Buddhist Mantras

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Mind over matter

November 26, 2014 - 7:25am

Linda and Charlie Bloom, Psych Central: “Mindfulness is not something that is only done in the meditation hall, it is also done in the kitchen, in the garden, when we’re on the telephone, when we are driving a car, when we are doing the dishes.” Thich Nhat Hanh

Mindfulness, a term that until fairly recently has not been very much in the current parlance has recently become a popular subject. There’s even a magazine, actually named Mindful that claims to “celebrate the basic human ability to be fully present and aware of where we are and what we’re doing.” And not long ago, …

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Harvard unveils MRI study proving meditation literally rebuilds the brain’s gray matter in 8 weeks

November 25, 2014 - 7:47am

FeelGuide: Test subjects taking part in an 8-week program of mindfulness meditation showed results that astonished even the most experienced neuroscientists at Harvard University. The study was led by a Harvard-affiliated team of researchers based at Massachusetts General Hospital, and the team’s MRI scans documented for the very first time in medical history how meditation produced massive changes inside the brain’s gray matter. “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,” says study senior author Sara Lazar …

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Free book giveaway!

November 24, 2014 - 1:12pm

We’re giving away a copy of Dipa Ma: The Life and Legacy of a Buddhist Master by Amy Schmidt!

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“Dipa Ma’s profound wisdom and compassion continue to inspire and guide an ever-growing number of spiritual seekers and practitioners of every persuasion. Weaving together her powerful words and techniques with heartwarming biographical stories and encounters shared by her family, her students in India and the West, and prominent teachers of Buddhism and meditation in America, this is the only full account of Dipa Ma’s extraordinary life and legacy.”

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The healing effects of total silence

November 24, 2014 - 9:37am

Florence Waters, The Telegraph: A week without noise in Ibiza proves a meditation revelation for Florence Waters.

I remember the first time a friend confessed he was going on a silent meditation retreat: no talking, Wi-Fi, books, phones or pens for what sounded like a very long week.

Though a little curious, I was embarrassed enough to change the subject immediately. Perhaps this is how people felt in the Nineties when someone disclosed they were having therapy. But when I saw him afterwards he was clearly moved by the experience; “I can’t really explain, you’ve just got to do it,” he ventured. “I …

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Buddhism, vegetarianism, and the ethics of intention

November 22, 2014 - 5:03am

One of the most attractive things about Buddhism is that it considers ethics to be based on the intentions behind our actions. This perspective is radical in its simplicity, clarity, and practicality.

When our actions are based on greed, hatred, or delusion, they’re said to be “unskillful” (akusala), which is the term Buddhism prefers over the more judgmental terms “bad” or “evil” — although those terms are used too, albeit mostly in the context of poetry. By contrast, when our intentions are based on mindfulness, compassion, and wisdom, they’re said to be skillful (kusala).

For many people accustomed to systems of morality based on commandments, rewards and punishments, the Buddhist ethical perspective is liberating and refreshing.

But sometimes the idea that Buddhist ethics is about intention is seen in too narrow a way. The problem is that a deluded mind is trying to become aware of itself! We’re not always aware of our intentions, or may choose to fool ourselves about what our motivations really are. We develop ethical blind spots and adopt evasive strategies to justify our actions and to avoid change. Delusion keeps us tied to our current way of being and stops us from making spiritual progress.

One tool that the Buddha encouraged as a way of breaking out of ethical confusion is paying attention to the consequences of our actions:

Having done a bodily action, you should reflect on it: ‘This bodily action I have done — did it lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Was it an unskillful bodily action, with painful consequences, painful results?’ If, on reflection, you know that it led to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it was an unskillful bodily action with painful consequences, painful results, then you should confess it, reveal it, lay it open to the Teacher or to a knowledgeable companion in the holy life. Having confessed it… you should exercise restraint in the future.

If we notice that we’re harming others, or that we’re causing pain to ourselves — for example through inducing guilt — then we need to look more closely at our motivations, being open to the possibility that we’re not clear enough about our intentions. We need to look for and admit to hidden ethical agendas. I wrote about this recently in terms of the way some men harass women on the street, without being willing to look at the fact that their attentions are unwanted and cause suffering.

