Meditation the Complete Guide with Patricia Monaghan

WebMD Live Events Transcript

Stressed? Well relax with Patricia Monaghan author of Meditation The Complete Guide.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Welcome to WebMD's Live Program Health Focus. Today's discussion will be with Patricia Monaghan author of Meditation, The Complete Guide. WebMD members are encouraged to ask their questions and bring up any concerns they may have. This program will begin at 2pm Pacific / 5pm Eastern.

If you would like to ask the author of Meditation, The Complete Guide, Patricia Monaghan a question please type in /ask then skip a space type in your question and hit the return key.

Monaghan: I'm here! Ready.

Moderator: Hello and Welcome to today's Health Focus Program. I would like to begin by welcoming Paticia Monaghan, author of Meditation The Complete Guide to the program. Thank you for joining us here today. Can you begin today's discussion by telling everyone a little bit about your background and area of expertise.

Monaghan: Thanks, Mary, for this opportunity to discuss meditation with your members. I'm a member of the faculty of DePaul University, where I teach science and literature. In addition, I've been a member of the Society of Friends (Quakers) for almost 30 years; Quaker worship is in silent meeting, which is very like many classically meditative traditions. I also do many other forms of meditation: qigong, sitting zazen, and many creative meditations such as journaling and sketching. For several years I taught monthly meditation classes through a local women's center, and there I found that many people were interested in meditation but couldn't figure out how to start. Some bought a book that said it was on meditation, but was really on one form of meditation; if that was a form that was difficult for the person, they became a "meditation drop-out" and felt like they'd failed. I suggested to a longtime friend and former yoga teacher, Eleanor (Teri) Viereck, that we write an encyclopedia of the various forms of meditation, covering many traditions. It took several years as you can imagine, but the results are in finally available! over

Moderator: Can we begin today's discussion on Meditation by having you explain basically what it is. Then we will have followup questions.

Monaghan: Great idea. I'll start by saying that our definition of meditation is expansive and inclusive. There are some who will argue that only Zen is meditation, or only mind-emptying meditations--but my co-author and I started with a non-limiting vision of meditation, what might be called "functional meditation." Which means that, if it has the results that people are looking for from meditation, we included it. Most people who look for a meditative discipline are looking for one of several results: they are looking for greater peace and serenity in their lives; they are looking for help with some medical condition (stress, chronic pain); or, in a few cases, they are looking for performance enhancement. Much of today's interest in meditation has grown from recent studies that show that meditation does have a significant biophysical effect on the body/mind; meditation is now suggested as an appropriate treatment for chronic pain, for insomnia, and for high blood pressure. But even if someone is attracted to meditation because they prefer it over medication, usually there is some interest in becoming more centered and peaceful as well. Thus we define meditation as activities (or lack of activities!) that center the person in the moment, that free the mind from the continual rant of the inner dialogue, and that promote (although often rather slowly) a more peaceful and serene approach to life. Next.

Moderator: I've heard that meditation is a good type of treatment for chronic pain and cancer treatment, as you mentioned, but how does it help??? Or should I say how does it work??

Monaghan: In terms of chronic pain, an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association did offer a study which showed that chronic pain sufferers reported that their pain was diminished with meditation. There have been other studies--Bernie Siegel's work, for instance--which suggests that meditation is useful in cancer treatment, especially the visualization forms of meditation, but as far as I know there have been no articles in the JAMA on that subject (such articles are usually seen as an indication that the procedure or treatment is approved by the medical establishment). I should reinforce that I'm a meditator, not a medical doctor, but I'm also a researcher on meditation and try to stay current in what's been published. But to be more direct in speaking to your question, it's not at all clear what mechanisms are at work in relieving pain through meditation. In the usual western mechanistic paradigm, we'd have to find a specific chemical released--seretonin or something--that would relieve pain. In a less mechanistic vision of the interactions of body and mind, there may not be a direct causal relationship that can be traced. On the subject of cancer, more and more studies are showing that meditation is a good "adjunct therapy" together with with traditional treatments. I have known many cancer warriors who have used meditation as ways of dealing with the pain that can accompany these treatments. And I'd like to tell one anecdote that illustrates the way in which the heightened awareness that can accompany meditation can have powerful effects on our health. Two years ago, in the qigong class I took every week (and where I sometimes got to substitute for the teacher), a woman walked in off the street. She's heard of qigong (which is related to t'ai chi, which is more commonly known here) and thought she'd give it a try. The movements are fairly gentle, but when she left the class she had a horrible pain in her side. She was forced to stop several times on the way home to try to recover. Finally it got so bad she drove to the hospital emergency room. She was discovered to have an intestinal tumor that was just on the verge of metastasis. She is convinced that the awareness exercises of qigong allowed her to become sensitive to her body's messages and-- she says--saved her life. next

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