aging

A meditation for accepting aging

A man's hand reaching out to touch its reflection in a mirror.

An elderly friend of mine once said to me, “Aging isn’t for sissies.” She was talking mainly about the physical difficulties of getting older, and especially the aches, pains, and difficulty in doing things that were formerly easy.

To add insult to injury, though, we often feel critical about our appearance as we age, as if it were a sign of weakness instead of an inevitable part of living. Getting older is not a personality defect; it’s an inherent part of being human.

The Buddha talked about aging a lot. He listed it as one of the descriptions of dukkha, which means suffering or unsatisfactoriness.

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He also talked about youth as something we get intoxicated with. We become convinced when we’re young that we’re of a different nature from those who are old, forgetting that we’re all on a continuum. But because of this intoxication, which becomes a kind of addiction, we have difficulty accepting the fact of aging.

Today I led a meditation from in front of my bathroom mirror. I’m going to explain what i did, so that you can practice it as well.

To do this meditation you’ll have to be in a place where you can see yourself in a mirror. You should be able to see at least your face, but preferably your whole upper body. My bathroom mirror was ideal.

One thing that’s important but not obvious is that the place where you do this should be brightly illuminated. You don’t want to do this meditation in dim light, because looking for a prolonged period of time at your own face in a dark place can confuse your brain’s visual circuitry, leading to odd illusions. Let’s avoid that.

You could be sitting or standing depending on what’s convenient for you.

We’ll be meditating with the eyes open. And let the eyes be a little soft, by allowing the muscles supporting the eyes to be at rest.

You also shouldn’t stare, but should let there be a gentleness in your focus.

Also, don’t keep your eyes fixed on one spot. The image is your object of mindfulness, so let your eyes gently explore it.

With the eyes soft, notice the sensations of the breathing. And perhaps also seeing the rise and fall of the breath in the mirror.

And let your eyes be kind as well, remembering what it’s like to look with kindness, and reconnecting with that experience. And you might be able to see that kindness in your own eyes as you’re regarding your reflection.

Now, most of us judge our own appearance more harshly than we do the appearance of others. So we focus on blemishes, wrinkles, gray hair, and flesh that’s no longer as firm as it used to be. And we tend to judge those things.

When you see them in another person, they’re just part of that person’s appearance. They could have exactly the same blemishes and wrinkles and gray hairs and saggy parts as we have and we think they’re a beautiful person. We might love those features that they have.

So just see if you can appreciate the texture and the detail of your own appearance, without judgment, in the same kind and appreciative way that you would if this was another person you were seeing.

You can even drop in some words of appreciation. So seeing a wrinkle, a grey hair, or some other feature of the face, you can say to yourself:

“How beautiful that is! How beautiful is this sign of humanness!”

Repeat this a few times.

And you can say to yourself, to yourself as a whole now, not just talking to a feature as you did a little while ago:

“Aging is inherent in human life. May I meet aging with grace and dignity.”

Repeat this a few times.

“Aging is inherent in human life. May I meet aging with grace and dignity.

“Aging is inherent in human life. May I meet aging with grace and dignity.”

And there’s one more phrase I’d like to suggest, that we can say to ourselves. It’s

“May I support myself with kindness as I age.”

So repeat that a few times as well:

“May I support myself with kindness as I age. May I support myself with kindness as I age.”

And so you can just continue in this way for the rest of this period of practice, however long you’ve chosen to meditate for. Just keep regarding yourself with kind eyes, and be accepting and appreciative of signs of aging and other imperfections.

Guided Meditation

The following meditation is “Sitting With Bodhi”-style. This means that although the recording is ten minutes in length, you’re invited to continue for longer. I’d suggest that before you begin you set a timer for at least 15 minutes.

This recording is one of those I’ve recorded for Wildmind’s sponsors. If you’d like to find out more about what that means, click here.

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“Aging with Wisdom: Reflections, Stories and Teachings” by Olivia Ames Hoblitzelle

Aging with Wisdom

Available from Amazon or Indiebound.

