BY LINDA EGENES

Fifty years ago, the US educational system scored the highest in high school graduation rates among twenty-seven industrialized nations. Today, we rank twenty-second, with dropout rates of 27 percent. And for underserved African-American and Hispanic students in urban schools across the nation, the dropout rates are much, much worse—close to 40 percent.

Studies published in peer-reviewed journals already show that TM significantly reduces stress in adults. Now a growing body of research from the University of Michigan, American University, and the University of Connecticut shows that it is equally effective for children and adolescents.

Studies published in peer-reviewed journals already show that TM significantly reduces stress in adults. Now a growing body of research from the University of Michigan, American University, and the University of Connecticut shows that it is equally effective for children and adolescents.

As you would expect, the rest of the numbers don’t look good either. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which functions as a kind of nation’s report card, the US is flunking. Two out of three eighth-graders can’t read proficiently. Nearly two-thirds of eighth-graders scored below proficient in math.

Yet there are bright lights in the educational landscape. In some of our most troubled schools, students, administrators, and teachers have implemented a program called Quiet Time, which allows students to be quiet, read, or practice meditation for ten minutes twice a day on school time. The Transcendental Meditation technique is one of the options for Quiet Time.

Recent research shows that Quiet Time is having a positive impact, with one urban school reporting an increase in attendance to 98.6 percent, an 86 percent drop in suspension, and a 42-point gain in academic performance on state tests. Research on the Quiet Time program in other troubled urban schools reveals equally impressive results, with reduced symptoms of ADHD and other learning disorders, 40 percent reduction in psychological distress, and 65 percent decrease in violent conflict over two years. And yes—one study showed a 15 percent improvement in graduation rates.

“The Quiet Time program helped us change the predictive power of demographics,” says a principal of an embattled West Coast, urban school.

But how does it work?

A Surge-Protector against Stress

“All of us have kids you try to teach but their heads are down on the desk,” says the now retired superintendent of a school district that was one of the first to bring Quiet Time into its schools. “They’re out of it while you’re trying to teach. Why? Because of their lives. Because of stress.”

According to an American Psychological Association survey, 27 percent of adolescents report feeling extremely anxious during the school year. One in three children are obese and 11 percent have been diagnosed with ADHD. All of these problems are related to stress—and all can hamper a child’s learning ability.

Studies published in peer-reviewed journals already show that TM significantly reduces stress in adults. Now a growing body of research from the University of Michigan, American University, and the University of Connecticut shows that it is equally effective for children and adolescents.

For instance, a new study published in the Journal of Instructional Psychology found that TM significantly decreased psychological distress in public school students. The study, conducted with at-risk, minority, secondary-school students, showed a 36 percent reduction in overall psychological distress. Significant decreases were also found in trait anxiety and depressive symptoms.

One thing is clear to researchers and educators alike: lessening the stress can have a positive impact on mental health, heart health, and academic achievement.

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Increased Academic Achievement and Graduation Rates

It turns out our nation’s middle schools are especially vulnerable to the double whammy of stress and low academic achievement—and for at-risk kids in urban schools, the scores are much lower than the nation’s norms.

Yet the journal Education recently reported that students from an urban middle school saw their academic achievement improve when they experienced more inner quietness and less stress after the introduction of the Quiet Time program with the TM option.

“These initial research studies, showing the benefits of the Quiet Time program on reducing stress and raising academic achievement, hold promise for public education,” says Sanford Nidich, EdD, professor of education and lead investigator of both studies. “The findings suggest that there is a practical, value-added, educational program which can help low-performing minority students begin to close the achievement gap.”

Another pioneering study focused on graduation rates in an East Coast, urban high school. Graduation rates are the litmus test of educational success—and recent data shows that only 69 percent of students graduate from our nation’s schools.

“Urban schools on the whole tend to suffer from a range of factors that contribute to poor student academic performance and low graduation rates,” says lead author Robert D. Colbert, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of Connecticut.

Results showed a 15 percent higher graduation rate for a group that was practicing the TM technique as compared to non-meditating controls. The largest effect was found in the most academically challenged students, with a 25 percent increase in graduation rates.

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Results showed a 15 percent higher graduation rate for a group that was practicing the TM technique as compared to non-meditating controls. The largest effect was found in the most academically challenged students, with a 25 percent increase in graduation rates.

Findings also showed that meditating students were less apt to drop out from school or enter prison, and were more likely to be accepted to post-secondary institutions.

Better Brain Power

Researchers now understand that stress also affects concentration, focus, and other functions of the developing brain.

For example, researchers today understand that problems such as ADHD, the inability to control attention, are caused by underdevelopment or underutilization of the prefrontal cortex, which shuts down under stress. By addressing that stress, students can bring about a marked and highly visible increase in the coherent functioning of their brains.

In a landmark study published in Current Issues in Education, researchers Grosswald, Stixrud, and Travis looked at brain functioning of children with ADHD who practiced the TM technique, as compared to controls.

“In just six months, the brain functioning of the meditating students had moved from being solidly within clinical ADHD symptoms to just within normal brain functioning,” says Dr. Travis, Director of the Center for Brain, Consciousness, and Cognition.

“What that means in practical terms is that they were able to start self-regulating both physical and mental impulses,” he says. “So, for example, they were able to remember to raise their hand before speaking.”

Based on these initial findings, Dr. Travis and his colleagues decided to look at brain wave coherence, as measured by EEG, to find out if the practice of TM could help children with ADHD develop a more integrated brain functioning.

“In this random-assignment pilot study of children with ADHD aged eleven to fourteen, we saw significant increases in coherence in all parts of the brain in four frequency bands,” says Dr. Travis. “This means the brain is ceasing to function as isolated modules and is beginning to function more as a whole.”

Dr. Travis explains that integrated brain functioning results in improved focus on schoolwork, organizational abilities, ability to work independently, level of happiness, and quality of sleep.

“The TM group also improved in something called ‘letter fluency,’ which measures the ability of the frontal lobes to generate many new ideas, to be more creative,” he says.

Solution to Teacher Burnout

It’s not only the kids who are stressed these days. Half of new teachers bow out after just five years on the job, says the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. This is especially a problem in urban schools, where a higher turnover rate results in a higher percentage of under-qualified teachers.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, it’s teacher burnout that is causing teachers to flee.

So once again, stress is the culprit. Just as it’s hard for teachers to teach stressed kids, it’s equally hard for kids to learn if their teachers are depressed, anxious, scattered, or sick from an overload of stress.

Fortunately, TM can be equally effective in helping teachers as it is with students. A randomized, controlled study recently published in the Permanente Journal was conducted over four months at the Bennington School in Vermont, a special, in-residence school for students with behavioral problems.

Studies published in peer-reviewed journals already show that TM significantly reduces stress in adults. Now a growing body of research from the University of Michigan, American University, and the University of Connecticut shows that it is equally effective for children and adolescents.

“The four-month study found significant and clinically important decreases in perceived stress, emotional exhaustion associated with teacher burnout, and depressive symptoms in those practicing the TM program compared to a wait-list control group.” —Dr. Charles Elder, MD, MPH

“The results of this randomized, controlled trial are very striking and demonstrate the utility of introducing a stress reduction program for teachers and other public and private employees,” says Dr. Charles Elder, MD, MPH, a Senior Physician in the Department of Internal Medicine at Kaiser Permanente Northwest and the lead author of the study. “The four-month study found significant and clinically important decreases in perceived stress, emotional exhaustion associated with teacher burnout, and depressive symptoms in those practicing the TM program compared to a wait-list control group.”

