Numerous studies have indicated the many physiological benefits of meditation, and the latest one comes from Harvard University.
An eight week study conducted by Harvard researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) determined that meditation literally rebuilds the brains grey matter in just eight weeks. It’s the very first study to document that meditation produces changes over time in the brain’s grey matter. (1)
“Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day. This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.” – (1) Sara Lazar of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program and a Harvard Medical School Instructor in Psychology
The study involved taking magnetic resonance images (MRI) of the brain’s of 16 study participants two weeks prior to participating in the study. MRI images of the participants were also taken after the study was completed.
“The analysis of MR images, which focused on areas where meditation-associated differences were seen in earlier studies, found increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection.” (1)
For the study, participants engaged in meditation practices every day for approximately 30 minutes. These practices included focusing on audio recordings for guided meditation, non-judgmental awareness of sensations, feelings and state of mind.
“It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life. Other studies in different patient populations have shown that meditation can make significant improvements in a variety of symptoms, and we are now investigating the underlying mechanisms in the brain that facilitate this change.” – (1) Britta Holzel, first author of the paper and a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany
Researchers from Harvard have also released another study showing that meditation can have a significant impact on clinical symptoms of gastrointestinal disorders, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The study showed that elicitation of the relaxation response (a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress) is a very big help.
The study comes out of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC). This is the very first study where the use of the “relaxation response” was examined in these disorders, and the first to investigate the genomic effects of the relaxation response in individuals with any disorder. The report was published in the journal PLOS-ONE. (source)
Given the two studies cited above, and all of the other documented health benefits of meditation, this should open the door for more studies to examine the benefits of meditation for a wide range of diseases.
“Our results suggest exciting possibilities for further developing and implementing this treatment in a wider group of patients with gastrointestinal illness. Several studies have found that stress management techniques and other psychological interventions can help patients with IBS, at least in the short term; and while the evidence for IBD is less apparent, some studies have suggested potential benefits. What is novel about our study is demonstration of the impact of a mind/body intervention on the genes controlling inflammatory factors that are known to play a major role in IBD and possibly in IBS.” – Brandon Kuo of the gastrointestinal unit in the MGH Department of Medicine, co-lead author of the report. (source)
For those of you who are unaware, IBS and IBD are chronic conditions that produce similar symptoms which include; abdominal pain, and changes in bowel function, like diarrhea. IBD also includes ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, which leads one to suffer from severe inflammation in all or part of the gastrointestinal tract. Science has shown us that stress intensifies these symptoms, which is why this study regarding meditation and these diseases holds a great deal of importance.
The relaxation response has been subject to several studies that clearly show that its regular practice (induced by meditation) directly affects physiologic factors such as oxygen consumption, heart rate, blood pressure and again, stress and anxiety. It was first described over 40 years ago by Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute and co-author of the paper presented in this article.
The study had 48 adult participants, with 19 of them being diagnosed with IBS and 29 with IBD. There was weekly relaxation response training, as well as in their home for 15 t0 20 mintues each day.
The study enrolled 48 adult participants — 19 of whom had been diagnosed with IBS and 29 with IBD — who participated in a nine-week group program focused on stress reduction, cognitive skills, and health-enhancing behaviors. Each of the weekly sessions included relaxation response training, and participants were asked to practice relaxation response elicitation at home for 15 to 20 minutes each day. Along with aspects featured in other group programs offered at the Benson-Henry Institute, this program included a session specifically focused on gastrointestinal health.
“Both in patients with IBS and those with IBD, participation in the mind/body program appeared to have significantly improved disease-related symptoms, anxiety, and overall quality of life, not only at the end of the study period but also three weeks later. While there were no significant changes in inflammatory markers for either group of participants, changes in expression were observed in almost 200 genes among participants with IBS and more than 1,000 genes in those with IBD. Many of the genes with altered expression are known to contribute to pathways involved with stress response and inflammation.” (source)
How To Meditate
A common misconception about meditation is that you have to sit a certain way or do something in particular to achieve the various benefits that it can provide. All you have to do is place yourself in a position that is most comfortable to you. It could be sitting cross legged, lying down in a bed, sitting on a couch etc, it’s your choice.
