The benefits of meditation have been touted for decades now, with seemingly a new scientific study coming out as fast as you can say ‘Aum’. Harvard has proven that meditation rebuilds the grey matter in our brains in as little as 8 weeks, and according to University of Toronto psychiatrist, Steven Selchen, “There’s more than an article a day on the subject in peer-reviewed journals now.” With such vast research into the study of mindfulness, how do we know if we are really practicing meditation?
Fortunately, researchers unearthed some astounding discoveries about the brain’s functioning in ‘real’ meditation as opposed to ‘fake’ meditation.
Dr. Creswell, working with scientists from a handful of additional universities, managed to fake mindfulness, in order to observe physiological changes in the brains of participants. Their findings have now been published in Biological Psychiatry, a Journal of Psychiatric Neuroscience.
35 men and women were recruited who were experiencing unemployment, and arguably, high levels of daily stress. Prior to being divided into two groups, one practicing real meditation, and the other a sham experience that looked like meditation, their brains were scanned and blood samples were taken.
Both groups did stretching exercises, but one group was taught a traditional form of mindfulness meditation whereupon they were to pay close attention to bodily sensations, including unpleasant ones. The second group went along doing their stretches without the same formal meditation instructions, while their instructor made jokes. This group was also allowed to chatter and ignore all bodily sensations as they stretched.
None of the participants knew if they were in the ‘real’ meditation or ‘sham’ meditation group.
Upon finishing a three-day ‘meditation’ session, both groups reported feeling refreshed and less stressed, however, follow-up brain scans told the real truth about ‘fake’ meditation.
The group who had practiced real mindfulness meditation showed higher communication in portions of their brains that are associated to calm and focus than those who were in the sham meditation group.
Shockingly, four months later, the real meditation group also showed a much lower level of a blood marker called Interleukin-6, which is known to cause inflammation, and subsequently, disease in the body – even though very few were still meditating.
That means in just three days of meditating mindfully, an entire group of people experienced prolonged calm, focus, and reduced markers for disease.
Dr. Creswell is rather certain that the meditation is what caused the reduction in Interlukin-6, but he has no idea how it actually works, or what ‘dose’ of meditation is needed to keep inflammation down long term.
Anecdotal accounts have given people great motivation to meditate for just a few minutes every day. People who have even a brief, but regular meditation habit have reported experiencing greater clarity, reduced feelings of overwhelm and greater resolve to accomplish their goals.
In fact, one study led by the University of Massachusetts Medical School taught mindfulness to a group of people with clinical levels of anxiety and found that 90% experienced significant reductions in anxiety and depression.
Now that we even have a study proving that ‘real’ meditation works better than ‘fake’ meditation or a placebo, isn’t it time to carve a few minutes out of your day for this life-changing practice?
Sure, your family members might be noisy, or you travel too much, or you are sick, but there really is no reason NOT to meditate. Here are some tips to get in a ten-minute meditation for the busiest people:
- You can meditate on a plane without anyone even knowing. Just close your eyes and mindfully feel every sensation that arises in your body.
- If you live in a busy household, try waking up just fifteen minutes before everyone else to practice a few moments of calm awareness before the hectic day begins.
- If you are sick – what better way to help your body recuperate, than by focusing on your breath, and allowing the magic of mindfulness to start healing you?
- Got family in town? Let them know you have to run out for an errand, and practice 10 minutes of mindfulness in your car before you grab that loaf of bread or drop off the dry cleaning.
See if you can keep up a 10-minute meditation practice for 30 days. By then you’ll have created a habit, and you can add momentum to your accomplishments by slowly sitting in mindfulness for longer stretches. If your attempting the ‘real’ thing – you will see improvements in your focus, mood, and even your health!
Image credit: Lazamunda.org
Biden to Ban Menthol Cigarettes, Citing Health Impact on Youth and Black People
The Biden administration is reportedly planning to propose an immediate ban on menthol cigarettes, a product that has long been targeted by anti-smoking advocates and critics who claim that the tobacco industry has aggressively marketed to Black people in the U.S.
On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that the administration could announce a ban on menthol and other flavored cigarettes as soon as this week.
Roughly 85 percent of Black smokers use such menthol brands as Newport and Kool, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Research has also found that menthol cigarettes are easier to become addicted to and harder to quit than unflavored tobacco products, along with other small cigars popular with young people and African Americans.