Change Begins Within

To help underserved kids learn, acclaimed movie director David Lynch established the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace in 2005. To date, it has awarded scholarships to over a hundred thousand at-risk students around the world, including the Quiet Time programs in Detroit, Phoenix, Los Angeles, New York, New Haven, Chicago, and Washington, DC. In addition to funding research, the DLF also funds programs for prisoners, veterans with PTSD, victims of domestic violence, and the homeless to learn the TM technique and start a new life of positive transformation.

David Lynch is passionate about helping kids reduce stress, succeed in school, and follow their dreams. “In today’s world of fear and uncertainty, every child should have two short class periods a day to dive deep within themselves and experience the field of silence and inner happiness —the enormous reservoir of energy and intelligence that is deep within all of us,” he says. “This is the way to save the coming generation.”

Now there are dozens of other schools waiting for funding to implement the Quiet Time program.

For the school administrators and teachers who have seen their schools transformed with Quiet Time, it’s a program that holds great promise for educating children and providing them with an immensely valuable tool for life.

“The research is showing us that the experience of restful alertness provided by TM is an important educational experience that promotes learning, reduces violence, and supports healthy psychological development,” says Dr. Jamie Grant, National Director of Programs for the David Lynch Foundation. “This experience belongs in schools everywhere.”

(I originally wrote this interview for Enlightenment Magazine, Issue number 23. Reprinted with permission.)

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BY LINDA EGENES

Dr. Suzanne SteinbaumCardiologist Suzanne Steinbaum, MD, is a woman on a mission. As Director of Women and Heart Disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City and author of the life-changing Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum’s Heart Book: Every Woman’s Guide to a Heart-Healthy Life, she is teaching women a new, heart-centered way to live.

And she is succeeding. While many doctors complain that their patients don’t want to make the lifestyle changes that will truly transform their health, Dr. Steinbaum doesn’t have that problem.

You only have to talk to Dr. Steinbaum for a few minutes to find out why she calls herself a preventive cardiologist. When a patient comes to her office who has not been feeling well for a long time, Dr. Steinbaum gets the patient talking about her unhealthy food choices, her lack of exercise, and the stressors in her life. And then she motivates the patient to change.

“It seems to me that there are two options,” she says. “You can pull out your pad and write a prescription, or you can actually help them change their lives, which is something that they own forever. There is nothing more powerful than that.”

Dr. Steinbaum’s enthusiasm for transforming women’s heart health is contagious.

As a national spokesperson for the Go Red for Women campaign, as a featured guest on 20/20, Good Morning America, and major networks, and as the host of her TV show, Focus OnHealth, she is reaching out to women all over the country.

It’s not only passion for her work that fuels Dr. Steinbaum’s success; it’s authenticity. She has lived what she teaches from an early age.

Sharing Her Own Personal Family History of Health

Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum’s Heart Book: Every Woman’s Guide to a Heart-Healthy LifeIn creating the future of women’s medicine, Dr. Steinbaum looked to her past. “When I was writing Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum’s Heart Book, I realized that it was my story that drove me to do what I do,” she says.

Her story begins with her grandfather, who, as an athletic teen, was told by his doctor he could not play high school football because of a heart murmur. “He couldn’t understand why a doctor would tell him he was sick when he felt perfectly healthy,” says Steimbaum. “So he decided to learn more about the body, driving to New York City from New Jersey to take classes in nutrition.”

Eventually he became a doctor of osteopathy, which is a more hands-on field of medicine that focuses on holistic healing, beginning a family tradition that now includes eighteen doctors of osteopathy in the Steinbaum family.

Through his research, Steinbaum’s grandfather knew that nutrition affected the heart, and favored foods that modern research has found to be heart-healthy, such as avocados and dark chocolate. “Years later, when I was in my training, I wrote an article on nutrition and prevention of heart disease,” says Steinbaum. “Then I found out my grandfather wrote almost the exact same article in the 1930s. It felt strange, almost surreal. I wondered, ‘Is this genetic?’ ”

Whether nature or nurture, Steinbaum knew she wanted to be a doctor from an early age. As a child she followed her father on his hospital rounds on the weekend, and found it great fun to “assist” her grandfather in his home office.

“I was raised with the belief system that everyone is a holistic being, and you can’t treat just one aspect of the body,” she says.

Tackling the Myths of Women’s Heart Health

Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum

“It’s important that you incorporate habits in your life that aren’t a burden. They have to add to your life, not make it more difficult. I think that TM is one of the easiest things to do. It’s certainly one of the most effective.”

Like her grandfather and father, Steinbaum first trained as a doctor of osteopathy. Two things happened that altered the course of her career.

“As a student I was working in the emergency room, and a relatively young-looking women was wheeled in sweating and vomiting,” she remembers. “The doctors diagnosed it as gastroenteritis and left her to wait in the corner. She had a heart attack right there in the ER. I thought, ‘That’s what I am going to do; help women not get heart attacks.’ ”

Years later, Steinbaum ended up doing a rotation at Block Island in Rhode Island. She was shocked to see a parade of young women visiting her office complaining of heart palpitations and chest pains while on vacation with their families.

“And I thought, ‘What is this?’ ” she says. “I could see that these highly successful, but highly stressed, women needed help. These two things have stayed in my heart my entire career.”

Propelled by the desire to educate women to recognize and prevent heart disease, she went on to become board certified as an MD and a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology.

Dr. Steinbaum likes to point out that although heart disease is thought to be a man’s disease, it is actually the number one killer of women. And because the symptoms are different in women than in men, many doctors don’t recognize the early signs of heart disease—or even heart attacks—in women.

“There is an increased incidence of heart disease in women less than fifty-five years old,” she says. “Women need to start early to prevent it, especially if there is a family history.”

Dr. Steinbaum says the significance of prevention for heart disease was what drew her to the field.“It was so compelling to be able to change the outcomes of people’s lives by simply helping them to change their lifestyles,” she says. “If I could teach people how to prevent the number one killer disease, what could be better than that?”

What Every Woman Can Do to Prevent Heart Disease

When I ask her to name the three most important things women can do for their hearts, Dr. Steinbaum says, “I used to say ‘stop smoking’ first, but now most people are on that bandwagon. Now I’d say eating a really healthy diet, and exercising, which, by far, is the best medication. And having a way to reduce stress is essential.”

For stress, Dr. Steinbaum recommends the Transcendental Meditation technique.

“I tell my patients that we have to treat this issue of overwhelming stress in their lives, and this is an evidence-based technique that has been shown to reduce blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes by 48 percent,” she says. “The American Heart Association recommends it as the most effective stress management tool for reducing hypertension.”

She says she first recommended TM because she was impressed with the research. “And then I learned it myself, and thought, ‘Oh this is huge! This is a really, really big deal; something that goes far beyond the medical benefits. One of my favorite things to say is that I never thought I could sit still that long, and now I look forward to it. I also say, ‘Trust me on this one; this is going to work.’ ”

As a working mother of an eight-year-old, Dr. Steinbaum herself is no stranger to the stress of modern life. “Every day I have about twenty-five million things to do, and before I did TM it sometimes was an overwhelming, daunting task,” she says. “Now that I do TM, it doesn’t mean I have less to do; it just means that it’s easier and calmer. There’s a lack of chaotic thought, and it’s almost like everything falls in place.”