Another example is the way most people who eat meat say that they like animals. They don’t think of themselves as cruel. Most of them are shocked by actual cruelty and want animal abusers to go to jail. And at the same time, they pay people to abuse animals on their behalf. They don’t think of themselves as doing this, but when they buy meat they’re financially rewarding people who raise animals in stressful and unnatural conditions, transport them, terrified, long distances in trucks, herd them into a slaughterhouse, shoot them in the head, hoist them into the air by their back legs, cut their throats, and then disembowel and dismember them in preparation for being shrink-wrapped and sold.

Although there’s no overt ill intent when you pick up a steak at the supermarket, you’re paying for this whole process to happen — a process that causes affliction to others. And we don’t want to think about all this. We’re shocked by animal cruelty, so for example we don’t want to see videos of animals in slaughterhouses because we’d rather avoid being shocked. That way we can avoid the discomfort that comes from change.

If we’re going to take the Buddha’s teachings seriously as a guide for living, then we need to examine the harmful consequences of our actions, and then look for the hidden intentions and assumptions that drive those actions.

Implicit in buying meat are attitudes like, “You are more useful to me dead than alive,” and “I kind of like you, but I’m hungry, and so I don’t mind you being killed.”

If you like my articles and want to support the work I do, please click here to check out my books, guided meditation CDs, and MP3s. Or you can make a donation.The attitudes are rarely if ever experienced as overtly as that (and I’ve expressed them rather baldly here) but something like that is going on. I know. I used to eat meat.

Meat-eating is just an example. I’ve picked it because so many people who want to follow the Buddhist path fall into the trap of thinking that if their actions are not directly harming others, then there’s no ethical issue at stake. And I picked it because I really hope we can reduce the amount of suffering in our world.

The problem with discussing an issue like this, though, is that it’s emotive, and so the larger point — we should examine the consequences of our actions in order to clarify our hidden intentions — can get lost in our emotional reactions.

Setting aside any such reactions for the moment, the principle of examining the consequences of our actions extends into almost every aspect of our lives. One example is our interaction with the environment. I know that taking my car to work unnecessarily contributes to climate disruption. And I know that climate change causes suffering to people on the other side of the planet. And yet I still take the lazy route. This suggests that I care less about people if they live far away or if I don’t personally know them, and that I value my comfort over others’ wellbeing. My “forgetting” to do my share of the housework suggests that I have a sense of entitlement, and that I think other people’s job is to clean up after me.

The applications are endless; Buddhism is calling upon us to be radically compassionate, radically mindful of our actions.

The principle that reflecting on the consequences of our actions illuminates our unacknowledged motivations is rarely recognized, but it’s one of the most powerful teachings that the Buddha offered us.

Mindfulness program reveals positive results

November 21, 2014 - 9:39am

Sarah Duggan, EducationHQ: Using mindfulness in the classroom improves students’ self-control, attentiveness and respect for each other, researchers have discovered.

The findings come from the Mental Health Foundation’s (MHF) Mindfulness in Schools programme, which saw six schools take part in an eight-week trial requiring teachers to implement 20-minute mindfulness sessions into their lessons.

Throughout the trial teachers documented any progress in a journal and later completed an extensive survey, the results of which were examined by researchers from Auckland University and the Auckland University of Technology.

Teck Wee, a primary teacher at Te Papapa School who participated in the trial, reported that he …

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A Mindful Christmas Survival Guide

November 20, 2014 - 9:59am

Sad to say, for many of us, the season of peace and goodwill has become a time of stress and indulgence. Here’s a mindful survival kit

Pace Yourself

Christmas starts with battling through the seasonal crowds and keeps going to the New Year hangover. We need to pace ourselves. When you go shopping, take breaks. Sit in a café and follow your breath, regardless of what’s going on around you.

Check Your Expectations

So much stress comes from the idea that everyone should be happy and get on well. But things are as they are: children can get hyper and temperamental; family tensions can come out; old patterns can resurface. Allowing ourselves to experience any feelings of disappointment and frustrations when they arise, can help us find a more creative response.