Another common misconception about meditation is that you have to “try” to empty your mind. One important factor I enjoyed reading from the study mentioned above is that participants were engaged in “non-judgmental awareness of sensations, feelings and state of mind.” When meditating, you shouldn’t try to “empty” your mind. Instead, try to let your thoughts, feelings and whatever emotions you are feeling at the time flow. Don’t judge them, just let them come and go and be at peace with it.
I also believe that meditation is a state of being/mind more than anything else. I feel that one does not have to sit down for half an hour and “meditate” so to speak in order to reap the benefits of it, or to be engaged in the practice itself. One can be engaged in meditation while they are on a walk, for example, or the time they have right before they sleep. Throughout the day, one can resist judging their thoughts, letting them flow until they are no more, or just be in a constant state of peace and self awareness. Contrary to popular belief, there is more than one way to meditate.
“You will have to understand one of the most fundamental things about meditation: that no technique leads to meditation. The old so-called techniques and the new scientific biofeedback techniques are the same as far as meditation is concerned. Meditation is not a byproduct of any technique. Meditation happens beyond mind. No technique can go beyond mind.” – Osho
For more articles from Collective Evolution on meditation you can click HERE.
Boy or Girl – Baby Gender Selection Issues
Some parents have the possibility to opt for gender selection; however, being able to decide whether to have a baby boy or girl is a controversial issue.
Many couples expecting a baby do not think it’s a big issue whether they have a boy or a girl; however there are several medical, social, and personal reasons that could influence parents to recur to some form of gender selection.
Like many other controversial practices, the legality of gender selection, also known as sex selection, varies from country to country.
The Legality of Baby Gender Selection
The United States has perhaps some of the most relaxed laws regarding baby gender selection in the world. Most European countries and Australia, on the other hand, have bans on sex selection and only allow it for medical reasons. For example, if a parent is a carrier of a mutation or gene with more chances of manifesting itself in a certain gender, baby gender selection is valid. However, if parents simply wish to balance the ratio of boys and girls in their family, they are not allowed to recur to sex selection.
This has generated a form of medical tourism in which couples from countries where gender selection is illegal, like the UK, travel to the US in order to be able to choose whether to have a baby boy or girl.
On the other hand, sex selection is illegal in the two most populated countries on Earth, China and India. In these countries, baby gender selection has been performed clandestinely for many years and for reasons other than family balancing or avoiding genetic diseases. In these societies, having a baby boy is preferred mainly for cultural and economic reasons. Parents believe that boys have better chances of earning income and eventually support them when they reach an old age.
Methods of Baby Gender Selection
There are two major types of gender selection methods: the first one is called sperm sorting, and involves separating X-chromosome sperm from Y-chromosome sperm by flow cytometry, a purification technique in which chromosomes are suspended in a stream of sperm and identified by an electronic detector before being separated. Intra-uterine insemination or in-vitro fertilization can then be performed with the enriched sperm. The success rates for this method vary from 80% to 93%.
The other method, called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, consists in generating several embryos through in-vitro fertilization, which are then genetically tested to determine a baby’s gender. The chosen embryos can then be implanted. This method has a success rate of almost 100%; however, it can be quite expensive, costing up to $15,000.
Issues Regarding Baby Gender Selection
While there are few objections against baby gender selection when it is performed for medical reasons, it has become a highly controversial issue when it is used for balancing the number of boys or girls in families. Some people raise the obvious ethical question of whether people who opt for gender selection are “playing God” by manipulating whether to have a baby boy or girl. Others believe that new parents will raise a baby more appropriately if he or she belongs to their preferred gender.
Gender Imbalance Caused by Baby Gender Selection
Gender selection has caused demographic concern in China and India since it has contributed to generate a gender imbalance in the populations of those countries. In some regions of China, for example, the sex ratio for newborns is 118:100, boys to girls. This phenomenon has in turn been associated with social problems such as an increase in violence and prostitution.
