Scientists are beginning to uncover evidence that meditation has a tangible effect on the brain.
Sceptics argue that it is not a practical way to try to deal with the stresses of modern life.
But the long years when adherents were unable to point to hard science to support their belief in the technique may finally be coming to an end.
When Carol Cattley's husband died it triggered a relapse of the depression which had not plagued her since she was a teenager.
"I instantly felt as if I wanted to die," she said. "I couldn't think of what else to do."
Carol sought medical help and managed to control her depression with a combination of medication and a psychological treatment called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
However, she believes that a new, increasingly popular course called Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) - which primarily consists of meditation - brought about her full recovery.
It is currently available in every county across the UK, and can be prescribed on the NHS.
One of the pioneers of MBCT is Professor Mark Williams, from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford.
He helps to lead group courses which take place over a period of eight weeks. He describes the approach as 80% meditation, 20% cognitive therapy.
He said: "It teaches a way of looking at problems, observing them clearly but not necessarily trying to fix them or solve them.
"It suggests to people that they begin to see all their thoughts as just thoughts, whether they are positive, negative or neutral."
MBCT is recommended for people who are not currently depressed, but who have had three or more bouts of depression in their lives.
Trials suggest that the course reduces the likelihood of another attack of depression by over 50%.
Professor Williams believes that more research is still needed.
He said: "It is becoming enormously popular quite quickly and in many ways we now need to collect the evidence to check that it really is being effective."
However, in the meantime, meditation is being taken seriously as a means of tackling difficult and very modern challenges.
Scientists are beginning to investigate how else meditation could be used, particularly for those at risk of suicide and people struggling with the effects of substance abuse.
What is meditation?
Meditation is difficult to define because it has so many different forms.
By meditating, you can become happier, you can concentrate more effectively and you can change your brain in ways that support that Dr Richard Davidson
Broadly, it can be described as a mental practice in which you focus your attention on a particular subject or object.
It has historically been associated with religion, but it can also be secular, and exactly what you focus your attention on is largely a matter of personal choice.
It may be a mantra (repeated word or phrase), breathing patterns, or simply an awareness of being alive.
Some of the more common forms of meditative practices include Buddhist Meditation, Mindfulness Meditation, Transcendental Meditation, and Zen Meditation.
The claims made for meditation range from increasing immunity, improving asthma and increasing fertility through to reducing the effects of aging.
Research into the health claims made for meditation has limitations and few conclusions can be reached, partly because meditation is rarely isolated - it is often practised alongside other lifestyle changes such as diet, or exercise, or as part of group therapy.
So should we dismiss it as quackery? Studies from the field of neuroscience suggest not.
It is a new area of research, but indications are intriguing and suggest that meditation may have a measurable impact on the brain.
In Boston, Massachusetts, Dr Sara Lazar has used a technique called MRI scanning to analyse the brains of people who have been meditating for several years.
She compared the brains of these experienced practitioners with people who had never meditated and found that there were differences in the thickness of certain areas of the brain's cortex, including areas involved in the processing of emotion.
She is continuing research, but she believes that meditation had caused the brain to change physical shape.
In Madison, Wisconsin, Dr Richard Davidson has been carrying out studies on Buddhist monks for several years.
His personal belief is that "by meditating, you can become happier, you can concentrate more effectively and you can change your brain in ways that support that."
In one study he observed the brains of a group of office workers before and after they undertook a course of meditation combined with stress reduction techniques.
At the end of the course the participants' brains seemed to have altered in the way they functioned.
They showed greater activity in the left-hand side - a characteristic which Davidson has previously linked to happiness and enthusiasm.
This idea that meditation could improve the wellbeing of everyone, even those not struggling with mental illness, is something that is exciting researchers.
Professor Williams believes it has huge potential.
"It involves dealing with expectations, with constantly judging ourselves - feeling we're not good enough," he said.
"And, that is something which is so widespread in our communities.
"All of these things are just thoughts. And, they will come up in meditation and learning to recognize what they are as thoughts, and let them go, can be enormously empowering for anybody."
