Can meditation change your brain? From CNN’s Dan Gilgoff:

Can meditation change your brain? Contemplative neuroscientists believe it can

Can people strengthen the brain circuits associated with happiness and positive behavior, just as we’re able to strengthen muscles with exercise?
Richard Davidson, who for decades has practiced Buddhist-style meditation – a form of mental exercise, he says – insists that we can.
And Davidson, who has been meditating since visiting India as a Harvard grad student in the 1970s, has credibility on the subject beyond his own experience.

A trained psychologist based at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, he has become the leader of a relatively new field called contemplative neuroscience – the brain science of meditation. Over the last decade, Davidson and his colleagues have produced scientific evidence for the theory that meditation – the ancient eastern practice of sitting, usually accompanied by focusing on certain objects – permanently changes the brain for the better.

“We all know that if you engage in certain kinds of exercise on a regular basis you can strengthen certain muscle groups in predictable ways,” Davidson says in his office at the University of Wisconsin, where his research team has hosted scores of Buddhist monks and other meditators for brain scans. “Strengthening neural systems is not fundamentally different,” he says. “It’s basically replacing certain habits of mind with other habits.” Contemplative neuroscientists say that making a habit of meditation can strengthen brain circuits responsible for maintaining concentration and generating empathy.

One recent study by Davidson’s team found that novice meditators stimulated their limbic systems – the brain’s emotional network – during the practice of compassion meditation, an ancient Tibetan Buddhist practice. That’s no great surprise, given that compassion meditation aims to produce a specific emotional state of intense empathy, sometimes call “lovingkindness.”

But the study also found that expert meditators – monks with more than 10,000 hours of practice – showed significantly greater activation of their limbic systems. The monks appeared to have permanently changed their brains to be more empathetic. An earlier study by some of the same researchers found that committed meditators experienced sustained changes in baseline brain function, meaning that they had changed the way their brains operated even outside of meditation.

These changes included ramped-up activation of a brain region thought to be responsible for generating positive emotions, called the left-sided anterior region. The researchers found this change in novice meditators who’d enrolled in a course in mindfulness meditation – a technique that borrows heavily from Buddhism – that lasted just eight weeks.

But most brain research around meditation is still preliminary, waiting to be corroborated by other scientists. Meditation’s psychological benefits and its use in treatments for conditions as diverse as depression and chronic pain are more widely acknowledged. Serious brain science around meditation has emerged only in about the last decade, since the birth of functional MRI allowed scientists to begin watching the brain and monitoring its changes in relatively real time.

Beginning in the late 1990s, a University of Pennsylvania-based researcher named Andrew Newberg said that his brain scans of experienced meditators showed the prefrontal cortex – the area of the brain that houses attention – surging into overdrive during meditation while the brain region governing our orientation in time and space, called the superior parietal lobe, went dark. (One of his scans is pictured, above.)

Newberg said his findings explained why meditators are able to cultivate intense concentration while also describing feelings of transcendence during meditation. But some scientists said Newberg was over-interpreting his brain scans. Others said he failed to specify the kind of meditation he was studying, making his studies impossible to reproduce. His popular books, like Why God Won’t Go Away, caused more eye-rolling among neuroscientists, who said he hyped his findings to goose sales. “It caused mainstream scientists to say that the only work that has been done in the field is of terrible quality,” says Alasdair Coles, a lecturer in neurology at England’s University of Cambridge.

Newberg, now at Thomas Jefferson University and Hospital in Philadelphia, stands by his research. And contemplative neuroscience had gained more credibility in the scientific community since his early scans. One sign of that is increased funding from the National Institutes of Health, which has helped establish new contemplative science research centers at Stanford University, Emory University, and the University of Wisconsin, where the world’s first brain imaging lab with a meditation room next door is now under construction.