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“Doing what is best for you, eating what feels best for you, exercising, living with passion, living with purpose—that is what living from the heart is all about. And, ultimately, that is the way to be the most heart healthy.”

TM offers a way out of the vicious cycle of stress, notes Dr. Steinbaum. “If you can meditate regularly and slow your breathing, slow your heart rate, dilate your arteries, and decrease your blood pressure, it’s done!”

But just like exercise or changing your diet, you have to do it regularly to create the change in the physiology. “We know that the change is persistent if you make a regular, routine practice of it,” she says.

For Steinbaum, any healthy habit has to resonate with a person’s goals and lifestyle. “It’s important that you incorporate things in your life that aren’t a burden,” she says. “They have to add to your life, not make it more difficult. I think that TM is one of the easiest things to do. It’s certainly one of the most effective.”

Living from the Heart

Dr. Steinbaum calls her philosophy of preventing heart disease “living from the heart.”

When she speaks, her belief in her patients’ ability to transform their lives is palpable.

“Doing what is best for you, eating what feels best for you, exercising, living with passion, living with purpose—that is what living from the heart is all about,” she says. “And, ultimately, that is the way to be the most heart healthy.”

She advises her patients: “Live from your heart and everything else will be fine.”

To help her patients become more aware of who they are and what they need to feel healthy, Dr. Steinbaum leads them in an exercise called “journaling their lives.”

“When people get caught in the minutiae of their own existence, it’s unhealthy, so I try to get people to step outside of themselves and to understand what they are living for,” she says. “For instance, a woman might feel motivated to lose weight so she can enjoy playing with her grandchildren.”

Later on, feeling good itself is enough motivation to eat heart-healthy foods, Dr. Steinbaum explains. But in the beginning, it’s easier for people to tie their goal to something larger than themselves.

“‘I want to lose weight to look thinner’ is usually not enough motivation,” she says.

Dr. Steinbaum has clearly poured her heart into her mission of educating women and preventing heart disease, and it’s her biggest reward when she sees a patient living from her heart and feeling better.

“I feel lucky to be a part of that transformation,” she says. “It’s amazing. Simply amazing.”

Dr. Steinbaum’s Top Five Heart-Health Tips

  1. Never smoke
  2. Exercise
  3. Eat heart-healthy foods
  4. Reduce stress with Transcendental Meditation
  5. Live from your heart
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(I originally wrote this interview for Enlightenment Magazine, Issue number 23. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES
Living From Your Heart: Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum Shares Her Passion for Women’s Heart HealthI don’t know about you, but it seems to me that there is a shift in medicine taking place—not only because patients are demanding more natural, preventive approaches, but because a new generation of doctors is leading the way.No one embodies this new paradigm of medicine more than Suzanne Steinbaum in her incredibly readable book Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum’s Heart Book: Every Woman’s Guide to a Heart-Healthy Life. As an MD, a cardiologist, the Director of Women and Heart Disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, and a spokesperson for the American Heart Association’s Go Red Women campaign—Dr. Steinbaum has the credentials. And because she speaks with the authentic voice of experience about how to live a healthy life—in her book, on her website and blog, as a columnist for Huffington Post, as a featured guest on 20/20, Good Morning America, and major networks, and as the host of her TV show, Focus OnHealth—women are listening.I sincerely think all women can benefit from reading this book, not only because any woman could be at risk for heart disease, but also for the experience of having a doctor talk to you about your health in a way that lets you know she GETS it. She understands how a woman’s physiology is different from a man’s, how stress and emotions can affect us so deeply, how women are often misdiagnosed, how clinical trials don’t reflect the way women react to treatment because most trials are done on men.Dr. Steinbaum was first inspired to become a cardiologist when she was a student observing in an ER. “I was the kind of student who wrote down everything the doctor said,” she says. “A relatively young-looking women was wheeled in sweating and vomiting. The doctors diagnosed it as gastroenteritis and left her to wait in the corner. She ended up having a heart attack. I thought, ‘That’s what I am going to do, help women not get heart attacks.’”Dr. Steinbaum likes to point out that although heart disease is thought to be a men’s disease, it is actually the number one killer of women. And because the symptoms are different in women than in men, many doctors don’t recognize the early signs of heart disease—or even heart attacks—in women.

“There is an increased incidence of heart disease in women less than 55 years old,” she says. “Women need to start early to prevent it, especially if there is a family history.”

Living from Your Heart

Dr. Steinbaum calls her philosophy of preventing heart disease “living from your heart.” When she speaks, her belief in her patients’ ability to transform their lives is palpable.

“Doing what is best for you, eating what feels best for you, exercising, living with passion, living with purpose—that is what living from the heart is all about,” she says. “And ultimately that is the way to be the most heart healthy.”

She advises her patients, “Live from your heart and everything else will be fine.”

To help her patients become more aware of who they are and what they need to feel healthy, Dr. Steinbaum leads them in an exercise called “journaling their lives.”

“When people get caught in a minutia of their own existence, it’s unhealthy, so I try to get people to step outside of themselves and to understand what they are living for,” she says. “For instance, a woman might feel motivated to lose weight so she can enjoy playing with her grandchildren.”

Later on, feeling good itself is enough motivation to eat heart-healthy foods, Dr. Steinbaum explains. But in the beginning, it’s easier for people to tie their goal to something larger than themselves.

“‘I want to lose weight to look thinner’ is usually not enough motivation,” she says.

Preventing Stress from Turning Into A Heart Attack

When I ask her to name the three most important things women can do for their hearts, Dr. Steinbaum says, “I used to say ‘stop smoking’ but now most people are on that bandwagon. Now I’d say eating a really healthy diet, and exercising, which by far is the best medication. And having a way to reduce stress is essential.”

For reducing stress, Dr. Steinbaum recommends the Transcendental Meditation technique.

“I tell my patients that we have to treat this issue of overwhelming stress in their lives, and this is an evidence-based technique that has been shown to reduce blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes by 48 percent,” she says. “The American Heart Association recommends it as the most effective stress management tool for reducing hypertension.”

She says she first recommended TM because she was impressed with the research. “And then I learned it myself, and thought, ‘Oh this is huge! This is a really, really big deal, something that goes far beyond the medical benefits. One of my favorite things to say is that I never thought I could sit still that long, and now I look forward to it. I also say, ‘Trust me on this one, this is going to work.’”

As a working mother of an eight-year-old, Dr. Steinbaum herself is no stranger to the stress of modern life. “Every day I have about 25 million things to do, and before I did TM it sometimes was an overwhelming, daunting task,” she says. “Now that I do TM, it doesn’t mean I have less to do, it just means that it’s easier and calmer. There’s a lack of chaotic thought, and it’s almost like everything falls into place.”

TM offers a way out of the vicious cycle of stress, notes Dr. Steinbaum. “If you can meditate regularly and slow your breathing, slow your heart rate, dilate your arteries and decrease your blood pressure, it’s done!”

But just like exercise or changing your diet, you have to do it regularly to create the change in the physiology. “We know that the change is persistent if you make a regular, routine practice of it,” she says.

Dr. Steinbaum has clearly poured her heart into her mission of educating women and preventing heart disease, and it’s her biggest reward when she sees a patient living from her heart and feeling better.

“I feel lucky to be a part of that transformation,” she says. “It’s amazing. Simply amazing.”

YouTube Preview Image

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, April 30, 2015. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

Resilient to StressYesterday I was shopping at the mall and overheard a conversation between a salesperson and a grandfather pushing a beautiful 18-month-old girl in a stroller while her mother tried on clothes.