Look After Yourself

For some people Christmas is a lonely time, and it can bring back painful memories of people you’ve lost. If that’s your experience, make it a time to take care of yourself. Give yourself the space and kindness you need.

Enjoy Yourself – in Moderation

It’s easy to do too much of everything at Christmas: eating, drinking and being entertained. The downside is feeling tired and bloated, regretting the weight you’re gaining, and spending too much money. So take a mindful breath, appreciate the simple things and stop when you need to.

Take Time Out

At family gatherings and celebrations things like meditation are easily pushed out, especially when children are around. So try to maintain your practice and take breathing spaces. Reflect that staying in a better state helps you to respond better to others. You could even try them to join in.

Enjoy the Christianity … and the paganism

If you’re a Christian, the festival’s spiritual meaning is the best antidote to indulgence and materialism. Although I’m not one, I still love the atmosphere of Christmas carols and nativity plays. The Christmas story is universal: celebrating the birth of a child who brings hope; and it’s a pagan festival, filled with the imagery of rebirth and new life.

Go on Retreat

If you value meditation and mindfulness, an alternative to a conventional Christmas is going on retreat. You can experience a different way of being and take meditation practice much deeper.

A mindful gift from Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) to all of us

November 20, 2014 - 9:11am

Elisha Goldstein, PsychCentral: Last week I wrote about Thich Nhat Hanh’s brain hemorrhage landing him in the hospital. The most recent update from Plum Village shows that while his condition is still in a critical stage he has opened his eyes and even reached out to touch the attendant next to him. In continuing this time of honoring his life I wanted to share with you one of the gifts he has given me that I often share with others.

These are the short phrases he weaves into breathing or walking that helps us be more present, loving, grounded, and aware in …

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The power of kindness (and one surefire way to know if you “get” mindfulness)

November 19, 2014 - 7:31am

Ed Halliwell, Mindful: In my last blog, I wrote that I had been experimenting with a slightly adapted working definition of mindfulness—“the awareness and approach to life that arises from paying attention on purpose, fully present, with curiosity and compassion.” This is a small shift from the most common modern definition of mindfulness, which describes the practice as ‘non-judgemental.’ Misunderstanding of ‘non-judgement’ has, I believe, has led to some unjustified criticisms, which suggest that mindfulness is ethically groundless or passive.

Mindfulness is just not neutral noticing. There are a clear set of attitudes which underpin the practice, and compassion may be the most …

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The Power of Mindfulness: an introductory meditation course begins December 1, 2014

November 18, 2014 - 8:48am

Do you want to be calmer, happier, and experience more freedom from stress? Mindfulness has been clinically proven to reduce stress, promote feelings of wellbeing, and improve mental and physical health.

The next Power of Mindfulness online course starts December 1, 2014. It’s a four-week meditation course that’s accessible 24 hours a day, every day of the week, wherever you are. All you need is an internet browser. You can even participate on an iPad or other mobile device.

The convenience makes this perfect for people who don’t have meditation classes nearby, or who work irregular hours or who can’t travel because of illness, childcare arrangements, etc.

The course is web-based, and involves readings, guided meditation MP3s that were specially recorded for this course, a discussion forum, and email exchanges with the teacher, Bodhipaksa.

Weaving together the latest scientific research with ancient Buddhist wisdom, this four-week course provides a comprehensive introduction to living mindfully. It’s not just about the skills of meditation. You’ll also learn how to take what you learn into action. This course gives you the tools to gain more insight into yourself, and be more at ease and content through life’s ups and downs.

For more information, or to register for the course click here to go to the online store. Sign up by November 28th and we’ll send you coupon for a free guided meditation MP3!

Jerry Seinfeld credits meditation for endless energy

November 18, 2014 - 8:01am

Michael D’Estries, Mother Nature News: Comedian, who has practiced Transcendental Meditation for 40 years, says the technique has helped him stay balanced throughout his career.

For more than 40 years, Jerry Seinfeld has twice daily practiced Transcendental Meditation, a mantra meditation he credits with giving him endless energy and peace of mind.