The book’s title describes a daunting challenge. For our aging to have the blessing of bringing us wisdom – who does not wish for this? Most of us, by the time we have reached middle age, have had up close experiences with the aging of family and friends. We know that aging brings many guaranteed changes, most of which are unwelcome. We understand that decline and losses are inevitable as we age. And we have learned that wisdom and aging have at best an uncertain relationship with each other. No matter how much we hope and imagine our aging will be graceful and will be touched by the hand of wisdom, we all, when we find our attention unable to be distracted from the reality of our old age, disease, and death, wonder with trepidation what truly lies in wait. So this book’s title is easily heard as holding a kind of promise. Not only is it possible to age with wisdom, this book will tell me the way.

Aging with Wisdom is not a how-to book. It is, as promised, a record of Reflections, Stories and Teachings. These reflections, stories and teachings are the very personal ones of Ms. Hoblitzelle. The people we meet, their stories, the experiences described, all have a richly personal intimacy. The reader is kindly and deliberately invited into her world of encounters with truly remarkable teachers, family and friends. Indeed, at times the writing is framed as if in a personal conversation as the “dear reader” is asked questions or commented to directly. Sometimes this works successfully, sometimes it has an awkwardness as we can never quite forget that the people and experiences of her personal world are quite different from those in our own.

The experience of aging is woven skillfully throughout the various lives we come to know, and throughout the reflections, recollections and hopes that are shared with us. This is a high accomplishment. A book whose focus is on old age, disease and death goes right against the three things, as is written in Buddhist teachings, “the whole world wishes to avoid”. Yet this book addresses all three directly, fearlessly and engagingly. Drawing the reader’s direct attention to the losses, real and threatened, that aging brings is done in a respectful, even gentle way. It contains no harsh truths or face-slapping realities of the effects of aging. The tone is one of encouragement; a reminder that our life experiences have value if appreciated rightly. The adventure of our facing our own aging and death honestly, as with other great adventures we have endured, will require openness, learning from others, humility, and courage. The author, and the people we meet in the book — the “Wayshowers” — exemplify why this adventure can be a worthwhile one.

The “Aging” referred to in the title is quite straightforward. The “with Wisdom” is less so. This may be because aging can be defined with some easy, specific, and generally agreed upon understanding. Defining wisdom is more slippery. Most dictionary definitions include in their definition of wisdom some combination of “knowledge”, “experience” and “judgement”. Thus we have the Oxford Dictionary definition of wisdom as “the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgement.” Aging certainly brings with it experience. An increase in knowledge (general or specific) usually accompanies experience, so a natural connection exists. But judgement? The relationship between judgement and experience is not straightforward or predictable. The same for the relationship between knowledge and judgement. Aging with Wisdom leaves the wisdom aspect turbid. Sometimes the wisdom seems to be used in the more generic “counsel of elders” sense. At other times, particularly with the personal stories and with the “Wayshowers”, the wisdom seems to be of a more spiritual nature, having to do with a sense of inner peace or clarity. In Buddhist traditions wisdom usually refers to a deep understanding of “things as they really are”. In other spiritual traditions wisdom may have other meanings, for example in Abrahamic traditions it may be accepting the will of God. So the book leaves a question about the nature of wisdom and its relationship to aging. Does aging courageously and with full attention to declines, losses, diseases, death mean one attains to a kind of wisdom?

Aging with Wisdom is a book well worth reading. It turns our attention squarely to our own thoughts, associations, images, worries, and confusions about our becoming old. And to our own death. It does so in a way that is gentle, compassionate, kind and fervently personal. It gives inspiration and encouragement. Any reader who receives this from a book has a been given a rich and rewarding gift.

Available from Amazon or Indiebound.

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Why ageing is all in the mindfulness

wildmind meditation newsMargaret Jennings, Irish Examiner: Meditation and ‘knowing ourselves in a deeper way’ can reduce our anxieties and fears about getting old, and increase our acceptance.