“You won’t find many kids like this one,” the proud grandfather was saying as we all watched the healthy infant smile and coo and stretch her feet and clap her hands. She was the picture of contentment and ease even though there were now three strangers (including me) gathered around her. She wasn’t just performing, either. She was looking me straight in the eye with pure love and delight.

“She’s always like this,” said the grandfather. “Even if she’s sick or teething, she’s happy.”

To me, that’s what resilience is—the ability to thrive no matter what the circumstances. Last week I wrote about a new study that showed resilient children tend to do well in life even in adverse conditions.

This got me thinking about how lacking in resilience I was as a child. Back then, you could look at me the wrong way and I’d burst into tears.

Yet as an adult, I have become much more resilient to stress with each passing year. Rather than growing in stress as I’ve aged, I feel like I’m letting more and more of it go. Not a small part of that growth in resilience has come by practicing the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique.

Twice a day, every day, I’ve been letting my mind and body settle down to a deep state of rest, much deep as sleep, and that refreshing state has allowed deep-rooted stress and fatigue to be released.

A meta-analysis of twenty programs of stress reduction shows that the TM technique is the most effective stress-reduction technique available. A number of studies published in peer-reviewed journals have found that the TM technique has a multi-faceted effect in reducing stress: it significantly lowers levels of cortisol (a stress hormone), decreases trait anxiety, and reduces sensitivity to stress. At the same time, TM practitioners show increased sense of security and Emotional Basic Trust (EBT)and increased serotonin levels (associated with relaxation and reduced stress).

Another three-month prospective study evaluated the effects of the Transcendental Meditation technique on stress reduction, health and employee development in a large manufacturing plant of a Fortune 100 corporation and a small distribution sales company. Employees who learned TM were compared to controls similar in worksite, job position, demographic, and pretest characteristics. Regular meditators improved significantly more than controls (with irregular meditators scoring in between) on multiple measures of stress and employee development, including: reduced physiological arousal (measured by skin conductance levels) during and outside TM practice; decreased trait anxiety, job tension, insomnia and fatigue, cigarette and hard liquor use; improved general health (and fewer health complaints); and enhanced employee effectiveness, job satisfaction, and work/personal relationships.

Getting rid of stress allows your mind and body to function normally, to heal itself if you are sick. And there’s this added advantage: the more stress-free you are, the more resilient you are to new stress coming in.

You could think of stress as a line being chiseled in stone. Something traumatic happens to you as a child, say your teacher wrongly accuses you of cheating and you are too shy to defend yourself. That stress is stored in your nervous system, in the chemistry of your body or in its structure. Maybe even a health problem has started from that traumatic stress, or maybe you stop trusting people in authority.

Then you start to practice Transcendental Meditation, to achieve a deep state of rest on a daily basis. That stress dissolves a little bit more during each meditation, or perhaps in one deeply restful session, it’s completely gone. You feel lighter, you don’t react when your boss unjustly criticizes you—you are able to defend yourself calmly, without stirring up the old feelings of disempowerment and shame. The same stressors are there in your environment, but you’re feeling stronger—it just doesn’t affect you anymore.

Instead of making such a deep impression on the physiology like a line chiseled in stone, stress becomes more like a line in water—you react for a moment, but because you are already functioning in a less stressed state, you’re more quickly free of it. The stress has been released.

It’s even possible, as you continue to dissolve stress through regular meditation, to become so established in a state of equanimity and bliss that nothing can shake you out of it. The traffic jam on the way to your child’s school, the difficult co-worker, the challenging hours your husband works—somehow you’re able to maintain that connection with the wholeness of life throughout it all. The ups and downs don’t shake you—you start seeing them as new opportunities for growth and enjoyment.

I think it’s important to note that we’re not talking about stepping away from our responsibilities in any way. We’re talking about strengthening ourselves so that whatever life brings us, we can react with calm, grace and ease. Stressors are there—modern life is stressful no matter where you live or what you do—but if you are resilient to stress, they roll off you like Teflon. It’s more like a line drawn on air—they don’t stress you at all.

And this doesn’t take years to happen. As Megan Fairchild, a principal with the New York City Ballet noticed six months after learning the TM technique, “I used to feel that things would stick to me like Velcro, and now, things just roll off. I still recognize moments happening that would normally frustrate me, but they just don’t irritate me as much as they used to. I am more able to deal with the stresses that come with my job.”

I’d also like to clarify that I’m not talking about an emotionally detached, disembodied state of being here. I’m talking about being more connected to your children and other loved ones, more loving, more fully engaged in life.

After all, when you are anxious, stressed and angry, how much help are you to those around you? A lightbulb must be fully lit to give light.

What brings in the light is the direct experience of joy, happiness—and, yes, bliss—that is already deep inside each of us. Bliss is our natural state, only it gets covered by stress. That’s why, when stress is reduced through TM—and we can directly experience that reservoir of bliss, energy, intelligence and creativity inside us all—so many aspects of life suddenly get better. We’ve removed the roadblocks and the bliss and happiness can flow. Health gets better, because with less stress, the body can heal itself more effectively. Relationships get better because the stress that came between us is starting to dissipate. Mental health improves as the anxiety, depression and anger recede.

It’s the experience of bliss that stabilizes the mind. It’s not that we infuse bliss into the mind. The mind already has bliss. It’s like a farmer who is having trouble getting water to his crops because there’s a big logjam in the irrigation canal. As soon as he removes the obstacles, the water can flow. In the same way, by removing stress, what is left is the natural state of the mind, the original state of the mind, which is bliss.

Like the beautiful, peaceful baby I met at the mall, we can tap into our own reservoir of bliss and creativity every day—it’s there waiting for us to enjoy.

Watch Video: http://www.tm-women.org/videos.html#video=VhepgxkAdDY

Additional References:

ALEXANDER CN et al. 1991 Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 6:189-247

EPPLEY, K.R., ABRAMS, A.I., AND SHEAR, J. 1989. Differential effects of relaxation techniques on trait anxiety: A meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 45(6), 957-974.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, January 25, 2015. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

Maharishi AyurVeda with Dr Mark ToomeyToxins surround us. In our food, our water, our air.

Yet according to Maharishi AyurVeda—a comprehensive, prevention–oriented healthcare system based on ancient Vedic health science—these environmental toxins are only part of the toxic load your body builds up every day.

Digestive toxins are created when you don’t digest your food properly, or when you eat food that doesn’t agree with your mind-body system. They can sap your energy, cloud your mind, and color your emotions.

The bottom line—toxins of all kinds create stress and disease.

Fortunately, the science of Maharishi AyurVeda offers many practical ways to detoxify both environmental and digestive toxins. Some of these can be practiced at home as part of your daily routine. Others are offered at in-residence facilities.

Maharishi AyurVeda Purification Treatments

One of the most powerful ways to clear toxins from the body and maintain overall balance is through the Maharishi RejuvenationSM program, traditionally called panchakarma.

“You could define panchakarma as the ancient art of purification,” says Mark Toomey, Ph.D., director of Maharishi AyurVeda at The Raj health spa in Fairfield, Iowa. Acclaimed by the likes of CBS, Newsweek, and Town and Country as a top Maharishi AyurVeda health spa, The Raj attracts clients from all over the world to its charming and luxurious facility nestled in the peaceful Iowa countryside.

Maharishi AyurVeda“Maharishi AyurVeda techniques of purification help us to maintain a physiology that’s not only capable of experiencing its own finer states of awareness, but also maintains the connectedness of every part of the body to wholeness, or pure consciousness, within,” says Dr. Toomey.