“When I think about the things I love more than money, more than love, more than just about anything, I love energy,” the 60-year-old said in an interview earlier last month. “I love it and I pursue it, I want it, and I want more of it. And I think this …

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The third arrow

November 18, 2014 - 5:00am

The first arrow: Think of a time someone said something hurtful to you, and let’s try to break down what happened. A comment was made, and you probably experienced actual physical pain, most likely in the solar plexus or heart. (When the hurt is particularly strong, we sometimes say it feels like we’ve been punched in the gut, don’t we?)

What went on was that some fast-acting part of your brain believed you were being criticized or marginalized, and so identified the comment as a threat to your wellbeing. That part of your brain then attempted to alert the rest of the mind to this threat by sending signals to pain receptors in the body. This all happens in a fraction of a second, and automatically. You don’t “decide” to feel hurt.

This kind of hurt is an example of what, in a well-known teaching, the Buddha called “the first arrow.” We can try not to get shot by arrows, but emotional pain like we’ve been discussing, along with purely physical pain — as when we’re sick or injured — is unavoidable. Even the Buddha experienced physical and emotional discomfort.

The second arrow: The existence of a first arrow of course implies a second! The Buddha explained the “second arrow” as the way that the mind reacts to physical or emotional discomfort in ways that create even more pain. We do this by things like indulging in self-pity, thinking about how unfair it is that we got hurt, blaming ourselves, being critical of the other person, or rehashing the hurtful event over and over again, thinking about how we could have handled things differently. The mind compulsively returns to the painful event we’ve experienced, and every time we do so we cause ourselves yet more pain, because in remembering the hurt, we re-experience it. So as the Buddha said, this is like someone being hit by an arrow, and then reacting in a way that causes a second arrow to be unleashed. You probably did something like this after hearing the hurtful comment.

So there are these two arrows — two forms of pain.

The third arrow: But wait, there’s more! In the teaching of the two arrows, the Buddha talked about a third kind of pain: pain that’s deferred because of clinging to pleasure. This is less often talked about, perhaps because he didn’t offer a colorful image to illustrate it. I call this third form of pain the “third arrow,” and I’m going to supply the missing simile.

The Buddha gave a detailed explanation of how the third arrow works. He pointed out that when someone experiences the first arrow of unavoidable pain, he or she can feel resistance to the pain, and then “seek delight in sensual pleasure.” This is because, not having learned to work with the mind, the person “does not know of any escape from painful feeling other than sensual pleasure.” When we act this way we create a pattern of avoidance and denial that leads to yet further pain in the future.

This third arrow is an important teaching regarding addictive behaviors. Who among us is not afflicted with compulsiveness? Drinking alcohol, eating “comfort food,” watching TV, endlessly reading posts on social media sites, browsing the web, checking our phones for new messages — these are all ways of getting hits of dopamine, a neurotransmitter central to the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. And each of these activities is an escape from a painful feeling that in all likelihood we barely acknowledged.

The “third arrow” of deferred suffering is like when a person has been hit by an arrow and sees yet another one coming, but chooses to ignore it. Pretending nothing’s wrong, he or she indulges in activities like eating, drinking, shopping, watching TV, and checking Facebook. It’s not that any of these things is necessarily very pleasurable in itself, by the way. The “pleasure” we feel is often more like the comfortable numbness of compulsive activity.

Of course we can ignore our pain for a while, but we can’t distract ourselves indefinitely. Eventually that airborne dart — the “third arrow” that we’ve been ignoring — finds its target.

Avoiding the third arrow

If we understand, as the Buddha put it, the “origin and passing away” of a painful feeling (the first arrow), then we can relate to it differently. We know it’s not permanent. We know that it will pass. We can simply experience it without aversion. And in the open space of mindfulness that we’ve created, a painful feeling arises and then passes away.

A recent study showed that painful feelings like shame, fear, and humiliation pass in mere minutes. The less we react with the second arrow of mental self-torment, the quicker painful feelings dissipate. Even if they last longer (the same study showed that sadness can be remarkably persistent), if we don’t respond with the third arrow of denial and distraction, we won’t simply be deferring the pain to some future time.

