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Excerpted from Best Evidence by Michael Schmicker. Copyright © 2000 by Michael Schmicker. Excerpted by permission of Michael Schmicker.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.

"There's a third proven method of improving mental control over our physical body -- meditation."

  Michael Schmicker, Best Evidence, Part 5

Besides hypnosis and biofeedback, there's a third proven method of improving mental control over our physical body -- meditation. Scientific research on the use of meditation practices in healing stretches back to field research by Western scientists and academics in the 1930s on the mental powers of Indian yogis and Japanese Zen monks. Researchers were interested in testing claims that during meditation these adepts could, at will and on demand, control autonomic bodily functions like heartbeat, skin temperature, blood pressure, brain wave activity and breathing. Enough good research was produced to suggest that at least some humans, through years of intensive training, could indeed perform amazing feats of bodily control using only the mind.

In the late 1950s, psychologists Basu Bagchi of the U. of Michigan Medical Center and M.A. Wegner of UCLA spent five months traveling through India with a carload of scientific instruments that could register brain waves, skin temperature and skin conductance, respiration and finger blood-volume changes. Their studies appeared in serious American scientific journals and their conclusions, while cautious, suggested the image of the Indian fakir as faker was not always accurate. Others were encouraged to continue the research.

Researchers at the famed Menninger Foundation in Kansas tested one Indian yogi who could, at will, produce with his mind an 11 degree Fahrenheit difference between the left and right sides of the same palm, with one side turning pink from heat and the other turning gray from cold. Demonstrating his control over his heartbeat, the yogi also voluntarily produced, on demand, a heart fillibration that raced at 306 beats a minutes and lasted 16 seconds. Even more impressive was an experiment with a man with no yogic training who demonstrated the ability to voluntarily stop his heart -- to produce cardiac arrest -- on demand. EKG tests showed his heartbeat did indeed disappear completely. (As he began to faint from lack of blood, the subject would take a deep breath and revive himself).

In the early 1970s, landmark research on meditation conducted by Dr. Herbert Benson and Keith Wallace appeared in Scientific American and Science magazine at a time when thousands of young American were embracing Transcendental Meditation. Benson, a cardiologist and Harvard Medical School professor, pioneered research into the "relaxation response," a stress-reduced condition often generated during meditation. He spent his career researching the physiological effects of stress management and is the author of five books and more than 100 scientific papers on the subject. (Ironically, for years he resisted publicly practicing what he preached -- the relaxation response. Why? Apparently because he didnít want to be criticized for being an unscientific "believer" in squishy, New Age nonsense. Which makes you wonder: if a Harvard professor is that afraid of what his peers think of such a relatively mild unorthodox idea, how much more pressure would an iconoclastic thinker form a smaller university feel about advancing evidence for mind-body healing? Today, Benson is President of Harvard's Mind/Body Medical Institute.)

In 1981, Benson and a group of researchers from the Harvard Medical School instrumented three Tibetan monks in India practicing a form of meditation called Tummo. The monks could take a blanket soaked in cold water, wrap it around themselves, and sit in the snow on a mountain top in a meditative trance. In the Harvard tests, the monks meditated for 55 minutes in an unheated, cold room, using their minds to raise their internal body temperature... All three monks produced dramatic body temperature changes. One 50-year old monk was able to raise the temperature of his toes by 15 degrees Fahrenheit; another 59-year old monk raised his finger and toe temperatures 11 and 12 degrees Fahrenheit respectively, and raised the overall temperature of the room he was meditating in by 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit.

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