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Most of us don’t think of meditation as being important in maintaining physical vitality. We know that healthy diet, proper supplementation, regular exercise and a positive social support system are important for our health on all levels — physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual. However, despite these healthy habits, many of us still struggle with managing our stress levels. Science is proving over and over that chronic stress can be deadly, contributing to our most serious health conditions.
This direct mind-body connection is something that Eastern philosophies have taught for millennia, and recent research has supplied us with a revealing new technical perspective. Clinical studies demonstrate that chronic stress may have a profound effect on our DNA by shortening our DNA telomeres. Telomere deterioration puts us at higher risk of developing cancer and other harmful conditions. The good news: There’s an ancient and well-known mind-body practice which is now proving successful in physically repairing this telomere DNA damage, while restoring peace of mind at the same time. What is this practice? Simple meditation.
What Are Telomeres?
Our genes are located on twisted, double-stranded molecules of DNA called chromosomes. At the ends of the chromosomes are stretches of DNA called telomeres. These are essentially caps that protect our genetic data, allow for cells to divide properly and reflect how we age. Similar to the plastic covers on the ends of shoelaces, telomeres protect chromosomes from fraying due to aging, poor health and environmental influences. Telomeres are shortened every time the cells divide; and when they become too short, the cells are not able to divide properly. While researchers are already aware that telomeres shorten and deteriorate with aging, new studies demonstrate that chronic stress also contributes to their reduction. Further research shows that as telomeres shrink, cancer risk grows.
Telomeres And Cancer
There is a scientifically established correlation between shortened telomeres and the incidence of many types of cancers, including pancreatic, bone, prostate, bladder, lung, kidney, head and neck tumors. Shortened telomeres and reduced telomerase activity have also been identified as important contributing factors in prostate carcinogenesis, ovarian cancer, genomic instability and breast cancer pathogenesis.
Without telomeres, chromosome ends can fuse together and cause the health of the cell to deteriorate, making the cell malfunction, become cancerous or die. Research is showing more and more evidence that loss of telomere function, either by altering telomere-binding proteins or by loss of telomeric sequences, is associated with the deterioration of cellular health leading to increased aging and disease.
Meditation Protects Telomeres
The inevitable wear and tear of your telomeres cannot be halted altogether, but it can certainly be delayed and even reversed through the activation of a key enzyme called telomerase. Telomerase protects the ends of telomeres from weakening and fraying. So how do you reap the benefits of this super-charged enzyme? Studies show that psychological changes associated with regular meditation improve your ability to cope with stress and contribute to increased telomerase activity.
“We have found that meditation promotes positive psychological changes, and that meditators showing the greatest improvement on various psychological measures had the highest levels of telomerase,” says Clifford Saron, associate research scientist at the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain.
Regular, mindful meditation promotes relaxation, stress relief and improved circulation. This allows for advanced telomerase activity, naturally promoting cellular health and longevity.
Simple Practice For Beginners
If you’re not sure how to begin meditating, studies show that even just 10 minutes a day can provide significant mental, emotional and physical health benefits. Here’s a simple technique to get you started: Simply sit quietly and focus your attention, as well as your breathing, on a particular object such as a small stone. As thoughts and emotions arise, simply acknowledge and release them, bringing your attention back to your breath. As your practice unfolds, you may find that there is more and more space between your internal monologues, allowing for a sense of openness and freedom from everyday stresses and distractions. This is where the meditation and healing process truly begins. Initially, you should notice tangible benefits like better mental focus, improved emotional balance and increased energy.
Meditation And Healing Retreat
My own two-year meditation sabbatical has been profound for me; and, as this process winds down, it is my deepest desire to share what I have learned with anyone seeking deep healing and rejuvenation. In this spirit, I invite you to join me April 26 to 29 for a meditation and healing retreat at the Institute of Noetic Sciences in Petaluma, Calif. (For more information, go here.) During this retreat, I will be guiding participants through the practical aspects of meditation and healing, based on my extensive experience in the field combined with insights and techniques I’ve gained from years of dedicated meditation practice. My previous retreat, held in September, was a great success among participants. I am honored to have the chance to share this important aspect of healing again in 2012.
Meditation Can Benefit Anyone
No matter your age, health or belief system, simple regular meditation practice can benefit you on all levels. More and more doctors and health practitioners are recommending this ancient, time-tested practice; and meditation now holds a well-deserved, positive reputation in the medical field. It is a simple yet powerful and safe modality for supporting health, preventing illness and increasing overall quality of life.