottom of the problem – no pills necessary. 

"Perhaps the only way one can address the root cause behind the collapse of upper respiratory tract and subsequent development of apnea symptoms is by practicing the ancient Eastern art of yoga," the Apnea Treatment Center said on its website

Beyond soothing the mind, yoga incorporates breathing techniques (pranayama) that help establish healthful rhythms. Here are some of the different breathing exercises yoga works on:

High Breathing
High breathing takes place primarily in the upper part of the chest and lungs. Also called "clavicular breathing" or "collarbone breathing," high breathing involves raising the ribs, collarbone and shoulders to allow one to draw in the abdomen and force the air upward against the diaphragm and into the chest cavity. Since the upper lobes of the lungs are used and only have a small air capacity, this is the least desirable form of breathing.

Middle Breathing
As its name suggests, middle breathing entails filling the middle part of the lungs with air. This technique merges some of the characteristics from both high breathing – raising of the ribs – and low breathing – diaphragm moving up and down and abdomen in and out. However, though slightly more effective than high breathing, the middle technique remains a shallow type of breathing.  

Low Breathing
Low breathing is the desired and most effective form of yoga breathing method. It consists of moving the abdomen in and out and, in doing so, changes positions of the diaphragm. It is sometimes referred to as abdominal breathing. While many use this naturally for sleeping, practicing low breathing in yoga can help strengthen respiratory muscles and work toward a better night's rest. 

This method is superior for several reasons. First, more air is drawn in when inhaling due to greater movement of lungs. Second, the diaphragm's piston-like movements expand the base of the lungs, allowing them to suck in more blood, which stimulates circulation. Third, the abdominal organs are massaged by the up-and-down movements of the diaphragm. Lastly, low breathing benefits the solar plexus, a very important nerve center. 

Ancient mind-body techniques could enhance digital performance.

Meditation, Yoga May Sharpen Computer Skills

In our interconnected world, many people spend their days working at a computer. And wouldn't it be nice if we could get a little bit better and a little bit faster with our digital tool? Well, you may be able to. 

According to a new study published online in the scientific journal TECHNOLOGY, yoga and meditation may actually sharpen certain computer skills.

Expediting digital learning
For the study, University of Minnesota researchers analyzed the learning patterns of two groups, one that practiced yoga or meditation for one year at least two times a week for an hour, and another that had little or no yoga or meditation experience. Individuals in both groups were learning to control a computer with their minds by wearing a high-tech, non-invasive cap over the scalp that picked up brain activity. 

The participants' brain activity was monitored as they used left and right hand movements to move a cursor across a computer screen. Those who did yoga and meditation learned three times faster than those who rarely practices the mind-body techniques. They were also twice as likely to finish the task by the end of 30 trials. 

"In recent years, there has been a lot of attention on improving the computer side of the brain-computer interface but very little attention to the brain side," lead researcher Bin He, a biomedical engineering professor, said in a news release. "This comprehensive study shows for the first time that looking closer at the brain side may provide a valuable tool for reducing obstacles for brain-computer interface success in early stages."

Meditation's Digital Side
While yoga and meditation are known for their calming attributes, this new research might secure a digital role for the ancient techniques. The results could also have major implications for treatments of people who are paralyzed or have neurodegenerative diseases. 

Scientists have been increasingly focused on finding ways to help physically disabled individuals whose brain function is still intact. Professor He gained international attention in 2013 when members of his team demonstrated flying a robot with only their minds. As bewildering as it sounds, it very well might be the future of technology. 

The new study showed that not everyone can easily learn to control a computer with their brains. In the trials, many were unsuccessful after multiple attempts, due to an inconsistent ‎electromyography brain signal from a distracted mind and unsustained attention. Those who meditated have shown more distinctive EEG patterns than untrained participants.

Professor He said he hatched the idea for the study more than five years ago when he began his brain-computer interface research and noticed one woman participant who was much more successful than other participants at controlling the computer with her brain. The woman had been an avid member of the yoga community.

