Archive for ‘News’

April 24, 2011

Peter Lieberson, Composer Inspired by Buddhism, Dies at 64

Peter Lieberson, a searching, inventive American composer whose works were often inspired by his Tibetan Buddhist practice, died on Saturday morning in Tel Aviv, where he had gone for medical treatment. He was 64 and lived in Santa Fe, N.M.

Mr. Lieberson was an eloquent voice in the generation of composers seeking to infuse the thorny rigors of academic music with a more accessible, lyrical sound. Reviewing a 2008 concert of Mr. Lieberson’s works in The New York Times, Allan Kozinn praised his “cohesive, energetic and intensely communicative style, with brainy, atonal surfaces that attest to his post-tonal pedigree and a current of lyricism and drama that gives this music its warmth and passion.”

While at Columbia, he began to practice Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism, and in 1976, he moved to Boulder, Colo., to continue his studies with the Buddhist master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. There, Mr. Lieberson met and married Ellen Kearney, another of Trungpa Rinpoche’s students; together, they moved to Boston to direct Shambhala Training, a meditation and cultural program. Mr. Lieberson received a Ph.D. from Brandeis University and taught composition at Harvard University from 1984 to 1988.

Mr. Lieberson served for several years as international director of Shambhala Training in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he and his family moved in 1988. After 1994, Mr. Lieberson devoted all his time to composition, but his Buddhist practice remained a central theme in his work. His first opera, “Ashoka’s Dream,” was based on the life of an emperor of India in the third century B.C. who renounced violence after converting to Buddhism.

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5/6 – Fukačová plays Lieberson – The Six Realms: The Human Realm

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April 22, 2011

Meditation May Help the Brain ‘Turn Down the Volume’ on Distractions

ScienceDaily (Apr. 21, 2011) — The positive effects of mindfulness meditation on pain and working memory may result from an improved ability to regulate a crucial brain wave called the alpha rhythm. This rhythm is thought to “turn down the volume” on distracting information, which suggests that a key value of meditation may be helping the brain deal with an often-overstimulating world.

Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology report that modulation of the alpha rhythm in response to attention-directing cues was faster and significantly more enhanced among study participants who completed an eight-week mindfulness meditation program than in a control group. The report will appear in the journal Brain Research Bulletin and has been released online.

“Mindfulness meditation has been reported to enhance numerous mental abilities, including rapid memory recall,” says Catherine Kerr, PhD, of the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at MGH and the Osher Research Center at Harvard Medical School, co-lead author of the report. “Our discovery that mindfulness meditators more quickly adjusted the brain wave that screens out distraction could explain their superior ability to rapidly remember and incorporate new facts.”

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April 21, 2011

Mindfulness Meditation Changes Decision-Making Process

ScienceDaily (Apr. 21, 2011) — If a friend or relative won $100 and then offered you a few dollars, would you accept this windfall? The logical answer would seem to be, sure, why not? “But human decision making does not always appear rational,” said Read Montague, professor of physics at Virginia Tech and director of the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute.

According to research conducted over the last three decades; only about one-fourth of us would say, “Sure. Thanks.” The rest would say, “But that’s not fair. You have lots. Why are you only giving me a few?” In fact, people will even turn down any reward rather than accept an ‘unfair’ share.

Unless they are Buddhist meditators, in which case — fair or not — more than half will take what is offered, according to new research by Ulrich Kirk, research assistant professor with the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory at Virginia Tech; Jonathan Downar, assistant professor with the Neuropsychiatry Clinic and the Centre for Addition and Mental Health at the University of Toronto; and Montague, published in the April 2011 issue of Frontiers in Decision Neuroscience.

Their research shows that Buddhist meditators use different areas of the brain than other people when confronted with unfair choices, enabling them to make decisions rationally rather than emotionally. The meditators had trained their brains to function differently and make better choices in certain situations.

The research “highlights the clinically and socially important possibility that sustained training in mindfulness meditation may impact distinct domains of human decision making,” the researchers write.

The research came about when Montague wondered whether some people are capable of ignoring the social consideration of fairness and can appreciate a reward based on its intrinsic qualities alone. “That is,” he said, “can they uncouple emotional reaction from their actual behavior?”

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April 18, 2011

Brain Waves and Meditation

ScienceDaily (Mar. 31, 2010) — Forget about crystals and candles, and about sitting and breathing in awkward ways. Meditation research explores how the brain works when we refrain from concentration, rumination and intentional thinking. Electrical brain waves suggest that mental activity during meditation is wakeful and relaxed.

