Mindfulness meditation have an increasing presence in medicine and mental health. Slowly, it has been incorporated into the fabric of most psychological treatments both in private offices and hospitals. The psych world has been overwhelmingly supportive of the effects of mindfulness meditation , and getting more and more comfortable utilizing this technique as a way to decrease stress for their patients.
I’ve been interested in the science of meditation since the early 70’s when I did a 6-month meditation retreat in Nepal. Since that life changing experience, I have been fascinated with the physiological effects of meditation both to the body and brain. Fortunately, I’ve experienced the remarkable power of mindfulness meditation in my own practice and have been watching the scientific literature as it attempts to describe in scientific terms the profound changes that meditation has given to its practitioners.
Honestly, the scientific support has been up and down, but with the advent of new “CSI” type testing it has become increasingly clear what body and brain charges are actually taking place.
In a recent study the authors decided to test both experienced and inexperienced meditators with a variety of psychological tests and health questionnaires related to aging. But the main thrust of the paper was to test mindfulness meditation training with a new measurement of telomere length.
Mindfulness Meditation : Telomeres, Lifestyle, Cancer and Aging
Telomeres are the sequences of DNA that are located at the ends of our chromosomes. When these telomeres are shortened, as they are in advancing age, the chromosomes will no longer divide, making it impossible to make new cells for repair. This process occurs in all our cells, even the brain and measuring telomeres has been a good predictor of many diseases such as hypertension, heart disease, diabetes (Type I), cancer, and dementia. Interesting enough, mindfulness meditation has also been associated with the control or reversal of those conditions.
The results of the study were interesting. Experienced meditators did indeed have much longer telomeres and were also found to have less stress, anxiety and depression, all of which are related to cortisol level, the stress hormone. High cortisol levels have been shown previously to decrease telomere length.
This particular study was done with Zen meditation, but previous studies have shown similar results with other kinds of meditation. All in all, mediation has shown improvement in quality of life, better mental health, relaxing brain activity, decreased oxidative stress, and the health of mitochondria- the energy producers of all cells and are again related directly to aging. Much of this can be related to telomere length.
It is my opinion, supported by this and other studies, that the most important thing is HOW we relate to our thoughts and feelings rather than the FORM of those thoughts or feelings. In other words, we all have negative thoughts that arrive from time to time. An important effect of meditation is to train us to see them as mere brain activity and not dwell on them. This decreases anxiety and results in a brain and heart that can muster up enough “self-compassion” to cut us some slack in our day to day life and health. And you might live longer too!
Now I’d like to hear what you have to say. Leave a comment if you would like.
Zen meditation, Length of Telomeres, and the Role of Experiential Avoidance and Compassion
Marta Alda, et al. Mindfulness (N Y). 2016; 7: 651–659.
2016 Feb 22. doi: 10.1007/s12671-016-0500-5