There is, of course, a distinct possibility that this research will come to nothing and that interest in meditation will turn out to be a passing fad, but for now this ancient discipline is being taken seriously by scientists as a tool with potential to make each one of us happier and more content.
10 ways to control your anger - Professional expert’s advice
I am really emotional and excitable person. I think that there are two types of anger: constructive anger and a destructive one. In order to understand the anger phenomenon I decided to investigate the nature of anger, reasons of its appearing, key factors and anger management.
What does it mean this anger? Anger is a strong indignation feeling of our emotional sphere that is attended by self-control losing. Anger is a signal of our state. Glands produce an array of hormones that have a great and deep effect on all our body. The main participants of this process are adrenaline and cortisol. They activate cardiovascular system and consequently all organs. Adrenalin causes fast heart beating, rising blood pressure. These rich oxygenated blood streams to the places are responsible for reaction. Thus some extra energy is released.
There are 4 basic ways of anger expressions:
1. Straight and immediately (verbally or nonverbally) to show your anger. It gives an opportunity to free from the negative emotions.
2. To express anger in an indirect way. In this case usually suffer persons that are weaker, not dangerous and those ones who “come to hand”, usually they are our family and close relatives. Thus we hurt our dear ones. One of the best ways is to express your anger to the person who is the source of this very anger. If it is impossible- better find some compromise.
3. Restraining anger you “drive” it deep inside. So, negative emotions store will provoke a big stress sooner or later.
4. You may foresee situation of anger feeling, try not to expand this feeling but get to know the reason, understand and solve it. A Roman philosopher Seneca said: “When you are feeling of ascending “volcano”- stand still, not doing anything- not speaking, not moving.”
Anger is a normal and natural human feeling, especially nowadays as life is really fast and we have a huge amount of information to accumulate (in comparison with our previous generations). The range of anger is rather wide: from a slight annoyance to impetuous fury. Anger can be quick and long, lasting for years in form of bitterness, vengeance or hate. Anger can lead to health issues like depression, high blood pressure, hearth diseases, stresses, alcohol dependence and obesity. If you are anger- express it. If you feel discomfort from these “negative splashes”- then we can give some techniques how to manage your emotional anger:
- 1. Take a deep and continuous breath. Count up to 50 or imagine your aggressor just naked, only in socks. This will help you to calm and smile.
- 2. Have a walk. Look at high sky. Continue to breathe deep and easily. So you appraise the situation and calm down.
- 3. Do some physical exercises. When you are angry- your body is very tensed and tough. If you stretch your muscles it will relax your body, as you will spill out all your negative energy into action. Your brains will get more oxygen and it assists to clear your thoughts.
- 4. Write down all your thoughts. Write down that you are mad and why. Avoid being rational, logical or laconic. Write on paper all you are feeling this moment. Try to write all in details. The function of this technique is to shift all your anger out of your head on paper.
- 5. Be grateful. Find someone to thank. Do you not forget about yourself. Thank that you have woken up today, thank that that the Sun is shining for you, that the sky is blue and the grass is green.
- 6. Prayer. Ask God to be with you during this anger moment and lead you.
- 7. Meditation. Close your eyes, look into solar plexus, and be all your anger, breathing deeply.
- 8. Change of places. Move yourself on your enemy’s place. And look at situation from his point of view. Better look at the situation from the ceiling. Focus on details, especially on funny and absurd ones. Strive to forgive your enemy as well as forgive truly yourself.
- 9. Go back to your childhood memories. Recollect state when you were angry. Hug this child and say: “All is ok. I am here. You are good child. I love you and I will not leave you.”
- 10. Your values. What is the most significant thing in your life? Who are the most important people in your life? What kind of person do you want to be? Think and accept that point that you are living your life, and you are living your values. There is a good man inside you that wants to help you. I wish you good luck!
I am really emotional and excitable person. I think that there are two types of anger: constructive anger and a destructive one. In order t...
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