Civil rights advocates claim that the decision should be greeted by Black communities and people of color who have been marketed to by what they describe as the predatory tobacco industry.
Black smokers generally smoke far less than white smokers, but suffer a disproportionate amount of deaths due to tobacco-linked diseases like heart attack, stroke, and other causes.
Anti-smoking advocates like Matthew L. Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, also greeted the move to cut out products that appeal to children and young adults.
“Menthol cigarettes are the No. 1 cause of youth smoking in the United States,” he said. “Eliminating menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars used by so many kids will do more in the long run to reduce tobacco-related disease than any action the federal government has ever taken.”
However, groups including the American Civil Liberties Group (ACLU) has opposed the move, citing the likelihood that such an action could lead to criminal penalties arising from the enforcement of a ban hitting communities of color hardest.
In a letter to administration officials, the ACLU and other groups including the Drug Policy Alliance said that while the ban is “no doubt well-intentioned” it would also have “serious racial justice implications.”
“Such a ban will trigger criminal penalties, which will disproportionately impact people of color, as well as prioritize criminalization over public health and harm reduction,” the letter explained. “A ban will also lead to unconstitutional policing and other negative interactions with local law enforcement.”
Pollution Is Making Human Penises Shrink and Causing a Collapse of Fertility, Scientists Say
With many still scoffing at the idea of rampant pollution posing a threat to humanity, a new study could drastically change the conversation: the chemicals across our environment could be the cause of shrinking human penises.
According to a new book by Dr. Shanna H. Swan, conditions in the modern world are quickly altering the reproductive development of humans and posing a threat to our future as a species.
The argument is laid out in her new book Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race.
The book discusses how pollution is not only leading to skyrocketing erectile dysfunction rates and fertility decline, but also an expansion in the number of babies born with small penises.
While it may seem like good fodder for jokes, the research could portend a grim future for humanity’s ability to survive.
Swan co-authored a study in 2017 that found sperm counts had precipitously fallen in Western countries by 59 percent between 1973 and 2011. In her latest book, Swan blames chemicals for this crisis in the making.
“Chemicals in our environment and unhealthy lifestyle practices in our modern world are disrupting our hormonal balance, causing various degrees of reproductive havoc,” she wrote in the new book.
“In some parts of the world, the average twentysomething woman today is less fertile than her grandmother was at 35,” she also wrote, noting that men could have only half the sperm count of their grandfathers.
Swan blames the disruption on phthalates, the chemicals used in plastic manufacturing that also have an impact on how the crucial hormone endocrine is produced
However, experts note that the proper implementation of pollution reduction measures could help humanity prevent the collapse of human fertility.
Visualizing The World’s Deadliest Pandemics By Population Impact
Humanity has been battling against disease for centuries.
And while most contagious outbreaks have never reached full-blown pandemic status, Visual Capitalist’s Carmen Ang notes that there have been several times throughout history when a disease has caused mass devastation.
Here’s a look at the world’s deadliest pandemics to date, viewed from the lens of the impact they had on the global population at the time.
Editor’s note: The above graphic was created in response to a popular request from users after viewing our popular history of pandemics infographic initially released a year ago.
Death Toll, by Percent of Population
In the mid-1300s, a plague known as the Black Death claimed the lives of roughly 200 million people – more than 50% of the global population at that time.
Here’s how the death toll by population stacks up for other significant pandemics, including COVID-19 so far.
The specific cause of the Black Death is still up for debate. Many experts claim the 14th-century pandemic was caused by a bubonic plague, meaning there was no human-to-human transmission, while others argue it was possibly pneumonic.
Interestingly, the plague still exists today – however, it’s significantly less deadly, thanks to modern antibiotics.
History Repeats, But at Least We Keep Learning
While we clearly haven’t eradicated infection diseases from our lives entirely, we’ve at least come a long way in our understanding of what causes illness in the first place.
In ancient times, people believed gods and spirits caused diseases and widespread destruction. But by the 19th century, a scientist named Louis Pasteur (based on findings by Robert Koch) discovered germ theory – the idea that small organisms caused disease.
What will we discover next, and how will it impact our response to disease in the future?
Like this? Check out the full-length article The History of Pandemics
Republished from ZH with permission.