For the able-bodied computer worker, a similar principle found in these new yoga and meditation benefits may still be relevant. Since the Internet is a vast reservoir of information, it is rather easy to become distracted, straying away from the work you should be doing. The mind-body techniques could help workers stay on track, whether operating machines with their brains or hands. 

A documentary film explores how meditation can benefit soldiers returning from war.

‘Free The Mind’ Documentary on Meditation Research

There are a lot of fascinating articles out there that delve into the subject of meditation benefits. But for those who are more visual learners, a recent documentary that sheds light on how mindfulness changes the brain might be worth sitting down and watching. 

The documentary film, "Free The Mind," was created by University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Richard Davidson who teaches classes on psychology and psychiatry. It focuses on Davidson's experience and research on meditative techniques, illuminating how deep breathing practices can have a physical effect on changing the brain. 

PTSD and ADHD
In the study, Davidson, who is founder and chair of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center, applied these mindfulness techniques on two different groups: veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and children dealing with extreme attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

About 5.2 million soldiers returning home from war are plagued by PTSD. The film follows Steve, an American solider who just came back from Afghanistan, where he worked as an interrogator. Now back home, he suffers from sleepless nights and is haunted by a darkened conscience due to the things he saw and did during the war. The PTSD has left him grappling with being not only a reliable adult but also a good father to his 2-year-old twins. 

But brain scientist Davidson poses the question, can veterans ease their pain through meditation and yoga, find happiness and return to a life more like the ones they had before the war?

"One of the things we do know, is that traditional treatments are only effective in, at best, half the population, and so, half the population is really not helped," Davidson said. "And so, we need to look for other methods."

Rewiring the Brain
Davidson built off his research of studying Buddhist monks for years, when he found it was possible to rewire one's brain through meditation. Some of the effects include being more compassionate, happy and altruistic. 

Through the film, we experience what meditation does to these veterans and children, and the power it holds as an alternate method of medicine to become less stressed and more happy. 

The researcher points out that there's a region of the brain called the insula that's used as the interacting link between the mind and body. This area becomes dramatically more activated during compassion meditation and can enable people who practice this type of mindfulness regularly to deepen their grasp of empathy with others. 

Remarkably, master of meditation Ilchi Lee used to struggle with attention deficit problems when he was a kid. He turned to meditation and deep breathing exercises to work his way over the hurdles, and sure enough, Lee was able to overcome ADHD.  Meditation allowed him to take a deeper look at himself and find his own self-worth, so he could turn over a new leaf in his life. 

A similar transformation can be seen in "Free The Mind." The film even appeared at the Milwaukee Film Festival last year. 

The viral sensation of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is more than passing fad.

One Man’s Struggle With ALS: Meditating to Stay Positive

In the last month, the Ice Bucket Challenge has swept through all corners of the Internet. The viral trend has boosted awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, leading to more than $80 million in donations for the ALS Association. But the social media craze is more than a fad for some people – like Keith Ten Pow.

Pow, who lives in Liverpool, England, was diagnosed with ALS 21 years ago. He was a former salsa dancer and instructor who loved to stay active. Now the disease known for muscle atrophy has left him unable to perform the activities he loves. Despite the immense challenge, Pow tries to remain positive with meditation and a fighting spirit. 

"I meditate a lot to help calm me down and keep me feeling positive," Pow, who speaks with the help of an interpreter, told Liverpool Echo. 

There are lots of meditation benefits, from uplifted mood to lower blood pressure to reduced stress. Master of meditation Ilchi Lee is a big advocate concerning the perks of the ancient technique. Pow takes advantage of the meditation to stay on the sunny side of things. 

As a note, ALS is often called motor neuron disease (MND) in the U.K. The basis for the condition is a premature degeneration of motor nerves. 

"Everyone that has MND is different but I am a fighter," Pow told the source. "I'm still here 21 years on from being diagnosed, but that's why. Always stay positive."

Stad is fighting off a dangerous brain tumor in any way he can, including sitting down to meditate.

Meditation on Healing Treatment Lists for Boy with Brain Tumor

Jayden Stad was in eighth grade when he was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor. It's called diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, a form of cancerous tumor that wraps itself like an octopus to the middle of the brainstem.