The NIH could not provide numbers on how much it gives specifically to meditation brain research but its grants in complementary and alternative medicine – which encompass many meditation studies – have risen from around $300 million in 2007 to an estimated $541 million in 2011. “The original investigations by people like Davidson in the 1990s were seen as intriguing, but it took some time to be convinced that brain processes were really changing during meditation,” says Josephine Briggs, Director of the NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Most studies so far have examined so-called focused-attention meditation, in which the practitioner concentrates on a particular subject, such as the breath. The meditator monitors the quality of attention and, when it drifts, returns attention to the object. Over time, practitioners are supposed to find it easier to sustain attention during and outside of meditation.

In a 2007 study, Davidson compared the attentional abilities of novice meditators to experts in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Participants in both groups were asked to practice focused-attention meditation on a fixed dot on a screen while researchers ran fMRI scans of their brains.

To challenge the participants’ attentional abilities, the scientists interrupted the meditations with distracting sounds. The brain scans found that both experienced and novice meditators activated a network of attention-related regions of the brain during meditation. But the experienced meditators showed more activation in some of those regions.

The inexperienced meditators, meanwhile, showed increased activation in brain regions that have been shown to negatively correlate with sustaining attention. Experienced meditators were better able to activate their attentional networks to maintain concentration on the dot. They had, the study suggested, changed their brains.

The MRI scans also showed that experienced meditators had less neural response to the distracting noises that interrupted the meditation. In fact, the more hours of experience a meditator had, the scans found, the less active his or her emotional networks were during the distracting sounds, which meant the easier it was to focus. More recently, contemplative neuroscience has turned toward compassion meditation, which involves generating empathy through objectless awareness; practitioners call it non-referential compassion meditation.

New neuroscientific interest in the practice comes largely at the urging of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual and politial leader of Tibetan Buddhists, for whom compassion meditation is a time-worn tradition. The Dalai Lama has arranged for Tibetan monks to travel to American universities for brain scans and has spoken at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, the world’s largest gathering of brain scientists.

A religious leader, the Dalai Lama has said he supports contemplative neuroscience even though scientists are stripping meditation of its Buddhist roots, treating it purely as a mental exercise that more or less anyone can do. “This is not a project about religion,” says Davidson. “Meditation is mental activity that could be understood in secular terms.” Still, the nascent field faces challenges. Scientists have scanned just a few hundred brains on meditation do date, which makes for a pretty small research sample. And some scientists say researchers are over eager to use brain science to prove the that meditation “works.”

“This is a field that has been populated by true believers,” says Emory University scientist Charles Raison, who has studied meditation’s effect on the immune system. “Many of the people doing this research are trying to prove scientifically what they already know from experience, which is a major flaw.”

But Davidson says that other types of scientists also have deep personal interest in what they’re studying. And he argues that that’s a good thing. “There’s a cadre of grad students and post docs who’ve found personal value in meditation and have been inspired to study it scientifically,” Davidson says. “These are people at the very best universities and they want to do this for a career.

“In ten years,” he says, “we’ll find that meditation research has become mainstream.”

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Altars of Power and Grace ~ Create the Life You Desire By Michael & Robin Mastro


Altars of Power and Grace ~ Create the Life You Desire

Nominated for NINE national literary awards and winner of Spirituality Book of the Year (USA Book News) and Self-Help Book of the Year (Coalition of Visionary Resources – COVR), Altars of Power and Grace brings you the power and beauty of altars using the sacred science of Vastu Shastra, India’s Feng Shui. Enlightening and informative, this book is treasured by thousands around the world. With easy and concise instructions readers learn to maximize potential and attract Universal Support to enliven their surroundings while transforming their lives.

