Mind does matter

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Charles Raison, MD:
Mind does matter
December 4, 2009

Meditating may look easy, but it's not. Mastering meditation takes dedication and time. Yet, dutiful beginners can quickly get a sense of its value and meaning and benefit mentally and physically from the practice.

One type of meditation, called focused meditation, aims to refine and enhance attention and calm the mind by focusing on one object such as the breath. Compassion meditation, as its name suggests, is designed to cultivate compassion—that is, enhancing one's ability to empathize with the anguish, distress, and suffering of others.

Charles Raison, MD, clinical director of the Emory Mind-Body Program, and his colleagues are studying how compassion meditation can reduce inflammation and stress, which are linked to serious illnesses including depression, cancer, and heart disease.

"We're interested in how the stress system and the immune system interact to make people depressed when they're sick and sick when they're depressed," says Raison. "There's a circle where stress activates inflammation and inflammation activates stress pathways.

Secular, compassion meditation is based on a thousand-year-old Tibetan Buddhist mind-training practice called "lojong." Lojong uses a cognitive, analytic approach to challenge a person's unexamined thoughts and emotions towards other people, with the long-term goal of developing altruistic emotions and behavior towards all people.

To hear Raison's own words about compassion meditation, use the player at the top of this page or subscribe to the podcast.