As a brave, charming kid who likes video games, Stad has been turning to all forms of treatment that may help. While survival rates are extremely low for this condition, doctors have been urging Stad to try all different options, from using hyperbaric oxygen to meditation. The young boy has been practicing meditation to help ease worries about radiation treatments and try to maintain a positive outlook on things.

Tracy Auclair, Stad's mother, told Sherwood Park News that holding your head high now is of the utmost importance.

"The only way to get through this is to try and be strong, and it helps that Jayden's very positive," Auclair explained. "He's never expressed any fears since this happened, other than once being worried about radiation."

This principle of staying strong even in the face of the tallest obstacles aligns with Ilchi Lee's teachings, such as those in his book, "Change: Realizing Your Greatest Potential," which encourages people embrace each moment while seeking to be the best person you can possibly be. 

"You are infinite intelligence, creativity and Energy-Consciousness which gives you the power and wisdom to attain fulfillment and completion in life," Ilchi Lee wrote. 

There is no cure for DIPG, but recently Stad received a bit of good news. His last MRI showed a slight shrinkage in the size of the tumor, and Auclair believes all of the healing treatments are doing him good.

Stad's family is accepting donations in his fight for survival. Despite his uphill climb, Stad stands as a powerful inspiration for many, even inspiring a neighbor to run a marathon to raise money for him.

"There's always hope," Auclair told the source.

Yoga poses can enhance brain activity for older adults.

Yoga Boost Brain Function in the Elderly

It is no secret that as we age, our brains start to dull. But with the proper stimuli, there are ways to keep the mind sharp and agile long after wrinkles set in. 

According to a new study published in the Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, practicing yoga three times a week can boost brain power in sedentary adults. The participants, ages 55 through 79, showed improved performance in cognitive tasks that are relevant to everyday life. 

Of the 108 adults, 61 attended yoga classes while the others engaged in stretching and toning exercises for the same number and length of sessions. 

At the end of the eight weeks, the yoga group proved speedier and more accurate with information recall, mental flexibility and task-switching on cognitive tests. The stretching and toning group had no significant change in cognitive performance over time. The research team said the differences seen between groups were not the result of distinctions in age, gender or other demographic factors.

"It is possible that this focus on one's body, mind and breath during yoga practice may have generalized to situations outside of the yoga classes, resulting in an improved ability to sustain attention," Neha Gothe, who co-led the study, told the Economic Times.

Staying Active
Oftentimes, retired seniors can become idle, following a similar sedentary routine day after day. It's important that these adults find outlets to keep their mind and body agile, and as this study – among many others – has shown, yoga is a great activity to promote balance in the mind and body. 

In line with Ilchi Lee's teachings, yoga can have immediate psychological effects by decreasing anxiety, stress and depression. Yoga classes can vary from gentle and easy-going to strenuous and challenging; the caliber all depends on the individual's personal preference. Most practices combine three elements: physical yoga poses called asanas, controlled breathing in conjunction with asanas and a short period of meditation or deep relaxation. 

The mind-body practice has a quieting impact on the sympathetic nervous system, Gothe told the Times At the same, it appears to modulate stress response systems. By reducing stress, many people experience a mood boost, walking out of the yoga class feeling better than when they arrived. 

Mindful meditation can hone your will power.

Looking to Boost Willpower? Try Meditation

Resisting that second cupcake? Or seeking to stay focused longer? Meditation might be the key to boosting your willpower – one of the many meditation benefits.

Meditation, a state of thoughtless awareness, is thousands of years old, but it's just as relevant today than it ever has been. That's because molding willpower acts as a launching pad for achieving our true goals in life. Whether it's dropping a few pounds on a diet or practicing hours of drums to become the best musician possible, willpower is key. 

"Paying attention to what's happening in the moment, what's going on in your body, your mind, and all around you, can make it easier to tune in to choices you make several hundred times a day when it comes to eating," health psychologist Kelly McGonigal who's a professor at Stanford, told U.S. World News and Report. 

