GETTING EV­ERY­THING INTO FO­CUS

MED­I­TA­TION IS THE NEW BLACK. IT SHARP­ENS THE BRAIN, RE­DUCES ANX­I­ETY, IM­PROVES SLEEP, BOOSTS HEALTH AND MAKES US HAPPY.

The Weekend Post - Cairns Eye - - Front Page -

ONCE the do­main of Bud­dhist monks, hip­pies and rock stars, med­i­ta­tion is going main­stream. No longer con­fined to tem­ples, ashrams and monas­ter­ies, the art of med­i­tat­ing and fo­cus­ing our mind is spread­ing into schools, the work­place and hos­pi­tals as doc­tors, sci­en­tists, educators and bosses agree that med­i­ta­tion is good for us.

“It’s very dif­fi­cult to now say that all this is wishy washy. The sci­ence is very clear,” says Han Wee Tan (right), one of the lead­ing teach­ers of med­i­ta­tion and mind­ful­ness in Cairns.

“Mind­ful­ness has been very suc­cess­ful with heart dis­ease, ad­dic­tion, im­prov­ing can­cer treat­ment, low­er­ing blood pres­sure, man­ag­ing stress and re­duc­ing anx­i­ety.

“There are so many ex­per­i­ments that now pro­vide ir­refutable proof that your body is not di­vorced from your mind. What you do with your mind in­flu­ences your body – right down to your ge­netic ex­pres­sion.”

Sin­ga­pore-born Han grad­u­ated with a Bach­e­lor of Sci­ence ma­jor­ing in Hu­man Move­ment from Mel­bourne’s Deakin Univer­sity be­fore re­turn­ing home to teach sports sci­ence. But the busy­ness of the is­land na­tion be­gan to lose its ap­peal.

“I de­cided to find a sim­pler way of liv­ing, to slow down and think more in terms of well­be­ing as a whole,” says Han, 38, who re­turned to Aus­tralia eight years ago.

“Grad­u­ally, I came across yoga. From yoga, I came to ap­pre­ci­ate med­i­ta­tion and met peo­ple who took me down the path of mind­ful­ness as well.

“Mind­ful­ness is a spe­cific way of ap­ply­ing our minds – where we ded­i­cate our at­ten­tion to some­thing. It takes away all the es­o­ter­ics of med­i­ta­tion, so it’s no longer viewed as mys­ti­cal. It is just hard sci­ence that says when you pay at­ten­tion in this way, th­ese are the ben­e­fits – low­er­ing heart dis­ease, di­a­betes and ad­dic­tion.

“We’re not say­ing don’t go through your treat­ment. Do it, but use med­i­ta­tion. It’s proven to help in so many ways,” Han says.

Med­i­ta­tion has also en­tered the work­place through lunchtime ses­sions, af­ter-hour classes and week­end work­shops.

“Some of the fastest up­tak­ers of med­i­ta­tion are cor­po­rate ex­ec­u­tives. Em­ploy­ers are bring­ing it into the work­place to help with mind­ful­ness. Some joke that this is be­cause em­ploy­ers want more out of their staff – in­creased per­for­mance, pro­duc­tiv­ity, stress lev­els mit­i­gated, re­duced sick leave.”

“I don’t nec­es­sar­ily mind that per­spec­tive, as long as peo­ple are start­ing to be­come more mind­ful of how they’re liv­ing, what they’re do­ing and how they’re feel­ing.”

The med­i­cal pro­fes­sion is also adopt­ing it, says Han.

“Mind­ful­ness is be­ing used at Monash Univer­sity for stu­dent doc­tors to man­age stress, but equally as a tool to help pa­tients.”

The man who put mind­ful­ness on the map, Jon Ka­bat-Zinn, pi­o­neered it in the base­ment of the Univer­sity of Mas­sachusetts Med­i­cal School, where he helped pa­tients suf­fer­ing from de­pres­sion, pain and ter­mi­nal ill­nesses.

“He was a bit of a joke at first, but was getting such amaz­ing re­sults, ex­perts started to take no­tice.”

Han says ev­ery­one can ben­e­fit, par­tic­u­larly those who say they have no time.

“It’s a run­ning joke that ev­ery­one should med­i­tate for 15 min­utes a day, but if you don’t even have 15 min­utes in your day to med­i­tate, you should med­i­tate for half an hour.”

Res­i­dent nun and co-or­di­na­tor of Kha­cho Yulo Ling Bud­dhist Cen­tre in Cairns, the Ven­er­a­ble Rinchen (op­po­site page), in­cor­po­rates med­i­ta­tion into her daily life and shares its ben­e­fits with oth­ers.

Rinchen fa­cil­i­tates re­lax­ation/med­i­ta­tion ses­sions at Cairns Hospi­tal as part of a car­diac re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gram and heart con­di­tion­ing clinic.

“I talk to them about how they view stress and the ben­e­fits of med­i­ta­tion in re­duc­ing stress,” Rinchen says. “Stress is the No. 1 fac­tor in most of th­ese dis­eases. Stress raises your cor­ti­sol lev­els – that’s your fight and flight.

“Even low lev­els of stress are dam­ag­ing, a bit like con­stantly revving the en­gine of a car.

“Learn­ing to re­lax switches off the stress hor­mone, cor­ti­sol and al­lows the body to sleep and re­gen­er­ate more ef­fec­tively.

“When I teach any­one to med­i­tate, re­gard­less of whether they’re do­ing car­diac re­hab, the heart con­di­tion­ing clinic, on­col­ogy, pal­lia­tive care or at the Bud­dhist cen­tre, I first teach them to re­lax be­cause you can’t med­i­tate un­less you know how to re­lax.” That can be eas­ier for some than oth­ers. Rinchen says Asian cul­tures were more fa­mil­iar with the an­cient tra­di­tion of med­i­ta­tion in the past be­cause they came from con­tem­pla­tive en­vi­ron­ments.

“But now they are be­com­ing just like West­ern­ers, who don’t know how to re­lax. We’ve got smart phones, lap­tops, iPads, tele­vi­sion, the in­ter­net. We are bom­barded, so we’ve got sen­sory over­load.

“First, I get peo­ple ly­ing down. The Bud­dha taught four pos­tures – sit­ting, stand­ing, walk­ing and ly­ing down. This pos­ture helps peo­ple to re­lax more eas­ily, which is the first step to­wards be­ing able to med­i­tate.

“Once they have mas­tered be­ing able to re­lax with­out going to sleep, then the train­ing be­gins. Re­lax­ation with mind­ful aware­ness.” Rinchen also works in pal­lia­tive care. “I am of­ten asked to talk to peo­ple about the dy­ing process and to try to help them come to terms with how to die peace­fully, to re­lax into it and not fight it. This is a sub­ject that few peo­ple want to talk about, and not an easy sub­ject to deal with.”

She says classes at the Bud­dhist cen­tre at­tract a mix of peo­ple – those in­ter­ested in the spir­i­tual side and oth­ers sim­ply want­ing more peace and calm. “When I teach med­i­ta­tion, I don’t give too much of a Bud­dhist over­lay. Most that come … just want to be less stressed.”

Rinchen says med­i­ta­tion can bring a gen­uine sense of well­be­ing and hap­pi­ness that is not de­pen­dent on the out­side world, but comes from within.

“It’s a sim­ple tech­nique, but not easy. You have to sit still and no­body re­ally wants to sit still any­more.”

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