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Researching the Health Actions of Advanced Meditation

On May 5, 1998, His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and twenty of America's distinguished physicians and research scientists, including Dr. Roy Walford, attended a landmark East/West conference designed to facilitate a dialogue among experts in the Indo-Tibetan meditative/medical tradition and the western neuroscientific/medical tradition.
The conference initiated numerous ideas for studies to access the health benefits of meditation. These meditation techniques are traditionally used to protect the mind and body from stress-related illness and mortality, to stop immune suppression and enhance immune response, and to retard and reverse degenerative effects of the normal aging process. Dr. Walford was invited because of his expertise in the biology of aging. Targeted by attendees for study;
  • To investigate the physiological changes in various forms of meditation
  • To design research methodologies in a clinical setting which will identify the most efficacious type of meditation for different individuals and therapeutic contexts.
Preliminary studies indicate that conscious self-regulation of the central nervous system can be used effectively to foster healing and optimize health. In non-conceptual concentration and mindfulness meditation, as in Japanese Zen and Vipasana practices, the practitioner developes a quiet, sensitive, non-reactive state of awareness. In addition, relaxation techniques are helpfull in reducing risk factors such as hypertension, anxiety, and depression.
Visual and auditory imagery may enhance the beneficial effects of mindfulness meditation. Several researchers presented material indicating that the process of visualizing while in a meditative state improoved perceptual skills outside of the meditative practice. It is postulated that this training can "re-program" negative thought patterns.
The meditation techniques selected for this study come from the Indo-Tibetan tradition of psychoyogic practices. This system Tibetans call Unexcelled Yoga Tantra and is used in illness and aging in Ayurvedic and Tibetan medicine and psychiatry.

Dr. Walford believes that meditation may have at least three main benefits, possibly more. The three are:
1) Physiologic; effects on metabolism, blood pressure, etc.
2) Therapeutic; for use with pain management.
3) Behavioral modification; smoking, eating.

The conference was hosted by Beth Isreal's Hyman-Newman Institute for Neurology and Neurosurgery and co-convened by Tibet House with the participation of Columbia University Center for Meditation and Healing and attended by His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, May 4&5, 1998. There will be further meetings.

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