Putting this into practice

I can pretty much guarantee that within the next half hour you’re going to encounter some kind of dissatisfaction (boredom, hurt, confusion, frustration, etc.) and them immediately be tempted to pursue the next dopamine hit by indulging in some kind of escape activity.

See if you can be alert instead. See if you can stay with the discomfort. Tell yourself it’s OK to have this painful feeling. Recognize that it’s impermanent and that it’ll dissipate as we observe it mindfully. Stay with it long enough for it to dissolve. And when it does, the “third arrow” of deferred suffering will dissolve too, mid-flight.

The first noble truth – the noble truth of suffering

November 17, 2014 - 7:51am

The Four Noble Truths are the most fundamental teaching of the Buddha. Deceptively simple, they actually provide a profound explanation of human unhappiness, both gross and subtle, and how to attain increasingly positive states of mind, from stress relief in daily life to an unshakeable calm happiness and a selflessly compassionate heart.

With regard to the Four Noble Truths, the Buddha has been likened to a physician who diagnoses a condition, explains what causes it and what will end it, and then lays out in detail its cure.

The Noble Truth of Suffering
The first Noble Truth is that life contains inevitable, unavoidable suffering. (Some translators use the word, “stress,” to convey the broad meaning of the original word used by the Buddha in the Pali language: dukkha.)

This suffering encompasses the gross forms of pain, illness, and trauma we can all imagine, such as a broken leg, stomach flu, grappling with the devastation of a hurricane or the violent death of a loved one — or getting the diagnosis of a terminal disease.

It also includes milder but common forms of discomfort and distress, like long hours of work, feeling let down by partner, a headache, feeling frustrated, disappointed, hurt, inadequate, depressed, upset, etc.

And it includes the subtlest qualities of tension in the mind, restlessness, sense of contraction, preoccupation, unease, boredom, blahness, ennui, sense of being an isolated self, something missing in life, something just not fulfilling, etc.

What People Do with the Fact of Suffering
Because suffering is uncomfortable, we may suppress or minimize it in our own lives. And because it is unpleasant – and sometimes guilt-provoking – to see it in others, we sometimes turn away from it there, too.

We also live in a culture that tends to cast a veil over the everyday suffering of poverty, chronic illness, draining work conditions, aging, and dying while – oddly – pushing intense imagery of violence in everything from the evening news to children’s TV. Simultaneously, our media present an endless parade of promises that you can avoid suffering through looking younger, upgrading your internet connection, drinking Bud Lite, getting Viagra, losing 10 pounds, etc.

It can almost make you feel like a failure for suffering!

Personal Reflections
What are some of the kinds of suffering that exist in your life?

Can you accept the fact of your suffering? What gets in the way of doing that?

What happens inside you when you accept the universal truth of suffering, that everyone suffers? In a way, it becomes less personal then, and easier to handle. It’s just suffering. It doesn’t have to be a big deal that we suffer. It’s just what is. It is indeed true that we and everyone else suffers.

You have opened up to a truth . . . a great truth . . . the First Noble Truth.

Ebooks are now available on the Wildmind store!

November 14, 2014 - 1:20pm

Wildmind: A Step-by-Step Guide to Meditation, by Bodhipaksa (ebook)

Meditation helps us to cut through the agonizing clutter of superficial mental turmoil and allows us to experience more spacious and joyful states of mind. It is this pure and luminous state that I call your Wildmind.

From how to build your own stool to how a raisin can help you meditate, this illustrated guide explains everything you need to know to start or strengthen your meditation practice.

Available in epub (iPad, Nook, etc.) & mobi (Kindle) formats.