IN 1981, Timothy Sweeney returned from a long meditation retreat and told his mother, with whom he had a “very difficult” relationship, that he would have to discontinue it, if she didn’t change.

His mother was 65 and had, he says, a “lot of unfinished business, emotional baggage”, and had pain from spinal surgery.

Sweeney, then 27, and his mother were living in California. She decided to do a ten-day meditation retreat with Jack Kornfield.

“She was still herself, the Jewish …

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Can meditation really slow ageing?

wildmind meditation newsJo Marchant, Mosaic: Is there real science in the spiritualism of meditation? Jo Marchant meets a Nobel Prize-winner who thinks so.

It’s seven in the morning on the beach in Santa Monica, California. The low sun glints off the waves and the clouds are still golden from the dawn. The view stretches out over thousands of miles of Pacific Ocean. In the distance, white villas of wealthy Los Angeles residents dot the Hollywood hills. Here by the shore, curlews and sandpipers cluster on the damp sand. A few metres back from the water’s edge, a handful of people sit cross-legged: members of a …

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Five remembrances for deep peace (Day 90)

100 Days of Lovingkindness

In learning to experience deep peace in the face of impermanence, we need to consider not just our inner experience, as I did yesterday, but our very lives, and the lives of those around us. Life is short; we all face loss.

These things aren’t really different from what I was discussing yesterday, since it’s our inner feelings about changes in the world that we largely have to deal with, but the same situations can be looked at from different perspectives. When we’re actually experiencing loss, instability, and change, we can work on accepting the the feelings that arise with equanimity. But we can also prepare ourselves philosophically for painful changes that may happen in the future by reflecting on their inevitability. And this is a technique that the Buddha encouraged.

In the Pāli canon there is a set of five remembrances that help us to recollect that change, loss, and death are not unusual events, but are woven into the very fabric of existence.

These remembrances are:

  1. I am sure to become old; I cannot avoid ageing.
  2. I am sure to become ill; I cannot avoid illness.
  3. I am sure to die; I cannot avoid death.
  4. I must be separated and parted from all that is dear and beloved to me.
  5. I am the owner of my actions, heir of my actions, actions are the womb (from which I have sprung), actions are my relations, actions are my protection. Whatever actions I do, good or bad, of these I shall become their heir.

These five reflections are then placed in a more universal context, so that the first one, for example, becomes:

I am not the only one who is subject to old age, not exempt from old age. All beings that come and go, that pass away and undergo rebirth, are subject to old age; none are exempt from old age.

All five reflections are seen in this universal light; all beings are subject not only to old age, but to illness, death, and to separation. And all beings are owners of their actions (karma).

And these, the Buddha said, are remembrances “that should often be reflected upon by a woman or a man, by a householder or one gone forth.” In other words we should all be thinking about this — frequently.

If we do, it does a number of things.

  • We’re better prepared for change that might otherwise throw us off-balance. When we’re forewarned, change is disarmed.
  • We take change less personally. Often even getting old is taken as a personal affront: as if it’s an error. Surely this wasn’t supposed to happen! But of course it’s a universal fact. When we’re young we may look at the elderly and feel a degree of contempt, as if their age was a sign they’d failed. Actually, the fact they’re around is a sign they’ve succeeded, in a way; as they say, getting old is no fun, but it beats the alternative.
  • We realize we’re not being singled out. Everyone experiences loss. Everyone gets sick. Everyone is going to end up dying. These things are not some judgement the universe is meting out on us as some kind of punishment. All things are of the nature to decay and pass away.
  • We feel more sympathy for others. We’re all in it together. Just as I age and grow sick, so do others. The elderly and the chronically sick are simply experiencing now what I am going to experience in the future. Since we’re all equal in this regard, I don’t have to psychically distance myself from others’ suffering. Having compassion for them now, I’m more likely to be able to accept my own suffering when old age, sickness and death strike.
  • We’re challenged to take responsibility. The Buddha’s saying: “Life is short: you’re responsible for what you do with it. Now what?” When we consider our own mortality, life becomes more precious, and it becomes more important to live meaningfully and with compassion.