It seems like a logical solution for governments around the globe to legalize baby gender selection but to analyze the personal reasons why each couple intends to select a baby boy or girl. Gender selection for medical reasons should even be encouraged, since it could prevent serious genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease, and Haemophilia A. Balancing the gender ratio of a family should be accepted if by doing this, a healthy family environment is created. On the other hand, China and India have shown that baby gender selection as a result of a bias towards a particular gender can not only create a gender imbalance in the population, but contribute to social problems as well.
Organic Certification: What the USDA Organic Label Means
- The Facts:
Organic and natural labels mean different things, and various types of labels tells you what percentage of ingredients are actually organic. We'll explore what to look for.
- Reflect On:
Do you sometimes buy products thinking they are organic or fully natural based on their wording? Have you later found out that those products aren't natural or organic at all? Read labels more closely at grocery stores to be aware.
Don’t get conned by fraudulent claims of “natural” or “organic.” Learn what to look for, and why it’s important, to ensure you’re getting the quality you are paying for.
The industrial age of the 20th century brought about changing agricultural practices that have generated increasing alarm about the effects of these practices on the environment and health. The use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, irradiated and genetically altered food and fiber products has created a groundswell of rightful concern. It has led to the growing demand for non-toxic, organic products that many are willing to pay a higher price for to ensure the healthful purity of food and clothing provided for their families.
With such profit opportunities, it’s little wonder that the lucrative organic product market has suffered abuse with so-called “organic” labels being fraudulently placed on products that have not earned the right. As a result of pressure from farming and consumer groups, legislation for the standardization of organic certification was introduced in the 1980s. It has been updated to include more vigorous enforcement and control methods since, with the current standards established in 2002 by the USDA.
The Standards of USDA Organic Certification
Specific standards must be met in order to legally claim a product as USDA certified organic. Organic producers must utilize methods that conserve water, maximize soil health, and reduce air pollution. The specific standards to earn USDA organic certification include:
• Free of synthetic chemicals such as insecticides, herbicides, fertilizers, hormones, antibiotics, and additives
• Free from irradiation and genetically modified organisms
• Agricultural products grown on land that has been free of prohibited substances for a period of three years
• Animals used for meat, eggs, milk or other animal products must be exclusively fed foods that are organically grown, may not be given antibiotics or hormones, and must have access to outdoors.
• Clean and sanitized harvesting and processing equipment throughout the process from harvest to finished, packaged product
• Detailed chain-of-handling records from the field through final sales
• Physical separation of certified organic products from non-organic products throughout the process of production
• Regular on-site inspections from USDA-approved inspectors to ensure compliance
Understanding the Certified Organic Label
Once the rigorous process of certification has been completed, organic producers may place the USDA certified organic seal on their products. Currently, there are four levels of certified organic products, with a specific definition of the percentage of organic ingredients the final products contains. They are as follows:
• 100% organic: all production methods and ingredients are USDA certified organic.
• Organic: at least 95% of the production methods and ingredients are USDA certified organic with remaining ingredients included on the National List of allowed ingredients.
• Made With Organic Ingredients: at least 70% of the ingredients are USDA certified organic with remaining ingredients included on the National List of allowed ingredients.
• No organic wording or seal: less than 70% of the ingredients are USDA certified organic and no claims may be made on the front or back of the product.
Manufacturers or producers who knowingly label a product “organic” when it does not meet the USDA standards are subject to fines up to $11,000 per violation.
Why Organic Certification is Important
When you see the official USDA organic certification seal on food, clothing, and bedding products, you can be assured that these products have met the meticulous standards required and are free of chemicals, toxins, antibiotics, and hormones. When you see the USDA certified organic label, you will understand the value of the higher priced organic products as compared to non-organically produced products.
With the current stringent organic certification requirements enforced by regular inspections from USDA accredited agents, the USDA certified organic label has great meaning and importance to the consumer. Look for the label to know that you are getting the quality you are paying for.
