Friday, January 31, 2014

How Present Are YOU?

You’re attending a Thursday night Murli, the teacher calls your name and you suddenly notice you haven’t heard what she has been saying for a few minutes and what she is asking you. In a split second your attention is back in the room and you realize you had drifted off to your text message and then to email and then to an aggressive driver in the red BMW M3 who had cut you off in the morning and were going through the analysis and living the experience all over again. Sunday Murli... ditto! During the moments you were mentally absent in the Murli class, you missed Baba’s message of vital importance that the teacher was teaching you as to how to be mentally present in the Murli and for that matter anywhere you are physically present. The teacher called your name because she noticed your mental absence, in other words, you were not mindfully present. 

Drifting away happens to all of us. When we are not speaking, we tend to think 650 – 1000 words a minutes. What is important is to recognize that our mind has drifted away and tell our mind to come back to the Murli, where you need to focus. Repeat this exercise every time you drift away and soon you will be mindfully present wherever you are. 

The Deepest Addiction! We live in the age of increasing distractions from text messages, apps, phone calls, emails, daily family chores, work, friends, nasty boss, meetings, stock market fluctuations and so on. Here again, we need to be mindfully present where we are physically present. Mindful presence can also enable you to clear your mind of thoughts to seek inner peace. 

Resisting Reality! We sometimes notice that our feelings of sorrow, irritation, frustration and all our fears are arising from all those moments when we lose our self in our mental compendiums of fictional tales leading us to constantly go astray with thoughts. The inner signs of being fully present include a quiet mind which is no longer busy running stories of our past or future, or of other people’s lives. The full presence can be achieved with the practice of mindful presence – notice the thought that comes to mind and then tell the mind to refocus where it needs to. 

Seeing Through the Illusions! When you are watching an action movie in a theatre while gobbling up popcorns and soda, you are fully aware at all times that you are sitting in a chair in a theatre and that there is no reality in the movie, it is just a movie, an illusion. You are therefore not moved by the characters, plot, action or the images on the screen. You are a detached observer! Not because you do not care but because you are resisting the movie maker’s attempt to manipulate your are mindfully present in the theatre for enjoyment. 

Discovering Inner Peace! There normally comes a moment in the lives of those who consciously search for real relaxation, otherwise known as inner peace, when they realize that actually their real world is within their self. The ‘real’ world is the inner world of our consciousness. It’s just that it’s not even ‘inner’; it is the self, itself! 

Action: Consciously practice being a detached observer of things happening around you and in your mind and be mindfully present where you chose to be physically present and tell your mind to refocus where you need your mind to. Repeat regularly in different environments so you get a hang of it. 

Adapted from Mike George’s article,” How Present Are YOU?”© 2012

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year: 2014

Meditation changes Gene Expression

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Meditation is a practice in which an individual trains the mind to enter self-consciousness, either to realize some benefits or as an end in itself. Some of the earliest references to meditation are found in the Hindu Vedas. With evidence growing that meditation can have beneficial health effects, scientists have sought to understand how these practices physically affect the body. 

A study by researchers in Wisconsin, Spain, and France, believed to be first of this kind, investigated the effects of a day of intensive mindfulness practice in a group of experienced meditators, compared to a group of untrained control subjects who engaged in quiet, non-meditative activities. After eight hours of mindfulness practice, the meditators showed a range of genetic and molecular differences, including altered levels of gene-regulating machinery and reduced levels of pro-inflammatory genes, which in turn correlated with faster physical recovery from a stressful situation. 

"Most interestingly, the changes were observed in genes that are the current targets of anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs," says Perla Kaliman, first author of the article and a researcher at the Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona, Spain (IIBB-CSIC-IDIBAPS) where the molecular analyses were conducted. The study was published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology. 

Mindfulness-based trainings have shown beneficial effects on inflammatory disorders in prior clinical studies. The new results provide a possible biological mechanism for therapeutic effects. The results show a down-regulation of genes that have been implicated in inflammation. The affected genes include the pro-inflammatory genes RIPK2 and COX2 as well as several histone deacetylase (HDAC) genes, which regulate the activity of other genes epigenetically (that is, through changes in inherited gene function that do not involve changes in DNA sequence; epigenetics is the study of heritable changes in gene activity which are not caused by changes in the DNA sequence) by removing a type of chemical tag. 

Gene is the fundamental physical and functional unit that contains the inherited information that is found in the DNA. Genes are actually a subset of a cell's DNA. DNA is the material inside the nucleus of cells that carries genetic information. 

Perhaps surprisingly, the researchers say, there was no difference in the tested genes between the two groups of people at the start of the study. The observed effects were seen only in the meditators following mindfulness practice. In addition, several other DNA-modifying genes showed no differences between groups, suggesting that the mindfulness practice specifically affected certain regulatory pathways. 

However, it is important to note that the study was not designed to distinguish any effects of long-term meditation training from those of a single day of practice. Instead, the key result is that meditators experienced genetic changes following mindfulness practice that were not seen in the non-meditating group after other quiet activities -- an outcome providing proof of principle that mindfulness practice can lead to epigenetic alterations of the genome. 

"Our genes are quite dynamic in their expression and these results suggest that the calmness of our mind can actually have a potential influence on their expression," says study author Richard J. Davidson Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "The regulation of HDACs and inflammatory pathways may represent some of the mechanisms underlying the therapeutic potential of meditation-based interventions," Kaliman says. "Our findings set the foundation for future studies to further assess meditation strategies for the treatment of chronic inflammatory conditions." 

 Adapted from University of Wisconsin-Madison News article, “Study reveals gene expression changes with meditation” © 2013