As a result of all this reflection, our minds become more deeply imbued with peace. We live in peace, able to be equanimous in the face of difficulties. But this is all upekkha in a more everyday sense of “bearing difficulty non-reactively,” which is not upekkha as a brahmavihara. Where upekkha as a brahmavihara steps in is where we compassionately and lovingly wish that all beings come to terms with impermanence, that all beings be able to develop calm, and peace, that all beings awaken from the dream that impermanence bypass us.

This is the dream of denial and delusion and clinging:

To beings subject to aging there comes the desire: ‘O might we not be subject to aging, and aging not come to us…’ To beings subject to disease there comes the desire: ‘O might we not be subject to disease and disease not come to us…’ To beings subject to death there comes the desire: ‘O might we not be subject to death and death not come to us…’

Resisting impermanence in this way simply increases our suffering. Not only do we have to face loss and change, but we have to face the disappointment of our clinging coming to nothing. Accepting impermanence helps us to experience peace; and when we wish that others too accept impermanence and experience peace, that is the brahmavihara of upekkha.

May all beings be free from delusion and clinging. May all beings accept impermanence. May all beings awaken. May all beings live in peace.

PS. You can see all our 100 Days of Lovingkindness posts here.

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Meditation, memory loss, Alzheimer’s and aging

wildmind meditation news

Gordon Richman, WASHINGTON, November 12, 2012 – Alzheimer’s is devastating and terrifying. Our grandparents are fighting it now, our parents preparing to fight it, and we know that we’re next. A recent bittersweet  NPR piece explained that in order for most currently-conceived Alzheimer’s drugs to work effectively, patients would have to start treatment early— up to 20 years early.

Most of us, as much as we fear Alzheimer’s, don’t want to take a cocktail of drugs for something that may or may not happen in 20 years. Although there are brilliant scientists and physicians working on helping people with Alzheimer’s (and those who might suffer from it in the future), most of this is theoretical. Fortunately, there are some fairly innocuous, easy and relatively inexpensive things older and middle aged people can do to fight memory loss. One of those things is the opposite of a modern miracle drug—it’s a health practice that’s over 5000 years old. That practice is meditation.

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Age

Earlier this year, the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital released a very interesting study. According to Medical News Today, the study showed that meditation can indeed help with memory loss. 15 older adults meditated for 12 minutes a day for 8 weeks, and the results were remarkable. Blood flow increased in key areas of the brain, and cognitive function improved as well. They were less depressed, less stressed and less confused. They were holding on to their memories.

Older people often become depressed and detached as their lives change, and as the world changes around them. Modern Western society is moving in unexpected directions, and it’s doing so at an alarming rate— a rate that some seniors have a hard time keeping up with. All of that stress, confusion and depression can add up to apathy and despair, which can lead to lack of mental engagement and activity. That engagement deficiency is unhealthy for several reasons, but it can also contribute to Alzheimer’s. Meditation is all about nurturing your mind and moving you away from negativity. It makes sense, then, that meditation can fight against Alzheimer’s and improve overall health.

In a Huffington Post piece from last year, Dr. Dharma Singh Khalsa put it succinctly, “…  This cutting-edge [neuroscience] research showed that stress, through the release in the body of a hormone called cortisol, could kill brain cells by the millions and lead to memory loss similar to Alzheimer’s disease. For me, this was an epiphany. I remember thinking that, if stress could cause memory loss, then why couldn’t anti-stress techniques, such as meditation, stop it from happening?”

Health

Some people, young, old or middle aged, refuse to try meditation. They think it’s a “new age” practice left to those who wear strange clothing and hold séances with their dogs. Meditation is actually good for just about everyone— it can help with stress, depression, anxiety, blood pressure and cholesterol. It’s free, it feels good and it doesn’t take much time out of the day. Those are huge selling points, especially for the suspicious. The biggest struggle in using meditation as a treatment for current and future Alzheimer’s patients might be getting them to actually try it. What sounds better, though—years of expensive pills or years of quiet, relaxed mindfulness?