When you come to The Raj and stay in-residence, a Maharishi AyurVeda expert first determines your individual treatment program, depending on the state of balance or imbalance of your mind-body system.

The purifying spa schedule might include Maharishi AyurVeda warm-oil massage (abhyanga), soothing oil treatments to calm the mind (shirodhara), steam therapies (swedana)—and purification of the nasal passages and the large and small intestines.

Maharishi Rejuvenation therapies are gentle yet powerful in their ability to flush out toxins. A study published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine in 2002 found that the Maharishi Rejuvenation program reduced 14 varieties of lipophilic (fat-soluable) toxins by about 50 percent. These include DDE (a by-product of DDT) and harmful PCBs, which have been known to remain in the body for up to 40 years.

“These are environmental toxins that stay in the fat cells, and it’s extremely hard to get rid of them,” says Dr. Toomey. “Yet the ancient purification therapies of Maharishi AyurVeda are remarkably effective in flushing them out of the body.”

A Restful Experience

Although deeply purifying, treatments offered at The Raj are also soothing, relaxing, and rejuvenating. “The general experience is that purification does not have to be unpleasant,” says Dr. Toomey. “In fact, it’s blissful.” Many people make it a habit to return to the Raj again and again to rest, reset, and purify.

One client said, “I have been to top health spas all over the world, and the one I keep going back to is The Raj. It is truly the most peaceful and rejuvenating. Whether you are looking for an increased sense of spiritual peace and grounding, or whether you just want to look really good when you get back home—The Raj helps you accomplish whatever goals you set for yourself.”

Benefits for Mind and Body

The Maharishi Rejuvenation program is known to have a wide range of health benefits. These include increased vitality and fertility, balanced digestion, enhanced luster of the skin and clear complexion, slowing of aging, increased physical strength, enhanced power of the sense organs, relief from joint aches and pains, and relief from chronic disorders.

Yet Maharishi AyurVeda purification is not just for the body—it has a powerful effect on the mind as well—improving memory, increasing calmness, and enhancing positive emotions.

“At the end of treatment people report feeling lighter, having more energy, and more clear, blissful experiences during meditation,” says Dr. Toomey. “When you purify the body of toxins, you open the path to deeper experiences in meditation.”

Thus the Maharishi Rejuvenation program supports the development of higher states of consciousness. “We know that the transcendental aspect of meditation means ‘to go beyond,’” explains Dr. Toomey. “In order to experience that refined, transcendental level of our own pure consciousness, we need a purified, balanced physiology to support that experience.”

The Maharishi Rejuvenation program supports the development of higher states of consciousnessAt the same time, the deep rest provided by the Transcendental Meditation technique helps the body to purify toxins. It is known, for instance, that the body naturally has the means to metabolize environmental toxins and impurities through the liver and other organs of purification. It’s also known through research studies that chronic stress affects the body’s ability to purify toxins, and the fact is that TM reduces chronic stress and wear and tear on the body (allostatic load).

Dr. Toomey points out that this effect of TM in helping the body to purify environmental toxins is important for the brain as well. “Many environmental toxins are neurotoxic, which means they affect the ability of the brain to function,” he says. “Believe it or not, in Europe they count the by-product of pollution in lost IQ points. Which means that neurotoxic pollution can cause impairment of your intellectual abilities. It also means that when your body is overwhelmed with toxins, the ability to transcend may be less.”

So on the one hand, the ability to transcend helps enliven the body to purify, and on the other hand, the purification of the body helps the mind transcend.

Scott Fuller visits The Raj twice a year with his wife, Lynn. “The focus is on the purification of the physiology,” he says. “In my personal experience, it results in a profound wholeness. I always come back from The Raj feeling more grounded and in contact with my Self—with a capital ‘S.’ It’s the kind of feeling that you have when you’re six or seven and you feel there is nothing wrong with the world.”

Five Ways to Let Go of Toxins

Here are five Maharishi AyurVeda lifestyle habits that you can use at home to support your body’s self-purification systems.

  1. Detox while you sleep.According to Maharishi AyurVeda (and recent research on sleep), the body detoxifies during the period between 10 pm and 6 am. If you sleep during that time, your body will have the opportunity to rest, rejuvenate, and cleanse toxins properly.
  2. Clean up your diet. Eat organic foods that have been grown without pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and genetically modified seeds. In general, eat fresh, cooked, warm foods, as these are easier to digest. Avoid packaged, canned, or frozen foods as these often have additives and are not fresh.
  3. Reduce your stress. Practice the Transcendental Meditation technique to provide the deep rest and relief from stress the body’s self-purification systems need to purify harmful toxins naturally.
  4. Drink plenty of pure water.Water flushes water-soluble toxins from the body. Maharishi AyurVeda recommends warm water to aid digestion. Avoid ice-cold or carbonated water as these disturb digestion and cause digestive toxins to form.
  5. Use herbal supplements for a safe and effective home cleanse. See The Maharishi AyurVeda Detox Routine at Maharishi Ayurvedic Products International (MAPI) website (http://www.mapi.com).

(I originally wrote this interview for Enlightenment Magazine, Issue number 20. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

green and healthy inside out www.lindaegenes.comFresh beginnings, a fresh new you—that’s the promise of the New Year. But then there’s the pesky problem of actually keeping those New Year’s resolutions (lose weight, go to bed earlier, drink less coffee, etc.). When we have the best of intentions, and these are all good things to do for ourselves, why is it so difficult to make them stick?

Perhaps we need to look at the word “resolve” in a new way. A real resolution comes from deep inside. Resolve itself is a kind of connection with one’s own inner Being. If resolve comes from the inside, it will have a much greater chance of success.

Let’s suppose, for example, that you resolved to eat fresh fruit for dessert instead of heavy sweets. So now you have sitting in front of you a piece of key lime pie and an apple. You can use your will-power, knowing intellectually that the apple is better for you, to force yourself to eat the apple, and that is one way of keeping your resolution.

But it’s so much easier if by natural inclination, by natural desire, you actually prefer to eat the apple over the key lime pie. Then there would be no conflict between what is good for you and what you actually want to do, no conflict between resolve and desire.

The reason you would do that is that you are making healthy choices on the basis of a healthy consciousness. It’s based on inner balance. When a person is connected to the deeper aspects of their own consciousness, which is always in perfect balance, then that balance reflects in the person’s thinking and desires and choices. Then the person chooses the thing that is nourishing, that the result is going to be nourishing for their system. That will actually look good to them: the apple is actually going to look more appetizing than the key-lime pie. Then you’re in a much more powerful position to keep your resolution.

Thoreau called this state of balance the “verdict of a soul in health.” And it makes sense to achieve that state of balance first, because then all your choices and actions throughout the day will spontaneously reflect that happy state.

But how do you do that? How do you achieve a more balanced state of mind? That’s where the Transcendental Meditation technique comes in, because it offers the experience of pure consciousness, the most balanced state that we can experience. And hundreds of research studies have shown that when people have this experience twice a day on a regular basis, that many different aspects of their mind, body, emotions and even their environment starts to reflect that inner balance.

Another way to look at it is that by removing stress, your mind, body and behavior spontaneously becomes more balanced. It is stress, after all, that distorts our natural functioning, that makes it harder to hear our true desires. Think about how much easier it is to choose the apple in the morning when you’re fresh and rested. But wait until 5:00 p.m.when you’re tired and stressed—it’s a lot harder to say “no” to the chocolate cake then.