Other titles include:

  • Buddhist Meditation by Kamalashila (ebook)
  • Change Your Mind: A Practical Guide to Buddhist Meditation by Paramananda (ebook)
  • Life With Full Attention: A Practical Course in Mindfulness by Maitreyabandhu (ebook)
  • Living with Awareness by Sangharakshita (ebook)
  • Living with Kindness by Sangharakshita (ebook)
  • Meditating: A Buddhist View by Jinananda (ebook)
  • The Body by Paramananda (ebook)
  • The Breath by Vessantara (ebook)
  • The Heart by Vessantara (ebook)
  • The Purpose and Practice of Buddhist Meditation by Sangharakshita (ebook)

They are all available for download on our store now.

Tandem meditation 101: how meditating with your partner builds intimacy

November 14, 2014 - 8:19am

Jason Nik, Care2.com: As a Life Coach, I’ve had many clients in relationships that meditate, but somehow it always surprises me when they tell me they only meditate on their own. When these clients are going through relationship troubles and I suggest meditating together, they look at me as if I don’t understand the concept of meditation.

We all know that the benefits of meditation have been well-documented as decreasing anxiety and increasing happiness for an individual among other things; but some of the time we have spent meditating alone to enhance our individual lives could also be spent meditating with another to …

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Meditation moment: what is meditation?

November 13, 2014 - 7:54am

Steve Shields, Record-Bee: For thousands of years, human beings have practiced techniques of mental focusing, designed to change the habitual conditioning of the mind. Central to many spiritual and philosophical traditions and known in English as meditation, these practices are considered a major means for enhanced awareness and self-mastery.

In recent decades, modern science has dramatically confirmed what advanced meditators have long claimed — that meditation, correctly practiced, offers deep and lasting benefits for mental functioning and emotional health, as well as for physical health and well being.

THE MANY PRACTICAL BENEFITS OF MEDITATION INCLUDE:

  • Marked and lasting reduction of stress
  • Increased ability …

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Exploring your past is a prerequisite for true mindfulness

November 12, 2014 - 10:35am

John and Elaine Leadem, PsychCentral: Mindfulness. It means living in the moment. By now, most of us are well aware of the great emotional and spiritual promises of living mindfully. It is believed to lower high blood pressure, heal trauma, and enhance our problem-solving abilities. Studies show that mindful people may be happier.

Many traditional philosophies however, stress the importance of purposefully going back in time and exploring our past experiences. We revisit where we have been and how we have become the people we are. Those of us who are members of 12 Step recovery groups are asked to complete a comprehensive 4th …

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Cognitive therapy, mindfulness may help with menopausal depression

November 12, 2014 - 7:46am

Janice Neumann, Philly.com: Psychotherapy and mindfulness techniques could help many women who experience depression during menopause, according to a review of existing research.

Too few studies have looked at whether cognitive therapies are good alternatives for women who can’t or don’t want to use pharmaceutical treatments, the authors conclude, but the handful that did mostly showed positive results.

“When I started work in this area, I was struck by the lack of alternative, non-pharmacological, non-hormonal treatment for menopausal symptoms, given the associated risks of hormone therapy and side effects of anti-depressants for some women,” said Sheryl Green, lead author of the study, in …

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Meditation the new tool to reach peak performance

November 11, 2014 - 7:50am

Alex Hutchinton, The Globe and Mail: It’s relatively easy to spot the physical differences between, say, an Olympic rower and a couch potato. But it’s the mind as much as the muscles that make a champion – so is it possible to pick an “elite brain” out of a crowd of ordinary grey matter?

That’s the challenge that a team of psychiatrists and neuroscientists at the University of California San Diego have been grappling with for the past few years. In brain-imaging studies with subjects ranging from Navy SEALs to elite athletes, they’ve found a telltale pattern of activity in certain brain regions …

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Proof that meditation can grow your brain

November 10, 2014 - 1:10pm

Stephen Adams, Mail Online: Meditating really is a workout for the mind, according to scientists who have found it can make the brain bigger.

Practicing simple meditation techniques such as concentrating on your breathing helps build denser grey matter in parts of the brain associated with learning and memory, controlling emotions and compassion.

Just eight weeks of meditation can produce structural changes large enough to be picked up by MRI scanners, American scientists have discovered.

Harvard neuroscientist Dr Sara Lazar said: ‘If you use a particular part of your brain, it’s going to grow because you are using it. It really is mental …

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