If Dr. Khalsa and the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital are correct, it might only take minutes out of our day to fight a debilitating condition. The key, then, to utilizing meditation in the fight against memory loss is in building a daily routine.

Routine

The secret to successful meditation is to include it in a daily routine. Similarly, the key to successfully engaging your mind also lies in the realm of consistency. Older people, especially those who are retired, should have no problem adding meditation to their daily lives. Meditation, coupled with some regular social interaction, light exercise and other inexpensive, non-invasive techniques (such as Music for Memory are a gentle way to curb and reverse memory loss. They’re pleasant, productive and healthy—and they also don’t rely on expensive medications.

For middle aged people, finding a routine might be more difficult at first. The trick is finding about 15 minutes of uninterrupted time, preferably first thing in the morning, to sit down to meditate. There are many different meditation techniques available to suit any number of different personalities and preferences. The important thing is that it’s done daily.

Know that meditation is not for other people—it will work for you, and it can help you, especially if you’re worried about memory loss. It also doesn’t ask for anything in return. It’s there when you need it, and it will be ready when you are.

There will continue to be scientific breakthroughs in the realm of Alzheimer’s studies, but one surefire method has already been proven. Meditation might not be an instant cure-all, but it does help and it doesn’t pose any harmful side effects. Alzheimer’s is devastating, but it’s comforting to know that meditation works and that we don’t yet understand its full potential.

The Jefferson Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine’s Dr. Andrew Newberg is extremely hopeful. Speaking with Medical News Today, he said, “This study is one of a growing body of neuroimaging studies to illustrate the neurological and biological impact of meditation, highlighting brain regions that regulate attention control, emotional states, and memory. It is a first step in understanding the neurophysiologic impact of this and similar meditative practices.”

We can take the first step anytime we’re ready.

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Fighting loneliness and disease with meditation

Amanda Enayati, CNN: Anyone who sees meditation as a hippy-dippy endeavor has found his or her view increasingly challenged by science in recent years.

Meditation and other contemplative practices are continuing to claim their place at the table of mainstream medicine.

This is true for a slew of reasons: chief among them, the recognition that hordes of us are stressed out, that stress wreaks havoc upon our bodies and that the practice of meditation has significant and measurable stress-reduction properties.

In a recent study led by J. David Creswell, assistant professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences …

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Mindfulness meditation reduces loneliness in older adults

For older adults, loneliness is a major risk factor for health problems — such as cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s — and death. Attempts to diminish loneliness with social networking programs like creating community centers to encourage new relationships have not been effective.

However, a new study led by Carnegie Mellon University’s J. David Creswell offers the first evidence that mindfulness meditation reduces loneliness in older adults. Published in “Brain, Behavior & Immunity,” the researchers also found that mindfulness meditation — a practice that dates back 2,500 years to Buddha that focuses on creating an attentive awareness of the reality of the present moment — lowered inflammation levels; inflammation is thought to promote the development and progression of many diseases. These findings provide valuable insights into how mindfulness meditation training can be used as a novel approach for reducing loneliness and the risk of disease in older adults.

“We always tell people to quit smoking for health reasons, but rarely do we think about loneliness in the same way,” said Creswell, assistant professor of psychology within CMU’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. “We know that loneliness is a major risk factor for health problems and mortality in older adults. This research suggests that mindfulness meditation training is a promising intervention for improving the health of older adults.”

For the study, the research team recruited 40 healthy adults aged 55-85 who indicated an interest in learning mindfulness meditation techniques. Each person was assessed at the beginning and end of the study using an established loneliness scale. Blood samples also were collected.

The participants were randomly assigned to receive either the eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program or no treatment. The MBSR program consisted of weekly two-hour meetings in which participants learned body awareness techniques — noticing sensations and working on breathing — and worked their way towards understanding how to mindfully attend to their emotions and daily life practices. They also were asked to practice mindfulness meditation exercises for 30 minutes each day at home and attended a daylong retreat.

