Meditation, a Cure for Aging
Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years by spiritual aspirants. Now here in the west we are meditating for the additional benefits of health and longevity. Meditation is a mental exercise of keeping the mind focused for a period of time. There are many techniques which range from focusing on a candle flame to repeating a mantra. It has been found that meditation can increase awareness of the present moment with a decreased need to control, and increased acceptance of thoughts and emotions The many positive physical, psychological and spiritual benefits of meditation have been researched and recorded for many years. Researchers are finding that decreasing stress by meditating can slow down the rate of cellular aging.
A telomere is located at each end of each chromosome and protects the end of the chromosome from deterioration. Its name is derived from the Greek telos (end) and merοs (part). When cells replicate, telomeres are cut and become increasingly shorter. If the telomere becomes too short, it dies or may become dormant. Researchers are now using telomere length to determine cell age and with it, brain deterioration. Telomerase is an enzyme that can rebuild and lengthen telomeres. Researchers at the Universities of California at Davis and San Francisco along with Nobel Prize winner Elizabeth Blackburn, Ph.D. are continuing their investigations of how telomeres are affected by the practice of meditation.
Two groups of meditators and non-meditators were chosen for a research study. Telomerase activity was measured before and after in both groups. The meditation participants attended a 3 month meditation retreat, with group meditation two times a week and individual meditation practice approximately 6 hours a day. Telomerase was shown to be much greater in meditation participants. In another study of mothers taking care of ill children, it was found that the more stressed the mothers said they were, the shorter their telomeres and the lower their levels of telomerase. The most frazzled women in the study had telomeres that translated into an extra decade or so of aging compared to those who were least stressed. It was the first indication that feeling stressed doesn't just damage our health, it literally ages us.
Blackburn and her colleagues sent participants to meditate at the Shambhala mountain retreat in northern Colorado. Those who completed a three-month course had 30% higher levels of telomerase than a similar group on a waiting list. Dr. Dean Ornish, found that men with low-risk prostate cancer who undertook comprehensive lifestyle changes, including meditation, kept their telomerase activity higher than similar men in a control group and had slightly longer telomeres after five years.
Dr. Sara Lazar of Harvard University. Says, “Now that the brain data and all this clinical data are coming out, people are a lot more accepting of meditation, but there are still some people who will never believe that it has any benefit whatsoever."
In a research study of a meditation group and relaxation practice group, it was found that the meditation group had a 43 percent increase in telomerase activity, a significant boost compared to the nearly 4 percent increase seen in the relaxation group. One of the many benefits of meditation is that it reduces negative thought patterns and stress arousal while increasing a positive state of mind and hormonal factors that may promote telomere maintenance.
These studies support the notion that meditation reduces the impact of threatening thought patterns, so the meditator does not react automatically to cognitive and emotional programming. Meditation is thought to promote “cognitive balance,” the ability to see clearly beyond assumptions, preventing common and habitual negative thought patterns. Meditation may also improve coping with events that are appraised as threatening by lessening one’s perceived need to be in control, especially when situations are determined to be uncontrollable.
Meditation has also been shown to increase empathy, kindness and compassion for one self and others In one study, the inability to cope with demands while feeling a lack of control, stress hormones (cortisol and catecholamine’s) were related to shorter telomere length. A negative mood was related to lower telomerase activity, a precursor of telomere shortening. Seeing situations as a challenge rather than as a threat reduces the stress impact and may also be the way to minimize the wear and tear of the telomeres.
The above information and research links stress arousal to telomere shortening. Meditative practices appear to improve the endocrine balance toward a positive mental state, lowering cortisol and decreasing stress. Thus, meditation practice may promote cell longevity both through decreasing stress hormones and increasing telomerase that protects the telomere.
For over 30 years, Dr. Gero has worked with many organizations delivering programs to increase performance, manage change and reduce stress. A partial list of Dr. Gero’s clients includes, Amgen, General Motors, Sheraton Hotels, Hawaiian Telephone, Burger King, LA Times, Rockwell International, Liberty Bank, Hughes Aircraft, Allied Signal and Blue Shield. In addition to working with organizations, Dr. Gero coaches athletes and individuals to enhance their performance. He incorporates mental fitness techniques in all his seminars. His mission is to inspire individuals to live a conscious life of personal responsibility and authenticity He weaves these enlightening concepts into every presentation which helps the people to become more accountable for living the life they desire. Dr. Gero co-wrote and co-produced a relaxation and stress management video hosted by Dennis Weaver, has produced ten stress management and peak-performance CDs, and has authored a manual for individuals to implement his Success Over Stress system. He has appeared on many TV and radio programs, has co-written two screen plays and has written a book titled, Secrets to Success at Work. Jeff was granted a United States patent for a computer biofeedback mouse that helps reduce stress while enhancing productivity.