WHO Finds Global Lack Of Inactivity Rising Especially In Wealthier Countries — What You Can Do
- The Facts:
Inactivity is on the rise and it's the cause of a wide range of health concerns. Our population is only becoming more inactive, not less, and it's time to change that.
- Reflect On:
There are many factors of our modern world that make us less active. Our jobs, driving rather than walking/biking, too much screen time. What can you do differently to bring more activity into your life? What story stops you from starting?
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than a quarter of the entire population on this planet are not getting enough physical exercise, this number has barely improved since 2001. There are many factors that contribute to this, but just how much damage are we doing by failing to be active?
The lack of physical exercise raises the risk of many health problems, such as heart disease, type-2 diabetes and various types of cancers.
Interestingly, according to their study published in The Lancet Global Health, higher income countries, such as the UK, were among the least active population. Women were also found to be more sedentary throughout the world, excluding two regions in Asia.
The study looked at self-reported data on activity levels from 358 population based surveys covering 168 countries and included 1.9 million people.
The populations of higher income countries, which include the UK and USA showed an increase in the proportion of inactive people and had actually risen from 32% in 2001 to 37% in 2016, in the lower income countries it remained at 16%.
Those who were classified as inactive did less than 150 minutes of moderate exercise and around 75 minutes of intense activity per week.
It was found that women were less active than men overall, except for in South and Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and higher-income Western countries. The authors believe that this was caused by a few different factors including extra childcare duties and cultural perspectives that may have made it more difficult for them to exercise.
Why More Inactivity In Wealthier Countries?
According to the researchers, in the wealthier countries, many of the jobs have transitioned to more office or desk jobs, meaning a more sedentary type of lifestyle. On top of that much of the population of these countries drive automobiles or take public transit to and from work which in many cases accounts for a lot of their time.
In the lower income countries, many of the jobs require the people to be more active, are physically demanding and people often have to walk to and from their jobs.
The WHO has had a goal to reduce the global levels of inactivity by 10% by 2025, the authors of the study feel that at the rate we are currently going, this target will be missed.
Lead author of the study, Dr. Regina Guthold said, “Unlike other major global health risks, levels of insufficient physical activity are not falling worldwide, on average, and over a quarter of all adults are not reaching the recommended levels of physical activity for good health.”
Regions with increasing levels of insufficient physical activity are a major concern for public health and the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases.”
Co-author, Dr. Fiona Bull added, “Addressing these inequalities in physical activity levels between men and women will be critical to achieving global activity targets and will require interventions to promote and improve women’s access to opportunities that are safe, affordable and culturally acceptable.”
According to the WHO,
Exercise guidelines for 19- to 64-year-olds
- at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity every week
- strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles
- break up long periods of sitting with light activity
What is moderate aerobic activity?
- Walking fast, water aerobics, riding a bike on level ground or with a few hills, doubles tennis, pushing a lawn mower, hiking, skateboarding, rollerblading, volleyball, basketball
What counts as vigorous activity?
- Jogging or running, swimming fast, riding a bike fast or on hills, singles tennis, football, rugby, skipping rope, hockey, aerobics, gymnastics, martial arts
What activities strengthen muscles?
- lifting weights, working with resistance bands, doing exercises that use your own body weight, such as push-ups and sit-ups, heavy gardening, such as digging and shovelling, yoga
What activities are both aerobic and muscle-strengthening?
- circuit training, aerobics, running, football, rugby, netball, hockey
I was surprised to see that the WHO didn’t touch on inactivity due to too much screen time — watching television, Netflix, Facebook scrolling, messaging, texting, browsing etc. Certainly, the increase in screen time plays a roll with the amount of inactivity, especially in the higher income countries. If you are someone who spends too much time staring at a screen, then it is important to consider the above information. Can you limit your screen time and replace it with something active? Or would you consider jumping rope, or rebounding while watching the television? Our health is our greatest wealth and having awareness about an issue is the first way to create change and take responsibility for our lives.
Could you walk or bike to work instead of drive? What about trying a new sport? Could you commit to adding a few hours each week of physical activity? These small decisions could have a profound impact on your health, longevity and overall well-being.
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