Learn how to create specific altars that fulfill your individual desires

* Love, Relationships, and Marriage
* Abundance and Financial Prosperity
* Health and Well-Being
* Career Success and Recognition
* Creativity and Spirituality

TABLE OF CONTENTS

SECTION ONE: The Knowledge of Sacred Empowerment
Chapter 1 – Altars of Power and Grace: The Evolution
Chapter 2 – Vastu Shastra: The Science and History
Chapter 3 – Our Desires, Aspirations and Dreams: Introduction to Creating Altars
Chapter 4 – Representing The Five Elements: Items to Use and Their Placement
Chapter 5 – The Process of Manifesting Your Dreams and Desires

SECTION TWO: The Altars of Power and Grace
Introduction
Chapter 6 – Altars that Invite Abundance and Prosperity
Chapter 7 – Altars to Support or Draw Relationships and Marriage
Chapter 8 – Altars for Enhancing Career and Recognition
Chapter 9 – Altars to Improve Health and Well-Being
Chapter 10 – Altars that Heighten Spirituality
Chapter 11 – Altars that Assist Life Changes and Transformation
Chapter 12 – Altars to Increase Creativity and Knowledge
Chapter 13 – Altars to Attract Helpful People and Universal Support
Chapter 14 – Altars for Special Occasions
Chapter 15 -The Global Peace Altar

SECTION THREE: Resources
Appendix i Glossary of Terms
Appendix ii Gods, Goddesses, and Religious Deities
Appendix iii Yantras and Mantras
Appendix iv Additional References
Notes

Michael & Robin Mastro: Leading Vastu Shastra Expert by Anjula

Michael and Robin Mastro are the leaders in the field of Vastu Shastra. Through their vast experience, they have created a unique system that offers life-enhancing yet simple principles. This exciting technique is presented in their groundbreaking award-winning books, Altars of Power and Grace and The Way of Vastu. By following these dynamic tools anyone can transform their life and make their dreams a reality.

Robin Mastro instructs people worldwide to enhance living and working environments through Vastu Shastra . Her work in this inspiring field took her to Egypt and India, where she studied ancient concepts of sacred space and Vastu Shastra. In 1998 she received her masters in Whole Systems Design from Antioch University, combining systems theory and creative design to develop transformative tools for environmental harmony and personal growth. Robin is dedicated to adapting the wisdom of ancient systems to enhance the reality of modern life. She is the creator of AltarWear, a jewelry and clothing line based on Vedic teachings. We recently had the distinct honor and privilege to speak with Robin about the life enhancing work she and her husband have been doing in the area of Vastu.

LM: Over the past several years Vastu Shastra has become a very popular phrase, yet only a few have a true understanding of the meaning and philosophy behind it. Can you explain what the basic principles of Vastu Shastra are?

RM: By aligning our homes and workspaces with universal energy that is alive and ever-present we experience nature’s support. The basic principles of Vastu Shastra, the science of building, are the solar energy coming from the east and the magnetic energy coming from the north. These two forces influence every aspect of our lives, no matter where we are on the planet.Vastu also balances the five elements of earth, water, fire, air and space.



LM
: How did you first get introduced to Vastu Shastra?

RM: Michael was introduced to Vastu in the late 60′s by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Beatles guru. As a young architect, he designed spiritual centers worldwide for Transcendental Meditation. It was through working closely with this enlightened man who is a part of the Vedic lineage that Vastu comes from that he learned the basic use of the science.Over the past 50 years, Michael has studied with many celebrated Vastu architects and has studied the complex texts of Vastu written about thousands of years ago and is considered one the foremost scholars of Vastu in North America, if not the world. For many years,I studied Vastu with Michael, then received my masters degree in Whole Systems Design focused on how to make the science more accessible to the west

LM: How/when did you decide to make this a lifelong pursuit?

RM: Our business is a natural extension of our spiritual work as teachers of Vedic knowledge – meditation, Vedic breathing and yoga. Over the years, we saw many people struggling and suffering in their lives and we have developed an elegant system to balance any home or office no matter how compromised the structure may be.

LM: Why is Vastu called the science of time and space? What is the philosophy behind it? Why Should One Follow Vastu?

RM: The philosophy of Vastu is to reestablish man’s relationship to nature and the cosmos so nature will support mankind in all his endeavors, which goes beyond the time/space/karmic continuum. An analogy would be flowing with a stream instead of struggling against it.

