Excercise, Meditation and Health

This article sparked some thoughts about meditation, both my own meditation and meditation in general.

A new study from the University of Wisconsin–Madison found that adults who practiced mindful meditation or moderately intense exercise for eight weeks suffered less from seasonal ailments during the following winter than those who did not exercise or meditate.
The study appeared in the July issue of Annals of Family Medicine. Researchers recruited about 150 participants, 80 percent of them women and all older than 50, and randomly assigned them to three groups. One group was trained for eight weeks in mindful meditation; another did eight weeks of brisk walking or jogging under the supervision of trainers. The control group did neither. The researchers then monitored the respiratory health of the volunteers with biweekly telephone calls and laboratory visits from September through May—but they did not attempt to find out whether the subjects continued meditating or exercising after the initial eight-week training period.
Participants who had meditated missed 76 percent fewer days of work from September through May than did the control subjects. Those who had exercised missed 48 percent fewer days during this period. The severity of the colds and flus also differed between the two groups. Those who had exercised or meditated suffered for an average of five days; colds of participants in the control group lasted eight. Lab tests confirmed that the self-reported length of colds correlated with the level of antibodies in the body, which is a biomarker for the presence of a virus.
“I think the big news is that mindfulness meditation training appears to have worked” in preventing or reducing the length of colds, says Bruce Barrett of the department of family medicine. He cautions, however, that the findings are preliminary.
Scientific American

What’s interesting in this article is not just the conclusion that meditation has verifiable health benefits but that it is apparently more effective that exercise. However this is hardly the ‘big news’ that the article claims; the benefits of meditation have been known many years. The proponents of Transcendental Meditation (TM) in particular have pointed to research detailing the effectiveness of their particular technique:

I was introduced to TM many years ago when I was in my twenties. I continued to use it occasionally but was never a persistent or consistent practitioner. I have tried other forms of meditation also but again without consistency. Dr Hageiln’s exposition on TM appears quite partisan in extolling the virtues of TM above that of other meditation techniques but from what I’ve read TM is the most researched meditation technique.

There is a comparison of meditation techniques on the Institute for Applied Meditation website. This article promotes ‘Heart Rhythm Meditation’, which I had not heard about previously, but nevertheless provides thumbnail outlines of the other meditation forms. These are of course quite incomplete but the notes are a useful starting point. The Secrets of Yoga website offers a comparison between meditation styles that is a bit more detailed somewhat less partisan.

Follow-up Reading: A Glimpse into the Meditating Brain.


Yesterday I ran just over a mile without stopping. I had previously been completing the distance through a mixture of running and walking. I wrote on my Daily Mile log:

I wanted to let this morning go but I’m glad I didn’t. For the first time I ran the distance without stopping to walk. It wasn’t easy and I know that I have a long way to go but now that I’ve stopped sweating and the breath has returned I must admit that I feel quite elated.

This morning I ran again and decided to add something else to my practice:

My pace is slower this morning but I am satisfied with the run. Now that my body knows that it can handle a mile without stopping it doesn’t complain so much. There are a few more people about at 6:47 on a Saturday morning but I am more confident that I am starting to look like a runner. As I jog towards him a man gives me a friendly grin and says ‘work out brother’.
After a shower I sit in padmasana and do 10 rounds of nadi shodana and some japa meditation. It’s a short and very basic yoga/meditation. If one bad habit can open the door to others then I can use my new good habit in the same way. I will add this to my morning routine.


I watched this video of a lecture by Ingo Swann. Interesting despite the limited attention span I seem to have these days. I remember reading about Swann and ‘remote viewing’ many years ago; he is one of the world’s most famous psychics. Here he reminds us that science cannot tell us how consciousness arises and cites Roger Penrose.

Penrose says that consciousness is not (only) ‘computational’ but arises from the physics of the world. I don’t understand what that means but what Penrose is saying is that science does not understand consciousness because it is looking in the wrong place; that it is a problem for physicists not biologists and computer scientists. Swann is saying science cannot understand consciousness in general and psychic phenomena in particular because they are outside the physical realm that science deals with. Mind is ‘experiential’ and is intuitively understood. Swann points us to Patanjali’s sutras and makes the point that Sanskrit is a more appropriate language in which to discuss mind because it is more experiential while English is more material. The Patanjali connection is really interesting and I need to reread the sutras.

Although Swann says that science or the scientific method cannot comprehend the mind so mind science cannot be approached by science alone he references research which he sees as indicative of psychic phenomena and predicts that defence agencies will be looking into telepathy as they looked into remote viewing in the 1970’s.

