Meditation Improves Emotional Behaviors in Teachers

Schoolteachers who underwent a short but intensive program of meditation were less depressed, anxious or stressed -- and more compassionate and aware of others' feelings, according to a UCSF-led study that blended ancient meditation practices with the most current scientific methods for regulating emotions.

A core feature of many religions, meditation is practiced by tens of millions around the world as part of their spiritual beliefs as well as to alleviate psychological problems, improve self-awareness and to clear the mind. Previous research has linked meditation to positive changes in blood pressure, metabolism and pain, but less is known about the specific emotional changes that result from the practice.

The new study was designed to create new techniques to reduce destructive emotions while improving social and emotional behavior.

The study will be published in the April issue of the journal Emotion.

"The findings suggest that increased awareness of mental processes can influence emotional behavior," said lead author Margaret Kemeny, PhD, director of the Health Psychology Program in UCSF's Department of Psychiatry. "The study is particularly important because opportunities for reflection and contemplation seem to be fading in our fast-paced, technology-driven culture."

Altogether, 82 female schoolteachers between the ages of 25 and 60 participated in the project. Teachers were chosen because their work is stressful and because the meditation skills they learned could be immediately useful to their daily lives, possibly trickling down to benefit their students.

Study Arose After Meeting Dalai Lama

The study arose from a meeting in 2000 between Buddhist scholars, behavioral scientists and emotion experts at the home of the Dalai Lama. There, the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman, PhD, a UCSF emeritus professor and world expert in emotions, pondered the topic of emotions, leading the Dalai Lama to pose a question: In the modern world, would a secular version of Buddhist contemplation reduce harmful emotions?

From that, Ekman and Buddhist scholar Alan Wallace developed a 42-hour, eight-week training program, integrating secular meditation practices with techniques learned from the scientific study of emotion. It incorporated three categories of meditative practice:

    - Concentration practices involving sustained, focused attention on a specific mental or sensory experience;
    - Mindfulness practices involving the close examination of one's body and feelings;
    - Directive practices designed to promote empathy and compassion toward others.

In the randomized, controlled trial, the schoolteachers learned to better understand the relationship between emotion and cognition, and to better recognize emotions in others and their own emotional patterns so they could better resolve difficult problems in their relationships. All the teachers were new to meditation and all were involved in an intimate relationship.

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2011 has seen social change all over the world. The ‘Arab Spring’ and the ‘Occupy movement’, among other phenomena, have marked the beginning of a widespread rebellion against vested interests, financial elites and systems which are being rejected as intolerable. Astrologer Dianne Garven speaks about what she sees is behind current – and future developments.

Dianne says she's been inundated with questions about what's going on that might explain the dramatic social changes we're seeing. The concern most of her clients have is whether this is indicative of the tip of an iceberg and if so, what more is coming and of what nature?

Dianne explains that the changes we're witnessing are typical of the changes seen when Uranus and Pluto are in specific relationship (transits) to one another. Pluto (the planet representing power) and Uranus (representing rebellion, liberation, freedom, upheaval, chaos and anarchy) have an important relationship which flares onto the front pages when Pluto is in conjunction to, square on, or in opposition to Uranus, and it is then that you can expect to read about mass action, protest and rebellion of the masses against big business, government and any other powerful organisations that exercise power/control. These highly relevant transits occur at roughly 35 - 45 year intervals, and the beginning of the latest approximate 150 year Pluto/Uranus cycle began in 1966 when Pluto was conjuct Uranus. The next time the cycle of social change will influence events to the extent that they become front page news again, will be strongly reflected in the sky when Pluto is square Uranus in June 2012. We are already beginning to feel the effects of this transit. So expect some more headline news of mass protest in 2012 in much the same way that in the '60s young Americans rebelled against the war in Vietnam and the choking ‘normalness’ of the conservative ‘50s. Dianne explains that Pluto is in Capricorn at the moment where it has ample opportunity to exert all its power – Capricorn is the sign of power, of big corporates, the banks, heads of state, as well as the influence that the latter have over humanity. She believes that mid-2012 to 2013 will see people involved in mass action against those power structures that control us; raging against the machine and cutting through the PR to expose big business and governments’ real agendas. This is further reinforced by the fact that Uranus (often representing the masses) is in Aries (a sign of initiating, fighting and doing battle). The simmering process of individuals rebelling against the stronghold that major corporations/governments have over us will, she says, carry on regardless however, moving into the forefront of the news when Pluto and Uranus are square, in opposition or conjunct one another. Expect no major resolutions or victories as ‘only a few bricks get knocked off the wall’ and only some battles are won, but certainly not the war. Another peak of this cycle is when it reaches its culmination which is predicted for Sept 2046 - 48, when these two planets are in opposition to each other. Later, in Feb 2073 – 74, when they are square to each other again the cycle begins its completion which ends in Apr of 2104 when they are in conjunction. Only then will this cycle of power and upheaval come to its end, but only to start all over again with a different theme, and so life continues….

Diane explains that fear is a normal response to be expected in reaction to what we have been seeing and what is to come. However, her strong view is that the current and coming upheavals are not confirmation of ‘end of the world’ prophecies. They are human processes that will continue in cyclical patterns for as long as we exist and she feels that the social upheaval we will witness in 2012-13 aren’t warning signs of any major global meltdown or ‘end of the world’ apocalypse.

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