What is Intensive Meditation


What is Intensive Meditation

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Many people have developed a meditation practice and in recent years heading off to a meditation retreat has become something that meditation enthusiasts can’t get enough of. But where a regular meditation practice can be easily fit into our day to day lives, intensive meditation training is something that will totally alter your meditation experience.

These meditation retreats offer a lot of silent intensive meditation training courses and the time spent here may be hugely beneficial in the long term, according to science. There have been studies that have shown that there is a significant impact on the immune cell telomerase activity in retreat participants which can help in various areas.

When we talk about this telomerase activity, it can sound a little confusing but this is a concept that those in the Buddhist tradition have taken note of for a lot longer and one purpose of meditation, improved well-being may be attributed to this.

So, if the meditation retreat effects are so amazing, and the outcomes so positive, why are there not more meditation students heading out to a meditation retreat and making the most of these sessions?

In this article, we are going to find out what changes a meditation retreat can make as well as look at a study which can back up the idea of improved telomerase activity through mindfulness training and what this means for you.

What Is Intense Meditation?

Depending on the retreat that you attend, the activities may vary somewhat. But the main idea of an intensive retreat is that retreat participants come away at the end of the retreat with a renewed knowledge of mindfulness meditation and a greater sense of their purpose in life.

These retreats may combine various meditation techniques including walking meditation, teaching from some of the world’s most renowned meditation teachers, helping the retreat participants to discover their purpose in life and helping them to make improvements in their home and work life through the art of meditating.

A retreat group like this would typically be aimed at new mediators. However, there are some retreats that are much more intense. One such example is the vipassana meditation which is an ancient Indian technique that has been used across the centuries. It can be practised at retreats around the world.

There is also the world famous Shambhala Mountain Center in Colorado which hosts several intense meditation retreats each year. They welcome people from all walks of life and have no conflict of interest in terms of spiritual beliefs or faith; everyone is welcome to explore the mind and self.

What Does Meditation Do To The Body?

As we have already mentioned, intense meditation has been under study for some time now and the effects on the mind are rather significant.

Of course, we know that mindfulness and meditation are able to ignite both physical and mental changes and have a positive impact on our life; there is plenty of research to show this. However, when we think about intense meditation, things go up a notch.

Telomerase activity is considered to be a predictor of long term cell viability. When humans experience psychological distress, the telomerase activity will decrease. According to research in a book by the Dalai Lama, which can be seen on this page, meditation can take control and drastically reduce the effects of psychological distress. Therefore, it stands to reason that meditation would also increase telomerase activity and positively impact the mental health of retreat participants.

One study, that observed the effects of meditation on a retreat group looked at a 3 month period and noted the telomerase activity changes associated with both perceived control and neuroticism. Perceived control relates to decreasing stress whereas neuroticism relates to increasing distress.

The study used mediation models to test the perceived control and neuroticism help determine whether the retreat indeed had an effect of telomerase activity.

But the research went even further and also looked at how two of the main qualities linked with meditation, purpose of life and mindfulness, also had a effect of the two mediators and immune cell telomerase activity.

The research was carried out using two groups, a wait list control group and a group of participants at a 3 month retreat. Those in the latter spent six hours daily doing meditations and those in the control group were matched in terms of body mass index, gender and age. Those in the meditations group were given information on various techniques and meditation practices so that they could easily reach the right state of mind; the goal being a benevolent state.

Both before and post retreat, the participants were tested psychologically and had blood mononuclear cell samples taken post retreat allowing researchers to assess changes in the telomerase activity as a result of the mindfulness practice and meditation they had engaged in. Since these were clear, researchers also used 1-tailed significance criteria throughout the research.

This all sounds very good but was there a significant difference between those who took part in intensive meditation training and the control group? The results may come as a surprise.

In short, telomerase activity was drastically greater in those who had been at the retreats compared to the control group subject. It was noted that there was not only this difference but that post retreat, the subjects had lower neuroticism and higher perceived control. Of course, with lowered neuroticism, it proves that intensive meditation can yield positive results. But it went even further than this; those in the meditating group were also seen to have a greater sense of purpose in life as well as better overall well being.

To further corroborate the results, researchers noted that the perceived control increase and the neuroticism decreases were partially meditated by purpose in life and mindfulness. Comparatively, those in the telomerase group difference had increased purpose of life but an increase in mindfulness was not noted.

This test has shown us that, despite the fact that baseline telomerase activity was not measured, there is enough evidence to suggest that meditation does have a positive impact on psychological changes and the mediation analyses show that as a result of increased telomerase activity, greater immune cell longevity is achieved.

You can see our citations for this research, here.

What Are The Effects of Meditation Retreats?

Whether you practice the ancient zen sesshin meditation or kundilini meditation, or anything else, there is a keen interest from a lot of people about how a mindfulness or meditation practice can improve their life.

Most of us know that meditation can help to improve your attention and concentration, can help with stress reduction, self compassion and give you a greater sense of purpose in life. However, when we look at how intense meditation and mindfulness play a role, it is clear to see that retreats so have something positive to offer.

In the last section we looked at an interesting study that showed how meditation affects the brain. But what are the effects of a meditation retreat directly after and down the line? Fortunately, there have been more studies into this and the outcome is impressive. You can see our citations for these researches on this link.

This investigation used a short form of the State Trait Anxiety Inventory which is based around forty questions for self assessment of anxiety. The higher the score, the higher the anxiety level.

The investigation saw 195 people heading off to a meditation retreat for a period of a week. Before the retreat began, the participants had to go through several measures including mindfulness, anxiety, depression and attention and once again four weeks after the retreat was over. There are enough evidence in the final article to suggest that there were significant, positive differences in all aspects measured both before the retreat and in the follow up.

What this demonstrates is that meditation intense retreats have the power to positively impact us in the here and now and for a long period of time in the future.

Conclusion

One of the things that a lot of us as is what is the purpose in life, nobody really knows the answer to this question but if there is anything that anyone will tell you it is that happiness is key. But with mental health problems at an all-time high it can be difficult to remain in a calm, stress free and relaxed state.

Meditation can be a very successful way to promote all of these feelings and in recent years, people in the west have quickly come to realise that there are several incredible benefits to this type of activity.

However, the way in which you meditate can drastically affect the results that you see from your practice. For example, if you meditate daily at home, then you will likely notice that you are a lot more relaxed and this is due to the rising dopamine levels in the brain when you meditate. But a lot of us don’t have the time to dedicate to more than a short session each day.

Conversely, as we have seen in this article, attending a meditating retreat and taking part in intensive meditation can yield incredible results. Scientists have noted that this activity enables our bodies to naturally increase our telomerase activity and while this sounds complex, it merely refers to how we react to stress and psychological distress.

Once you take part in a retreat, according to many a scientific article, you will notice a greater sense of purpose in life and a more natural ability to practice mindfulness and we think that is pretty impressive!

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