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Sep 6

Meditation is not just for new-agey folks sitting in the lotus position chanting “om.” Increasingly, mainstream medicine is waking up to the healing powers of daily meditation, with hospitals opening integrative medicine programs that use mindful and transcendental meditation and guided imagery, alongside traditional treatments. Research shows that meditation reduces stress, blood pressure and pain, improves attention span and the ability to focus and may even stimulate new brain cell growth. We checked with some local doctors to see why they’ve become big proponents of meditation. What is meditation exactly? There are dozens of types of meditation, from the Buddhist’s Zazen to guided imagery, but all help the mind to quiet down and heart rates to slow down. Dr. Jodie Katz, a family doctor in Ridgewood with Valley Medical Group, teaches Mindfulness Based Stressed Reduction, the most well-known and most studied. Mindful meditation has no religious affiliation. In her program, the breath is used as a guide to focus on the moment. Beginners are taught to focus on the sensation of breathing. When the mind wanders off, they are asked to simply notice where their thoughts have gone to, let go of those thoughts and bring attention back to the breath. Eventually, students work their way up to 45 minutes. How do you do it? There’s no right posture or pose, said Katz. You can do it sitting in a chair or lying down. It’s just important that you’re comfortable and in a quiet setting. Closing your eyes is a good way to focus inwards, but it’s not required. Begin by meditating a few minutes in the morning before the start of your day. How do you know when you’re doing it right and getting benefits from it? Here’s the catch: To succeed at meditating, you have to expect nothing, says Katz. “It’s really hard for us who are culturally so goal-oriented, for a moment to just experience something for what it is and see what happens.” Experts say you need to make it a daily habit to reap the most benefits. How does meditating reduce stress? We are wired to have a flight-or-fight response when under stress, whether you’re getting chased by a hungry lion or you’re stuck in rush-hour traffic late to an appointment — your heart and breathing rates increase, and your body releases stress hormones. We also have a physical stress response when we have anxiety-inducing thoughts about the future or past. Long-term release of these stress hormones put you at risk for heart disease, depression and digestive disorders. Researchers are still figuring out the exact biological mechanism behind meditation and stress reduction, but a May 2013 study published in the journal PLOS ONE suggests that meditating activates a relaxation response on the cellular level that counteracts the fight-or-flight response. After a group of 26 adults underwent eight weeks of meditation training, their blood samples revealed that genes associated with cellular efficiency, insulin production and chromosomal repair became more active, and genes associated with stress and inflammation were turned off. How does meditation affect the brain? A 2011 study in the journal Psychiatry Research found that novice meditators who participated in an eight-week workshop had an increase in the brain’s density within the left hippocampus (the area of the brain that controls learning and memory processes, stress response and one’s sense of self) compared to a non-meditating group. Meditation may also make your brain sharper, the way exercise makes your body tougher. A 2012 UCLA study found that long-time meditators had more folds in the cortex, which allows information to be processed, and more connection between neural pathways than people who did not meditate. The more folding, the better the brain is at processing information, making decisions and forming memories, according to the study authors. How does it relieve pain? Studies have shown that meditating reduces activity in the areas of the brain associated with processing pain. At Englewood Hospital’s Center for Integrative Healing, pain management nurse practitioner Cynthia Mulder and anesthesiologist Dr. Jeffrey Gudin use a form of meditation called guided imagery, before and after surgery. Guided imagery calms the sympathetic nervous system, Gudin said, so that it stops “kicking out those stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine.” Any reasons not to try it? “There’s no downside,” said Gudin. “It’s worth trying,” For more info visit; to learn more about the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction eight-week workshops at Valley Hospital visit – See more at:

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