“Given the popularity and effectiveness of meditation as a means of alleviating stress and maintaining good health, there is a pressing need for a rigorous investigation of how it affects brain function,” says Professor Jim Lagopoulos of Sydney University, Australia. Lagopoulos is the principal investigator of a joint study between his university and researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) on changes in electrical brain activity during nondirective meditation.

Constant brain waves

Whether we are mentally active, resting or asleep, the brain always has some level of electrical activity. The study monitored the frequency and location of electrical brain waves through the use of EEG (electroencephalography). EEG electrodes were placed in standard locations of the scalp using a custom-made hat

Participants were experienced practitioners of Acem Meditation, a nondirective method developed in Norway. They were asked to rest, eyes closed, for 20 minutes, and to meditate for another 20 minutes, in random order. The abundance and location of slow to fast electrical brain waves (delta, theta, alpha, beta) provide a good indication of brain activity.

Relaxed attention with theta

During meditation, theta waves were most abundant in the frontal and middle parts of the brain.

“These types of waves likely originate from a relaxed attention that monitors our inner experiences. Here lies a significant difference between meditation and relaxing without any specific technique,” emphasizes Lagopoulos.

“Previous studies have shown that theta waves indicate deep relaxation and occur more frequently in highly experienced meditation practitioners. The source is probably frontal parts of the brain, which are associated with monitoring of other mental processes.”

“When we measure mental calm, these regions signal to lower parts of the brain, inducing the physical relaxation response that occurs during meditation.”

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April 16, 2011

Using Hypnosis to Gain More Control Over Your Illness

KIRSTEN RITCHIE, 44, is no stranger to surgery — nearly 20 years ago, doctors removed four tumors from her brain. She remembers the operation and its aftermath as “horrific.”

So the news that she needed brain surgery again was hardly welcome. Determined to make her second operation a better — or at least less traumatic — experience, Ms. Ritchie, an insurance marketing representative in Cleveland, turned to an unusual treatment.

At the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Integrative Medicine, she had four hypnosis sessions in the month before her procedure, during which she addressed her fear of the coming surgery. She also practiced self-hypnosis every day.

Eventually, she said, “I got to a place where I felt a sense of trust instead of fear.”

In February, doctors removed a plum-sized tumor from her brain. But there the similarity to her previous experience ended. Ms. Ritchie woke up from the procedure, she said, feeling “alert and awesome.” She ate a full dinner that night and went home in two days.

“My neurosurgeon was stunned at how little medication I required before and after surgery, and how quickly I bounced back,” she said.

Ms. Ritchie attributes her speedy recovery and calm state to her hypnosis sessions. Used for more than two centuries to treat a host of medical problems, particularly pain management and anxiety, hypnosis is now available to patients at some of the most respected medical institutions in the country, including Stanford Hospital, the Cleveland Clinic, Mount Sinai Medical Center and Beth Israel Medical Center in New York.

[…]

During a session, the practitioner guides the subject into a relaxed state and then makes specific suggestions to help change a behavior, a perception or a physiological condition. Someone who is trying to quit smoking, for instance, might be told under hypnosis that cigarettes are poisons and that it’s important to care for and respect his body.

Some patients find that hypnosis is a helpful adjunct to traditional psychotherapy.

[…]

Specific conditions — like smoking, a fear of dogs or flying or temporary insomnia — may require just one session. In 2008, the personal health columnist Jane E. Brody recalled in this newspaper that her husband was able to stop smoking after just one session of hypnosis.

“For very circumscribed disorders, hypnosis works very quickly or not at all,” said Dr. Frischholz.

If your problem is more complex, like post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, it may require multiple sessions. “I might spend the first two sessions taking a history and learning about someone’s background,” said Carol Ginandes, an assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School who uses hypnosis in her private practice. “Then I would work with the patient in a very individualized way.”

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April 15, 2011

Mindfulness meditation practice changes the brain

Mindfulness meditation alters regions of the brain associated with memory, awareness of self, and compassion, according to a brain imaging study by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester. Other studies have found differences in the brains of experienced meditators compared with non-meditators, but this is the first investigation to document brain changes occurring over time in people learning how to meditate mindfully. Results were published in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging (Jan. 30, 2011).

Mindfulness meditation is the practice of paying attention to what you’re experiencing from moment to moment without drifting into thoughts about the past or concerns about the future and without analyzing (or making judgments about) what is going on around you. It’s not a new idea. Religious texts have extolled mindfulness for centuries, and it’s central to Buddhism and other contemplative traditions.