The researchers found that eight weeks of the mindfulness meditation training decreased the participants’ loneliness. Using the blood samples collected, they found that the older adult sample had elevated pro-inflammatory gene expression in their immune cells at the beginning of the study, and that the mindfulness meditation training reduced this pro-inflammatory gene expression, as well as a measure of C-Reactive Protein (CRP). These findings suggest that mindfulness meditation training may reduce older adults’ inflammatory disease risk.

“Reductions in the expression of inflammation-related genes were particularly significant because inflammation contributes to a wide variety of the health threats including cancer, cardiovascular diseases and neurodegenerative diseases,” said Steven Cole, professor of medicine and psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the UCLA School of Medicine who collaborated on the study.

While the health effects of the observed gene expression changes were not directly measured in the study, Cole noted that “these results provide some of the first indications that immune cell gene expression profiles can be modulated by a psychological intervention.”

Creswell added that while this research suggests a promising new approach for treating loneliness and inflammatory disease risk in older adults, more work needs to be done. “If you’re interested in using mindfulness meditation, find an instructor in your city,” he said. “It’s important to train your mind like you train your biceps in the gym.”

In addition to Creswell and Cole, the research team included UCLA’s Michael R. Irwin, Lisa J. Burklund and Matthew D. Lieberman and the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology’s Jeffrey Ma and Elizabeth Crabb Breen.

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Yoga can enhance quality of life and slow cellular aging in caregivers

wildmind meditation news

For every individual who’s a victim of Alzheimer’s — some 5.4 million people in the United States alone — there’s a related victim: the caregiver. Spouse, son, daughter, other relative or friend; the loneliness, exhaustion, fear, and most of all stress and depression, takes a toll

While care for the caregivers is difficult to find, a new study out of UCLA suggests that using yoga to engage in very brief, simple daily meditation can lead to improved cognitive functioning and lower levels of depression for caregivers.

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Dr. Helen Lavretsky, professor of psychiatry at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, and colleagues report a further benefit as well: a reduction in stress-induced cellular aging.

The report appears in the current online edition of the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

As the U.S. population continues to age over the next two decades, the prevalence of dementia and the number of family caregivers who provide support to these loved ones will increase dramatically. Currently, at least five million Americans provide care for someone with dementia. The detrimental burden on them, in terms of their own lives, can be severe.

For example, says Lavretsky, who also directs UCLA’s Late-Life Depression, Stress and Wellness Research Program, “We know that chronic stress places caregivers at a higher risk for developing depression. On average, the incidence and prevalence of clinical depression in family dementia caregivers approaches 50 percent. Caregivers are also twice as likely to report high levels of emotional distress.” What’s more, many caregivers tend to be older themselves, leading to what Lavretsky calls an “impaired resilience” to stress and an increased rate of cardiovascular disease and mortality.

While medication can improve depression, many caregivers may be opposed to the use of medication because of the associated cost and drug side-effects. That consideration motivated Lavretsky and her colleagues to test a brief mind-body intervention for stress reduction.

The researchers recruited 49 family caregivers who were taking care of their relatives with dementia. Their ages ranged from 45 to 91 years old and included 36 adult children and 13 spouses. The participants were randomized into two groups. The meditation group was taught a brief, 12-minute yogic practice that included an ancient chanting meditation, Kirtan Kriya, which was performed every day at the same time for eight weeks. The other group was asked to relax in a quiet place with their eyes closed while listening to instrumental music on a relaxation CD, also for 12 minutes every day at the same time for eight weeks.

At the end of the eight weeks the researchers found that the meditation group showed significantly lower levels of depressive symptoms and greater improvement in mental health and cognitive functioning, compared with the relaxation group. In the meditation group, 65 percent showed a 50 percent improvement on a depression rating scale, and 52 percent of the group showed a 50 percent improvement on a mental health score. This compared to a 31 percent depression improvement and a 19 percent mental health improvement for the relaxation group.