Teachers of TM hear the same thing from their students over and over, “After I started meditating, I suddenly didn’t have the taste for cigarettes, and I stopped smoking. I didn’t have to try—it was easy.” It’s as if our choices mirror who we are deep inside—if we’re feeling balanced, it becomes easy to create a healthier life for ourselves.

And that’s the best thing of all—you don’t have to struggle to make changes that will bring you better health or a more progressive life. Just close your eyes, dive inside, wash away the stress and fatigue—and find yourself spontaneously making better choices every day, not just in January.

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of five
books, including 
Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, January 20, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

Trinity College Squash Team of 2010

Trinity College Squash Team of 2010

When the women’s squash team at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, began practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique in 2010, they were hoping to make their team experience less stressful and more enjoyable. Little did they know that it would also lead them to the top of their game, finishing the 2010 season as number three in the nation, an amazing feat for a small school. In 2013 and 2014, the team captured the number one spot, edging out much larger schools like Harvard and Penn State.

It all started when Dr. Randy Lee, associate professor of psychology and assistant coach, who was already doing some work with the students to help them reduce stress and improve focus, read the research on TM.

“I’m a scientist and I wanted to see the data,” said Dr. Lee. “There were 700 research studies, and I looked a lot of them up. It occurred to me that TM, given what I’d seen in the research, might be a perfect mesh with what we were already doing,” he said.

The team, who practiced TM together as a group, noticed right away that it made them calmer. Team member Tehani Guruge from Shri Lanka said, “TM helped calm me down. I used to get really angry on court. After TM the anger went away.”

Head coach Wendy Bartlett also noticed the difference. “In general we’re certainly a calmer team,” she said. “We’ve had just as many challenges this year as we’ve had any other year, but we were able to handle them better.”

Some students even found that it helped them reach the “zone,” that coveted space of mental calm and peak performance that many top athletes experience.

“Before I wasn’t able to focus completely on the game and was distracted by external factors like the audience,” says “Nour Bahgat, a student-athlete from Egypt. “TM really helped me to get into the zone. Being in the zone is very important to an athlete because that’s the point where you can perform at your best level, so it was a great thing to learn.”

Alicia Rodriguez, a student from Mexico, reported a similar experience. “Whenever I meditated before a match, my body was so relaxed and my mind so calm. I was thinking on nothing. You already know how to play, so if your mind is calm your body will respond automatically.”

TM also helped the students with their studies. Emily Paton from Canada reported, “This year, especially, we got into a really good routine and schedule. It helped doing TM. Everyone said that after TM we’re so much more relieved and have more energy to go and do our studies afterwards. That’s not usually the case after playing hard.”

McCrea Davison from the US went on to say, “I notice that with the appropriate amount of study, every time I meditate before a major test I haven’t gotten below a 90. I think it’s because I’m more relaxed going into the test, and we learned in our class on the brain that when you’re stressed out your pre-frontal cortex shuts down so you’re not making good judgments and you can’t recall things as well.”

Research on people who practice the Transcendental Meditation technique shows that academic performance improves in students who practice TM. And in addition, reaction time is faster, energy increases, and the mind becomes calmer and more focused. All of these qualities come into play when performing sports.

Emily Lindon, a psychology major at Trinity College, studied the effects of the TM technique in promoting self-efficacy for her senior thesis. Self-efficacy is one’s belief in their ability to accomplish a certain task. According to research, someone who thinks more highly of herselftends to perform at a higher level.

“One of the groups that we studied was the Trinity College women’s squash team. We definitely found an increase in self-efficacy among the pre- and post-tests for those girls.”

Dr. Randy Lee thinks this makes sense. “The most important squash is played on the six-inch court between their ears,” he says. “And I think that is true for most sports. There is that mental peace. Our women are able to say, ‘OK, I can do this. I don’t need to worry about the scores, or what’s happening. I can make this happen.’ ”

With professional athletes like two-time World Series champion and Cy Young Award winner Barry Zito practicing the TM technique, it may just be a matter of time before other athletes discover its performance-enhancing and life-enhancing effects.

“With TM we have a whole new technique to begin to explore more to improve performance for almost any sport,” says Dr. Lee. “I can’t think of a sport I would exclude. It seems to me it can only bring positive outcomes.”

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, August 4, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

Christmas treeTis the season to be jolly. But just as all work and no play can make Jack a dull boy, Jack (and Jill too) can feel overwhelmed by multiple holiday parties and rich foods.

The mental pressure of making hairsplitting decisions (does Uncle Harry really need another pair of socks?), staying up late, and rushing around during the holidays creates stress and imbalance in your body.

So how do you meet all your social obligations, keep your weight down and stay healthy when confronted with the extravaganza of food, gifts, and parties that has become our American tradition?

Here are seven tips from Maharishi Ayurveda for staying well when the holidays roll around.

1. Set priorities. Getting enough rest is the key to keeping your mind and body in balance. If you start losing sleep over holiday stress, it’s time to stop and reassess your priorities. Going to bed well before 10:00 p.m. and rising early go a long way in maintaining a calm and clear mind.

If you can’t sleep because your mind is busy looking for holiday gift ideas for dad, try drinking a cup of warm milk with turmeric and cardamom before bed. Aroma therapy with orange or lavender scents is relaxing and can help you fall asleep.

Ayurvedic herbal compounds containing herbs such as Indian Valerian are sometimes recommended for relaxing the body and promoting more restful sleep.

2. Reduce stress by simplifying shopping. According to one survey, 36 percent cited gift shopping as their biggest holiday stress. Not knowing what to buy or where to buy it was the major source of shopping anxiety, while others said fighting the crowds or not having enough time to shop created the most pressure.

To simplify gift-giving, try buying an inexpensive eco-gift and give it to most people on your list. I knew a family that bought a case of homemade organic jam from a local farmer, glued a personal label on each bottle, and gave it to all the families on their list. While not everyone will want to be this frugal, by buying the same gift for friends and neighbors, you can cut down on the stress of selecting the perfect holiday gifts for coworkers or a wide circle of friends.

For family, you’ll want to give more personal gifts. But if you’re planning a large family party, try drawing names and giving one nice gift instead of a dozen less expensive ones.

3. Try to plan your holiday parties for  daytime instead of evening. The holidays are when people break out their best holiday baking recipes, so how can your enjoy those holiday cookies without gaining weight? Digestion reaches its peak at noon—so that’s the best time to eat large holiday feasts. You’ll digest the food easier, without putting on pounds.

4. Exercise daily. If you can’t do anything else, take a break from shopping or socializing for a short walk in fresh air. Even better, stick to your normal exercise routine. Exercise will help you think more clearly, sleep more deeply, and minimize stress in your life.

5. Drink warm fluids. Start your day with a cup of warm water, and sip from a thermos throughout the day. This will flush out digestive impurities and toxins that are the inevitable result of holiday eating. Or make a tea: in 2 quarts of boiled water, steep 1/4 tsp. whole fennel, 1/4 tsp. marshmallow root, and 2 mint leaves. This will help stimulate sluggish elimination and keep holiday sweets from overwhelming your system.

6. Practice a stress reduction technique such as the Transcendental Meditation program and yoga postures. These techniques will help you remain calm and balanced instead of succumbing to holiday stress during the most hectic time of year.

7. Prevent holiday angst. For some people, the holidays bring emotional trauma, due to painful memories or family conflict. From the Ayurvedic perspective, experiences like this can lead to imbalances that also affect digestion.

