Telomerase & Meditation
A new study from UC Davis is showing that meditation can, over-time, help to increase your telomerase, a vital rejuvenating enzyme that extends the life of cells and helps to repair damage.
The key is in meditation’s ability to reduce stress levels. Stronger psychologically; stronger physiologically. Clifford Saron, a researcher who contributed to the study, had this to say:
“The take-home message from this work is not that meditation directly increases telomerase activity and therefore a person’s health and longevity, rather, meditation may improve a person’s psychological well-being and in turn these changes are related to telomerase activity in immune cells, which has the potential to promote longevity in those cells. Activities that increase a person’s sense of well-being may have a profound effect on the most fundamental aspects of their physiology.”
The participants in the experimental group underwent intensive training during a three-month retreat, and, compared to the control group, generally showed greater ability to avoid neuroticism/negative emotionality, in addition to feeling more in control of their lives and aware of themselves by the end of the study. I personally find this a very encouraging link between mind and body.
I meditate a short while each morning. Generally, I focus on what it is that I am thinking, what feelings are arising, and, my breathing of course.
The aim in a large part of the various meditation traditions is to ‘observe without judgment’ and become aware of your own mind and how it works. This doesn’t have to be the lotus-position, focused-breathing type of meditation by any means. The UC Davis study does point to structured meditation, however, as correlating with telomerase increases. The volunteers in the UC Davis study practiced in a group setting for two hours a day, and in solitude for an average of about six hours a day. And while this would certainly be untenable for most normal folks, sessions as short as 10 minutes seem to produce measurable changes in emotional regulation and increase psychological well-being, leading to the potentially life-extending physiological benefits.
If you are interested in meditation but don’t know where to start, here are 4 basic techniques:
- Impermanence Meditation: Think on happy and unhappy events/times in your life. Think back and notice how all these things change and nothing is permanent. As you recall an experience, say to yourself “This is also impermanent.” or “This too will pass.” This I have often tried as I am falling asleep, my head full of fantasies and worries for the coming day. It calms me down to think of the transient nature of everything like this. You may find it useful, too.
- Watching the Dust Cloud: The mind is constantly churning with thoughts. Trying to stop yourself from thinking anything is generally futile, like trying to clear the motes of dust floating in a sunbeam by throwing spears at individual specks; every time you throw a spear, the whole cloud just gets kicked up again. Wait and the dust settles. Here, the idea is to compassionately note to yourself, “Thinking, good buddy…” and choose a focus point — your breath going out, the look of the back inner side of your eyelids, the sounds you are hearing, whatever you want. Choose a focus point and notice yourself thinking. Let the quiet enter naturally and you should finish feeling quite refreshed — but I will warn you that I have spent up to 45 minutes working towards this clear-mind-feeling, although it was worth it in the end. The realization that you are having no thoughts fill your head is singular and also quite exciting.
- A Healing Light: Good for relaxing the body. In this exercise, the practitioner images a brilliant source of healing light wandering slowly and meticulously over every section of the body. As it does it’s healing work in your mind, you feel the sensation in your toes, then the bottoms, then the tops of your feet, and working slowly up the legs and torso, out onto the arms, and up the neck to the face and head, the light sets your body tingling… Even without an imaginary light source, “feeling” your toes, feet, legs, torso, arms and head one-by-one is a revitalizing mental massage.
- Tonglen Meditation: This one I get from Pema Chodron. It is meant to provide illumination in dark and hopeless times. You start with the assumption and, well, fact — that despite the level of your woes, there are those out in the world who are worse-off, those who live with great suffering: Hunger, disease, poverty, chronic stress, intense anger, resentment, jealousy, deep-seated negativity, and more. To awaken the Buddha inside of you — or perhaps Inner Light for those not so keen on Inner-Buddha — one must continue to develop empathetic skills. In Tonglen Meditation, one breathes in (symbolically) the black, poison smoke of suffering, lightening the burdens of fellow human beings, and then breathes out peace, love, wisdom, hope, and happiness, in a clear, cleansing breathe of light. Taking in suffering, breathing out release from suffering. The target may be an individual as well, a mourning mother, a drug-addicted father, a lonely child, a relative who is ill, anyone you choose. To cleanse others awakens the Inner-light, the Inner-Buddha, who can more easily see the transient, unjust, and cyclic side of things. This helps to develop compassion and empathy, and put things in one’s own life in perspective.
Definition of Telomerase: Telomerase is an enzyme concerned with the formation, maintenance, and renovation of telomeres, the ends of chromosomes. Telomerase regulates the proliferative capacity of human cells. Telomerase activation plays a critical role in the progression of cancer as well as in normal somatic cells. Failure to activate sufficient telomerase promotes disease. (More biochemical information here.)