LM: Can we see the influence of the ancient Indian science of Vastu in other cultures? (i.e., its Chinese counterpart, Feng-Shui)

RM: Vastu Shastra is between 7,000-10,000 years old. About 3,000 years ago, monks took the knowledge of Vastu across Tibet into China where it was adapted to local cultural and climatic concerns and became known as Feng Shui. Both Vastu and Feng Shui aim at balancing the elements and raising the life-force energy (“prana” in Sanskrit -India’s ancient language – or “chi” in Chinese).

LM: Why is the positioning of the main entrance door considered so vital in the building design process?

RM: When one has the opportunity to build from scratch it is optimal to face the door north or east to receive the positive magnetic energy from the north or the positive solar energy from the east. These energies enhance every aspect of our lives.

LM: Could you give us a few Vastu suggestions for selection of sites. (i.e., What direction the sun is in–in relation to the house)?

RM: Basically, the lot should be north or east facing with a north or east slope, water bodies to the north or east. Rivers or streams should flow south to north or west to east. There is a great deal of specific information that is then figured out based on the actual location.

LM: Could you give us an example of a Vastu-perfect house with regard to the configuration of the living spaces. ( we use only Vastu in our work, not Vaastu…so I’m correcting as I go along) (It would be great if you could talk about your current work on the process of building an eco-green home per Vastu almost 100% off the grid in Seattle).

RM: Vastu houses are designed in a rectangular fashion with more windows and doors on the north and east sides. Fire elements,like kitchens would go in the southeast or northwest, toilets would go in the northwest, sleeping areas would be in the south, west, or southwest. An open, sky-lighted area in the center (known as theBrahmasthana in Sanskrit – which translates into the “center of awareness.”) No furniture is allowed in this area. It is where universal energy enters the home as a blessing. The home we are in the process of building right now includes specifics mentioned above and it also utilizes geo-thermal, solar, passive solar, natural ventilating techniques that conserve energy. This house will be LEEDS Platinum Certified, which has the highest residential green rating.

LM: What is your advice for city dwellers who may not be able to follow Vaastu principles in their entirety because of specific space constraints? Do you recommend structural changes if the plot is already constructed?

RM: We almost never recommend structural changes as they can be more stressful than living with the Vastu imbalances. We have developed the technology to correct any imbalance without demolition or remodeling. People from all over the world fax or email us their floor plans with specific information added which helps us identify the environmental problems that people are dealing with. We Email a report with our suggestions for products that will correct the imbalances. The products are then sent with instructions. It’s very easy. We have done this for thousands of people all over the world. People can learn more about this by going to our website at

LM: What would you say is the relevance of Vaastu Shastra in today’s world?

RM: Vastu is the science that will help re-establish our intrinsic connection to nature and reduce the stress that we all experience daily in our lives.

LM: According to the tenants of Vastu, when we integrate the laws of nature into our lives, we find balance and harmony. When these natural laws are ignored, we experience stress and disease. Can you recall any examples of past experiences where Vastu Shastra alleviated some of these stresses?

Robin: We have many clients where they have experienced remarkable results in all aspects of their lives, whether it is balancing the body, eliminating stress in the mind, supporting relationships, enhancing careers, abundance, what have you. Once stress is removed and balance can be restored, nature can flow freely and support us. You could see it as an energetic chiropractic adjustment for the home.

LM: Nowadays we hear a lot about the importance of ecology, saving the environment, protecting Mother Nature, can you provide some essential tips that instill the basics of Vastu?

RM: Aligning yourself with the forces of the sun, wind and celestial energies are just some of the ways that Vastu is ecologically based. For example, passive solar energy and natural ventilation are combined in a solar chimney used for natural cooling and heating and is a receptor for celestial energies in the Brahmasthana, or central area, in many Vastu buildings we design.

Vastu is the science of living in harmony with nature that predates feng shui by 3000 years.
This vastu presentation gives you scientific tips to improve relationships, health, career and finances
without remodeling.

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