To relieve emotional holiday stress, Maharishi Ayurveda recommends eating more astringent, bitter, and sweet foods (this doesn’t mean loading up on holiday sweets, but including whole grains, wheat, and whole milk products in your diet) to cool the body and soothe the heart. Flavor your food with cooling spices, such as cinnamon, fennel, and coriander. Drink rose petal tea or hot milk to soothe emotions when they are stirred up. Resist skipping meals and get to bed early to create more balance. Soothe your heart while you sleep with rose aroma oil.

Ayurveda also recommends herbs for soothing emotional stress.  Two important herbs for this purpose are Arjuna and Ashwaganda, which are often contained in ayurvedic compounds for reducing emotional imbalances such as Stress Free Emotions.

8. Pamper yourself. Make a list of positive, nurturing things you can do for yourself during the holiday season. A massage after work, for instance, can melt away seasonal blues and leave you with a genuine holiday glow. Take your grandchild to an ice-skating rink for a festive outing that doesn’t focus on eating or buying. Think outside the box—the holidays don’t have to be materialistic. In fact, it helps to remember that the real meaning of “holiday” is “holy day.” With a little effort we can emerge from the season feeling more healthy and whole.

(I originally wrote this article for The Iowa Source. Reprinted with permission.)

 

BY LINDA EGENES

Transcendental Meditation and At-Risk Girls in ThailandThe Story of Two Students

(Part two of a three-part series)

The word “education” comes from the Latin verb “educere” which means “to lead out.” For children in many parts of the world, an education is a way to lead their families from poverty to prosperity. In Thailand, education for girls means earning a higher degree or learning a respected trade. Without an education, girls growing up in poverty often end up being trafficked into prostitution and living on the street.

At the Dhammajarini Witthaya School, the only free boarding school for at-risk girls in Thailand, girls are not only being given a safe haven and a quality education, but have the opportunity to develop their mental, emotional and physical potential by practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique. They are literally being “led out” to a better life.

While visiting Thailand recently, I had the pleasure to interview two students at the Dhammajarinnee Witthaya School, where 500 children preschool to age 12 meditate together. The school is located on 11 acres of gardens, lakes and shady lanes.

Outside the beautiful administration building, smiling girls in crisp uniforms stop to greet me, saying in perfect English, “How are you?” I talk to them for a moment. English and Chinese are part of the curriculum here, which includes computer science and other college-prep courses, as well as instruction in traditional Thai crafts.

Aytittaya, age 16, tells me, through a Thai interpreter, that she is in grade 10. She is wearing a blue polo shirt and sweat pants, the attire for after-school chores and sports. While we talk inside Acharn Yai’s comfortable office, we can hear the happy sounds of children playing outdoors.

Girls at the Dhammarjarinee Witthaya schoolAytittaya smiles when she explains that her family is from Bangkok. Unlike many of the girls, she is not here due to poverty, but rather because her parents divorced when she was two years old. “I lived with my mom and brother and grandmother in Bangkok, but my mother had to travel for her work,” she explains. “So she put me in a boarding school in Bangkok.”

Then in grade six, her great grandmother, who is a Buddhist nun, found out about the Dhammarjarinee Witthaya school and her mother brought her here.

“The students in the previous school were not so disciplined,” she says. “Here we learn Buddhist values. In the previous school there is a gap between the student and the teacher, but here the teacher is like the mother.”

Another difference is that the students meditate longer here. In her previous school, they spent five minutes doing Buddhist meditation before school each morning, as has been mandated by the King of Thailand for every school in the country. “Here we practice the TM technique and meditate for a longer time twice a day and I really like that. I feel much more protected, more happy here.”

Aytittya smiles again when she describes how naughty she used to behave. “At my other school, I didn’t listen to my mother and listened to my friends instead,” she says. “I’ve changed a lot.” She is more focused on her studies, and she’s proud that she just won the province-wide competition for Buddhist chanting. And her team just won second place for the national Mind Map competition.

Girls at the Dhammarjarinee Witthaya schoolApinya, also sixteen years old in grade 10, has a different story. She comes from a very poor family in Ratchaburi province. When she was only eight, her parents divorced and her mother left her with her father and two older sisters. Her father had a difficult time making a living, and took his anger out on Apinya. Eventually, her teachers removed her from her abusive home environment and placed her first in a foster home, and then brought her to the Dhammajarinee School.

Apinya not only feels safe here, but happier. “The nuns and teachers take good care of us, just like a family.” She also confides, “Before I didn’t dare to express myself. If I saw a stranger, I was afraid. Now, after practicing Transcendental Meditation, I have more confidence. I’m not afraid to express myself.”

Apinya also was on the secondary school team that won second prize in the national Mind Map contest, and later this month she will compete in the national Memory Competition.

I ask the girls if they mind doing chores for the school. Aytittya says that her job is to help clean the buildings, take care of the grounds and cut the grass.

She smiles widely and says, “I don’t mind because the physical work helps me stay in shape. And I want to help the school.”

Aditya says that she likes helping in the kitchen. “Before I didn’t know how to cook,” she says. “Now I know how to cook for myself and for others.”

Awards at the Dhammarjarinee Witthaya school“From the beginning, from when I first started to meditate, I have felt that this is very good for me,” says Aditya. “When I feel tired or stressed, I just do my evening meditation, and all the stress is gone. I feel happy.”

Aditya enjoys learning Chinese and English as part of her studies. She would like to go to college and study Chinese and become an interpreter, while Aytittya wants to become an air hostess so she can travel to see her mother, who now works in Norway.

Or, they both mention, after college they may come back to teach here, at the Dhammajarinee Witthaya school, to give back to others the same extraordinary education that they have received.

New Fundraising video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JoS32IKA1c

Full 13 minute video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCHFb_2Q_5U

During the past two years, Acharn Yai and supporters have raised funds and completed a new classroom building. Now the school are raising funds for a new dormitory building that will allow the school to expand from 500 to 750 students. Tax-deductible donations for the school can be made athttp://www.seedsofheaven.org/donate.htmlWhen donating, be sure to click the button for Dhammarjarinee Wittayah school in Thailand. Or you may donate directly to the school here: http://www.buddhistgirls.org/eng/donate.html

Photos by Tina McQuiston, reprinted with permission.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, October 16, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

Five Top Heart Health Strategies According to Recent Research An Interview with Robert D. Brook, M.D.

BY LINDA EGENES

Robert Brook MDRobert D. Brook, M.D., is a cardiovascular medicine specialist and professor of medicine at the University of Michigan’s Division of Cardiovascular Medicine. He has authored over 150 peer-reviewed publications in the areas of vascular biology, atherosclerosis, cardiovascular imaging, hypertension, prevention, and hyperlipidemia. A pioneering researcher in the field of environmental cardiology, his research focuses on how air pollutants cause heart disease and trigger cardiovascular events.

Dr. Brook recently served as chair of “Beyond Medications and Diet—Alternative Approaches to Lowering Blood Pressure: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association (AHA),” which critically reviewed the evidence supporting the efficacy of alternative mechanisms to lower blood pressure.

The AHA report concluded that the Transcendental Meditation (TM®) technique lowers blood pressure and recommends that TM may be considered in clinical practice for the prevention and treatment of hypertension.

Here Dr. Brook discusses the TM technique and other ways to prevent heart disease.

Linda Egenes: Looking at the latest research, what are the five most important things we can do to protect our hearts?