Resolving my Resolutions


It’s late. Way past bedtime and way past the typical time for New Year Resolutions. But it’s finally time to ‘resolve my resolutions’ for 2012. I consider the period between the New Year and the Chinese New Year the time of ‘Resolving the Resolutions’.

I believe 2012 is a significant year that will be pivotal in one way or another.

My resolutions begin with the yamas and niyamas of yoga.

Yama and Niyama

Yama and Niyama are often called “the Ten Commandments of Yoga.” Each one of these Five Don’ts (Yama) and Five Do’s (Niyama) is a supporting, liberating Pillar of Yoga. Yama means self-restraint in the sense of self-mastery, or abstention, and consists of five elements. Niyama means observances, of which there are also five. Here is the complete list of these ten Pillars as given in Yoga Sutras 2:30,32:

1. Ahimsa: non-violence, non-injury, harmlessness

2. Satya: truthfulness, honesty

3. Asteya: non-stealing, honesty, non-misappropriativeness

4. Brahmacharya: sexual continence in thought, word and deed as well as control of all the senses

5. Aparigraha: non-possessiveness, non-greed, non-selfishness, non-acquisitiveness

6. Shaucha: purity, cleanliness

7. Santosha: contentment, peacefulness

8. Tapas: austerity, practical (i.e., result-producing) spiritual discipline

9. Swadhyaya: introspective self-study, spiritual study

10. Ishwarapranidhana: offering of one’s life to God

All of these deal with the innate powers of the human being-or rather with the abstinence and observance that will develop and release those powers to be used toward our spiritual perfection, to our self-realization and liberation.

These ten restraints (yama) and observances (niyama) are not optional for the aspiring yogi-or for the most advanced yogi, either. Shankara states quite forcefully that “following yama and niyama is the basic qualification to practice yoga.” Mere desire and aspiration for the goal of yoga is not enough, so he continues: “The qualification is not simply that one wants to practice yoga, for the sacred text says: ‘But he who has not first turned away from his wickedness, who is not tranquil and subdued, or whose mind is not at rest, he can never obtain the Self by knowledge.’ 4 And in the Atharva text: ‘It is in those who have tapas [strong discipline] and brahmacharya [chastity] that truth is established.’ 5 And in the Gita: ‘Firm in their vow of brahmacharya.’ 6 So yama and niyama are methods of yoga” in themselves and are not mere adjuncts or aids that can be optional.

But at the same time, the practice of yoga helps the aspiring yogi to follow the necessary ways of yama and niyama, so he should not be discouraged from taking up yoga right now, thinking that he should wait till he is “ready” or has “cleaned up his act” to practice yoga. No. He should determinedly embark on yama, niyama, and yoga simultaneously. Success will be his.


The yamas and niyamas are not in themselves commandments or resolutions. They are conditions without which resolutions, especially spiritual resolutions cannot succeed.

Beyond studying and practicing the yamas and niyamas my resolves are:

Premises: Unconditional love for self and others.

Principles: Consciousness, Creativity and Compassion in all that I do.

Policy: The Four Agreements – Be Impeccable With Your Word – Don’t Take Anything Personally – Don’t Make Assumptions – Always Do Your Best.

Programme: To develop my business to the point where I am delivering an effective service and receiving an effective income that I can be satisfied with. To set aside time for new learning, specifically to read and speak French properly and to develop my skills as a web developer. To set aside specific and quality time for family. To set aside time for meditation and physical exercise.


1. Set aside at least one hour each day for meditation and one hour for deliberate physical exercise.
2. Set aside at most one hour each day for entertainment, including games, not inconsistent with the yamas and niyamas and subject to having completed the meditation and physical exercise.
3. Deliberately commune with nature. Get out into a wood or park or do some gardening for at least one hour every week. This will count as physical exercise.
4. Set aside at least an hour a day for learning.
5. Develop a work plan for the year, use monthly, weekly, daily to-do lists and stick to the plan.
6. Friday and Sunday are family days. No Internet, no computer, no work.
7. Tuesday is a day of fasting between dawn and dusk. No food no Internet between those times.
8. Have an adventure once a week.
9. Thursday is ‘mind your business’ day. Focus on finance and filing.
10. Eat moderately no more than twice a day to attain a weight of 10 stone and 2 pounds by 4th May and maintain that weight for the rest of the year. There will be no giving up of cherry pies with custard; these will be consumed in a meditative way.