Building Gray Matter
Similar to flexing a muscle, working out the mind through meditation can train it become more reliable and controlled. Mindful practices can actually alter brain patterns in ways that may be permanent, and when it comes to shaping one's will, mediation builds gray matter in areas of the brain that regulate emotions.

Gray matter is the darker, neural tissue in the brain and spinal cord. It is named after its distinctive color. Many people associate gray matter with intelligence, because it is a major player in sensory input, gathering information from the sensory organs and other gray matter cells to process more quickly. Essentially, gray matter is the central processing unit of the brain.

In a study from Center of Functionally Integrative Neuroscience at Aarhus University in Denmark, researchers compared MRI scans of the brains of meditators with the brains of non-meditators. The results showed that meditation developed physical changes in the gray matter of the lower brain stem.

Another study from the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University in Atlanta highlighted that the amount of gray matter diminishes as people age. Yet for meditators, their gray matter hadn't reduced with age. According to the scientists, meditation had a "neuroprotective" effect on those who meditated. 

Mindful Choices
Ilchi Lee, a master of meditation, points out that guided meditation supports the ability to make mindful choices and handle stress. It can also shift the brain and body into a state that engenders more energy and strength to do things that are difficult instead of reverting to things that are easy and tempting. 

To make it transformative, people can practice meditation to find that profound and deep peace that occurs when the mind is calm and silent, yet completely alert. A higher level of awareness enables us to fulfill our true human potential. 

Meditation Exercises
Here is one such exercise that you can try for meditation benefits for the brain – it's called breath focus meditation with mindfulness of breath and body. As its name suggests, this meditation revolves around breath focus and moves onto mindfulness of body, breath, thoughts, sensations and emotions. During this practice, use labeling to identify sensations and perceptions. For example, mentally say "nose itching" or "smell of bacon" or "clocking ticking." After you label them, notice – really notice – how they feel, smell and sound, but then return to how it feels to breathe. Keep on letting your attention dance in this way – noticing, then coming back to breath. This meditation helps people become more aware of their choices as well as thoughts, environment and emotions that cause automatic behavior. 

Even 60 seconds of meditation before a presentation can be helpful.

Meditate Before Business Presentations

Whether large or small, business presentations can be a nerve-racking experience. That's why taking a few moments to mediate leading up to the meeting can prove helpful.

Ilchi Lee, a master of meditation, says that among the many mindfulness meditation benefits, the ancient practice is designed to help clear the mind, relieve stress and improve sharpness of cognitive skills.

Even 60 seconds of meditation before your presentation can produce a noticeable impact, explained speaker Todd Herman, a leadership consultant who works with professional athletes and corporations like Shell, Chevron, and Cisco.

You can do this anytime, any place. Some people might even practice a little mindful meditation in their cars outside the building.

Meditation Quick Tips
Here's what to do:

  1. Take deep breaths through your nose down to your diaphragm and steadily exhale through your mouth. This can slow down your heart rate and oxygenate your blood, working to reduce anxiety. 
  2. If you have access to it, put on some soothing music such as a jazz, tambura or nature sounds like the ocean crashing.
  3. Close your eyes and get used to feeling with your eyes closed. Then focus on your deep breathing. 
  4. For meditation for beginners, it's helpful to set a timer for two minutes, close your eyes and imagine the number one as a physical object. When your attention begins to drift, imagine the number two, and so on. By the end of the exercise, you'll make note of the last number you thought about. With practice, the number will decrease because you'll learn to put the brakes on the thoughts zooming around your head. 

Other Helpful Ways to Prepare
Practice the Positive of Negative Preparation Principle. When astute business people are deciding whether or not to invest, they don't just see the positive outcomes. That would narrow their scope. They also see everything that could go wrong. As counterintuitive as it sounds, it's helpful to think of everything that could go in your presentation and then prepare a response for them. Before entering the meeting, visualize everything going right. 

After meditating, be sure to keep your presentation's intention at the front your mind. Remind yourself why you are giving your presentation. Chances are, it's not for you but for others. A simple reminder of how your information might benefit an audience member can be an uplifting thought before showtime. 

Read about the healing potential of Ilchi Lee's Brain Wave Vibration moving meditation technique.