Dr. Brook: First and foremost, start with a healthy diet and lifestyle. A number of research studies have been conducted on the Mediterranean diet, so it has the most scientific evidence as being protective to the heart.

Second, incorporate aerobic activity into your lifestyle. The usual recommendation is 150 minutes of moderate to intense aerobic activity a week. Both the Mediterranean diet and regular aerobic activity have been shown in numerous studies to be effective in both primary prevention (those without heart disease) and secondary prevention (those with established heart disease).

Third, control your cholesterol. While many people do this through diet and exercise, there is an overwhelming amount of evidence that statins are extremely effective in the prevention of heart attacks, and they also reduce the risk of stroke. So I don’t want to downplay how important statins are—they are a central aspect of cardiovascular prevention.

Fourth, control your blood pressure with lifestyle approaches and/or medications. Unfortunately, there are close to 80 million people in the United States with hypertension, and with 40% of the global population suffering from high blood pressure, it is the leading cause of mortality in the world.

Fifth, never start smoking and quit smoking if you do. The interesting fact is that within six months to two years after a person stops smoking, we see a dramatic reduction in the risk of heart attacks, even in people who had a prior heart attack. Avoid exposure to secondhand smoke as well.

Linda Egenes: What about air pollution?

Dr. Brook: In North America we are lucky to live with relatively low levels of air pollution. While it’s still a public health issue, there is good evidence that as air pollution levels have fallen following the Clean Air Act of the 1970s, there has been the expected reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease. Nevertheless, air pollution still poses a risk to cardiovascular health even at today’s lower levels.

Unfortunately, in much of the rest of the world, things have gotten worse. Developing nations such as China, India, and the Middle East have now inherited our problem of coal power plants. On top of that, they are burning biomass (wood and crop residues) for cooking and heating inside their homes, so their pollution levels are ten times the levels of North America and Western Europe.

Particulates from biomass-burning indoors is not just the cause of asthma, cancer, and chronic lung disease, but it’s a serious problem for the heart as well. With hypertension number one, the number two killer of people in the world is smoking, and number three is indoor air pollution, which includes secondhand smoke. Outdoor air pollution is the ninth leading cause of death globally.

Linda Egenes: How did you become involved in the AHA committee?

Dr. Brook: A number of academic physicians and scientists from the United States were invited to an AHA conference in Beijing to discuss the epidemic of hypertension in developing nations. At that meeting there was great interest in nonpharmacologic ways to control blood pressure, due to the expense of pharmaceuticals, the cost to society, and the lack of availability in some countries. So the question emerged: are there research studies to support the use of nonpharmacologic methods to reduce hypertension—beyond the well-known and well-proven successes of diet changes, weight loss, and salt reduction?

I happened to be in the right place at the right time, and volunteered to take a leadership role. Nonpharmacologic approaches to hypertension are also of great personal interest since every day in my clinical practice someone asks, “Is there a way I can control my blood pressure without medication?”

Yet up until this time there had never been a critical review or statement by the AHA of nonpharmacologic, non-dietary ways to improve blood pressure. At the same time, there’s a lot of misinformation out there. So I knew this review would not only address the worldwide public health issues discussed at our meeting in China, but would also be a helpful resource for clinicians, healthcare providers, and patients in the US as well.

Linda Egenes: I understand it took about two years for the committee to analyze over 1000 studies and come up with recommendations?

Dr. Brook: Yes. All this information was available before, and we sifted through the large number of studies and publications across many disciplines. We also critically analyzed each alternative approach to fit the algorithm, the grading criteria, that the AHA has developed to give global recommendations based upon research.

This is a formal process in the AHA and other societies, forming a writing committee that analyzes the research, writes the paper, and takes it through multiple stages of approval, including independent peer review and a final endorsement by the AHA. It took two years from start to finish, which is pretty standard for a writing committee of this kind.

Linda Egenes: Can you talk about the research on the TM technique and how it stood up under review?

Dr. Brook: We chose several broad categories of nonpharmacologic, alternative approaches to hypertension, including exercise, device-guided approaches such as slow breathing and biofeedback, and stress reduction approaches such as meditation.

In the stress reduction category, we focused on the more recent studies of TM and other types of meditation such as mindfulness, contemplative meditation, and focused attention. Separate meta-analyses and our review of the research on TM showed a fairly clear overall reduction in blood pressure, about 4 or 5 mmHg systolic. Using the AHA’s metrics, we graded TM rather high based on the evidence.

TM stood alone amongst all of the meditation techniques because of the great deal of research and corroborative evidence. There were far more studies in relation to blood pressure and hypertension on TM as compared to other meditation techniques. There also were three meta-analyses (a collection of many studies) that corroborated that TM was effective for lowering blood pressure.

And in some of the more recent studies done by scientists such as Robert Schneider, M.D., at Maharishi University of Management and collaborators at the Medical College of Wisconsin, and other universities, it was shown that TM not only lowered blood pressure but also reduced cardiovascular disease itself.

Linda Egenes: TM was the only meditation technique recommended in this report by the AHA, correct?

Dr. Brook: Right. I would say there is a lack of compelling evidence that other types of meditation and stress reduction techniques, including yoga, are as effective in reducing blood pressure.

This doesn’t mean that they don’t reduce blood pressure. It’s just that there is a lack of compelling or good evidence that they do. In comparison, there is good evidence that TM is effective in modestly lowering blood pressure. That is why it stood out and was selected amongst the meditation techniques. I say this with the caveat that as better trials are done, it may well be that some of the other techniques will be found to be effective as well.

There were very few, if any, head-to-head studies that would compare the effectiveness of one type of meditation technique vs. another. In the future we’d like to be able to compare TM to other techniques to see if there is really something unique about TM as compared to other meditation approaches or general stress reduction or slow breathing. And, could this be done on a larger scale for a longer term?

Linda Egenes: I’m curious. Are you a practitioner of the TM technique?

Dr. Brook: No. I am not an advocate; I am not an activist. I’m not coming from the inside at all. This is an external review by somebody who is somewhat of a skeptic. The studies show what they show and the publications are what they are. I didn’t come in knowing anything about the TM technique.

Linda Egenes: Sometimes studies on the TM technique are criticized when the people who are doing the studies are TM meditators.

Dr. Brook: That is a generic criticism. Anybody doing the research is, of course, an insider in that area. No area of research is not subject to that same potential bias, so I reject that criticism as long as the researchers are ethical, and we assume that they are. I know that Dr. Robert Schneider and his collaborators have displayed the highest scientific integrity in their research at Maharishi University of Management, the University of Iowa College of Medicine, the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, the Medical College of Wisconsin, and other research institutions.

Linda Egenes: Since doing this research, do you recommend TM to your patients?

Dr. Brook: Absolutely. A population-level reduction of 5 mmHg systolic is a profound 10-15% reduction in heart attacks, strokes, and cardiovascular disease. At the same time, I don’t want to overstate the effect of TM on blood pressure, which is modest but still helpful. It’s a good adjunct for people who have mild hypertension or upper-normal levels, what we call pre-hypertension. Or it can be helpful as a supplement for people who have intolerances to blood pressure medications, or who aren’t at goal on one or two medications and don’t want to add a third pill.

And I always tell Dr. Robert Schneider, “You can do TM for many other reasons, and if as an ancillary benefit it also helps to lower blood pressure, that’s a wonderful side effect.”

(I originally wrote this interview for Enlightenment Magazine, Issue number 20. Reprinted with permission.)

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