Rubini Kamalakaran interviews Dr Are Holen in Malaysia

The Sun Modern MeditationUnder the title “Modern Meditation – A practice without the complexities of traditional systems”, the Malaysian newspaper The Sun has recently published an interview with Acem’s founder Dr. Are Holen. Acem Meditation, starting in Norway in 1966, is described as a “no-fuss” approach to meditation – a non-religious technique that is unlike traditional meditation – one sits comfortably and gently repeats a simple sound in the mind.

Non-directive meditation

The Acem approach, we are told, is especially suited for those who lead stressful lives and need some balance. The free mental attitude during meditation, also referred to as non-directive meditation, is a central characteristic. One does not need to concentrate to reach some point or level or clear one’s mind as proposed in traditional practice. In Acem Meditation, thoughts, feelings and other impulses are allowed to come and go freely.

The state of relaxation

“Fascinatingly, research on the effects of Acem meditation reveals profound changes in the psychological aspect and brain activity of the practitioner,” the article tells us. Are Holen is quoted as saying: “Herbert Benson at Harvard University suggested five physiological parameters that scientifically defines the state of relaxation. Namely, the heart rate goes down, the number of breaths per minute goes down, oxygen consumption goes down without increase of CO2 in the blood, the tension of the muscles are reduced and the blood pressure is slightly lowered. All this is met to considerable extent by Acem meditation.”

Alpha and theta waves

The article continues: “The effects on brain activity demonstrates a shift from a meditator’s current state to a spike in alpha waves (associated with states of relaxation and peacefulness). In fact, alpha waves are seen all over the brain save for a few spots, which indicate major change in brain activity.” Less known to many of us, perhaps, are the theta waves, of which Dr Holen says: “Also, there is a change in theta wave which is produced in a spot called Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) which lies around the middle of the crown and activity there can have several meanings. A few of them are reduction of anxiety, depression and psychological processing.”

Going with the flow

Scientific studies have contributed to interpret the effects of Acem Meditation: “Studies on brain activity were conducted using functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI), in particular to examine the contrast between concentrated versus free mental attitude meditation. It revealed that when meditators go with the flow (free mental attitude), the persistent result is a higher resting activity in the brain.” Are Holen comments: “Based on this, we do believe that there is a profound effect from free mental attitude meditation.” It is based on what Benson called the relaxation response in the nervous system. You don’t try to relax. Instead, by doing certain activities, relaxation comes naturally. You just give in to the flow. Thoughts, emotions or whatever that is present in you during the meditation is left inclusive. You don’t try to abandon or get away from anything, you just let it be as it starts. The real difference with this practice is the process rather than the basic instruction of the meditation.”

Not therapy

The article quotes Dr Holen as saying that meditation is for the regular person who has his or her challenges and stresses in life, who wants to increase the quality of life, and increase his or her insights. It is a wellbeing activity, but not therapy; not for the sick and needy, but for a person leading a regular life. Some people, when they stress, tend to spend considerable time to get back to normal levels, while those who practice meditation go down quicker to normal.

Differs from the mindfulness approach

The Sun concludes: “Incorporating science in meditation, he has transformed the way people used to deal with stress and have given a new meaning to ‘meditation’ that differs from the mindfulness approach. Acem meditation is based on modern psychology, neutral to religions and political ideas. Today, ACEM meditation is taught and practiced in many countries.”

The interview was published in The Sun on 31 March 2016 on p. 20.