What is 6,046 minus 13? Don't know? Well, that's okay. We
were just trying to stress you out, like we did to Alan in
Herbert Benson's lab at the Mind/Body Medical Institute in
Boston. In "Just Relax," Benson and his colleagues stress
out Alan's mind while gauging his body's reaction, expressed
via his skin conductance (sweatiness) and muscle tension.
Once Alan is suitably riled up, he's then guided through what
Benson has dubbed the "relaxation response." Benson has long
been an advocate of the potential health benefits provided
by relaxation. First he asks Alan to close his eyes and relax
all his muscles, from head to toe. Then Alan has to focus
on his breathing while at the same time silently repeating
the mantra, "calm" to himself. It's a simple form of meditation.
Alan responds well and reports feeling both more relaxed and,
mysteriously, warmer. He's not the only one. In 1981 Benson
led expeditions to study Tibetan monks who practice Tum-mo
yoga as part of their spiritual practice. Benson documented
the monks' ability to raise the temperature of their extremities
as much as 15 degrees, simply by using their minds.
does Meditation feel relaxing?
can meditation have such an impact on the body? To find out,
psychologist Sara Lazar
is looking into Hari Mandir Kaur Khalsa's brain. Khalsa, an
expert in Kundalini yoga, is able to meditate while inside
a MRI machine. First, Lazar asks Khalsa to think randomly,
to see what a brain that's not meditating looks like. In this
trial, her breathing rate is a normal 12 breaths per minute.
Lazar asks Khalsa to start meditating. Her breathing rate
falls off dramatically-to about 4 breaths per minute--and
a region of the brain called the amygdala becomes active.
Researchers used to think meditation was a bit like falling
asleep, so Lazar's discovery that it activates the amygdala,
which is associated with vigilance, is a surprise. The discovery
does match the heightened awareness that Khalsa herself reports
during meditation, however. It also sheds some light on how
meditation reduces stress, since the amygdala is involved
in controlling the fight or flight stress response. But researchers
still don't know how meditators can change such responses
seemingly at will.
more on this topic, see the web feature:
Running for the Shelter