Since the early 1980s, mindfulness meditation has increasingly found a place in mainstream health care and medicine because of evidence that it’s good for emotional and physical health — for example, helping to reduce anxiety, stress, depression, chronic pain, psoriasis, headache, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Some studies suggest that it can improve immune function. And research has found an association between mindfulness meditation–induced improvements in psychological well-being and increased activity of telomerase, an enzyme important to the long-term health of cells. With advances in neuroimaging, scientists have begun to explore the brain mechanisms that may underlie these benefits.

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April 15, 2011

Being ‘Mindful’ Can Neutralize Fears of Death and Dying

ScienceDaily (Feb. 28, 2011) — Death can be terrifying. Recognizing that death is inescapable and unpredictable makes us incredibly vulnerable, and can invoke feelings of anxiety, hatred and fear. But new research by George Mason University psychology professor Todd Kashdan shows that being a mindful person not only makes you generally more tolerant and less defensive, but it can also actually neutralize fears of dying and death.

“Mindfulness is being open, receptive, and attentive to whatever is unfolding in the present moment,” says Kashdan. In his latest research, Kashdan and his colleagues wanted to find out if mindful people had different attitudes about death and dying.

“Generally, when reminded of our mortality, we are extremely defensive. Like little kids who nearly suffocate under blanket protection to fend off the monster in the closet, the first thing we try to do is purge any death-related thoughts or feelings from our mind,” says Kashdan.

“On the fringes of this conscious awareness, we try another attempt to ward off death anxiety. We violently defend beliefs and practices that provide a sense of stability and meaning in our lives.”

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April 14, 2011

Vipassana Meditation Courses In Prisons

Vipassana courses have been held in three U.S. correctional facilities: the W.E. Donaldson Correctional Facility, a level 6 maximum-security state prison in Bessemer, Alabama, near Birmingham; the San Francisco Jail; and the North Rehabilitation Facility (N.R.F.), which was minimum-security facility of the King County jail system in Seattle, Washington. Lucia Meijer, the administrator of N.R.F., has played a key role in introducing the courses into North America prisons. After Ms. Meijer attended one of the 10 day courses herself at the Northwest Vipassana Center, she and her staff overcame the many administrative, security, and facilities hurdles to arrange the first course for men in November 1997. Since that time additional courses for both men and women have been conducted at N.R.F. with very positive results. These courses were described in articles by the Associated Press (AP) and by articles published by numerous major American newspapers, covered in an 8 minute Real Media radio interview and Windows Media radio interview on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and described in a program presented on National Public Radio (NPR). In addition, Ms. Meijer is the author of an article entitled “Vipassana Meditation at the North Rehabilitation Facility” in the July/August 1999 issue of American Jails Magazine.

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April 13, 2011

E. Gene Smith, Tibetan archivist and scholar, dies in Manhattan

E. Gene Smith, a Utah native who through persistence, ardor and benevolent guile amassed the largest collection of Tibetan books outside Tibet, saving them from isolation and destruction and making them accessible to scholars and Tibetan exiles around the world, died Dec. 16 at his home in Manhattan. He was 74.

The cause was not known, but Smith had had diabetes and heart trouble in recent years, said Jeff Wallman, executive director of the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center, which was founded by Smith and a small group of friends in 1999.

Now at 17 West 17th Street in Manhattan, the center houses nearly 25,000 books dating from the 12th century. Besides containing many of the seminal texts of Tibetan Buddhism, the collection comprises secular works on a range of topics.

Smith, a scholar who became so enamored of Tibetan culture that he converted to Buddhism as a young man, was renowned for his seemingly limitless knowledge of Tibetan literature and his equally limitless fervor for saving it.

The center has begun to digitize its collection, making the texts accessible (in the Tibetan language and script) to anyone with Internet access. Almost 14,000 volumes — more than 7 million pages — are available on its website, tbrc.org, which receives more than 3,000 visitors daily.

”The idea is to deliver the tradition back to the owners of the traditions,” Smith told the Buddhist magazine Mandala in 2001.

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April 12, 2011

Meditation a powerful tool against pain

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Meditation can deliver powerful pain-relieving effects to the brain with even just 80 minutes’ training for a beginner in an exercise called focused attention, a study released Tuesday found.

“This is the first study to show that only a little over an hour of meditation training can dramatically reduce both the experience of pain and pain-related brain activation,” said Fadel Zeidan, lead author of the study and a post-doctoral research fellow at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina.

The findings appear in the April 6 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

“We found a big effect — about a 40-percent reduction in pain intensity and a 57-percent reduction in pain unpleasantness. Meditation produced a greater reduction in pain than even morphine or other pain-relieving drugs, which typically reduce pain ratings by about 25 percent,” he added.

[…]

“One of the reasons that meditation may have been so effective in blocking pain was that it did not work at just one place in the brain, but instead reduced pain at multiple levels of processing,” Zeidan added.

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