The researchers also found that meditation increased telomerase activity and thus slowed cellular aging. Telomerase is an enzyme that maintains the DNA at the ends of our chromosomes, known as telomeres. Telomeres are associated with a host of health risks and diseases, which may be regulated in part by psychological stress. In the absence of telomerase activity, every time our cells divide, our telomeres get shorter and shorter, until eventually, they become so short the cells die. If high telomerase can be maintained or promoted, though, it will likely promote improvement in telomere maintenance and immune cell longevity.

In the study, the meditation group showed a 43 percent improvement in telomerase activity compared with 3.7 percent in the relaxation group.

“Although the relation between mental and physical health has been previously documented, the mechanistic links are beginning to be understood at the cellular level,” said Lavretsky.

“To a varying degree, many psychosocial interventions like this have been shown to enhance mental health for caregivers,” she said. “Yet given the magnitude of the caregiver burden, it is surprising that very few interventions translate into clinical practice. The cost of instruction and offering classes may be one factor. Our study suggests a simple, low-cost yoga program can enhance coping and quality of life for the caregivers.”

The pilot results were “striking,” she said, given the improvements that were shown in mental health, cognition, and telomerase activity over a short eight weeks at a mere 12 minutes a day. “We found that the effects on cognitive and mental functioning and telomerase activity were specific to the Kirtan Kriya. Because Kirtan Kriya had several elements, including chanting, mudras (hand gestures) and visualization, there was a ‘brain fitness’ effect in addition to stress-reduction that contributed to the overall effect of the meditation.” Lavretsky plans a follow-up study to provide further confirmation of this potential mechanism in a neuroimaging study of Kirtan Kriya.

Recently, UCLA launched its new Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care Program, which provides comprehensive, coordinated care as well as resources and support to patients and their caregivers. Lavretsky has incorporated yoga practice into the caregiver program.

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Meditation has positive effects on mood and anxiety in patients with memory loss

Researchers at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital determined that mantra-based meditation can have a positive impact on emotional responses to stress, fatigue and anxiety in adults with memory impairment and memory loss. Their findings are published in the recent issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

Their study placed 15 older adults with memory problems ranging from mild age-associated memory impairment to mild impairment with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease on a regimen of Kirtan Kriya, a mantra-based meditation, for 12 minutes a day for eight weeks. A control group was assigned to listen to classical music for 12 minutes a day for eight weeks.

Earlier results from the study showed significant increases in cerebral blood flow in the prefrontal, superior frontal, and superior parietal cortices as well as improvements in cognitive function.

“We sought to build on this research to determine if changes in cerebral blood flow (CBF) had any correlation with changes in patients’ emotional state, feelings of spirituality and improvements in memory,” said Andrew Newberg, M.D., director of Research at the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine.

“Age-associated cognitive impairment can be accompanied by depression and changes in mood. There is data suggesting that mood disorders can aggravate the processes of cognitive decline,” adds Newberg.

Study participants who performed the mantra-based meditation reported some improvement in tension, fatigue, depression, anger and confusion, with observed significance in tension and fatigue over the control group. There was no significant change observed in spirituality scores.

Single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) scans examined areas of participants’ brains—or regions of interest (ROI)—based on areas previously found to be affected during meditation tasks, and that serve a number of cognitive and affective responses, at baseline and eight weeks.

Significant correlations were observed between the change in CBF and the change in patient-reported mood states. Areas including the amygdala, which has a role in the formation and storage of memories associated with emotional events; and the caudate, thought to be highly involved in learning and memory, correlated with depression scores while the prefrontal cortex, inferior frontal lobe, parietal region, and cingulate cortex correlated with feelings of tension. Significant correlations between the improvement in scores for confusion and depression and change in verbal memory suggest that the improvement in feelings of confusion and depression was related to the cognitive improvement.

“This study is one of a growing body of neuroimaging studies to illustrate the neurological and biological impact of meditation, highlighting brain regions that regulate attention control, emotional states, and memory.

“It is a first step in understanding the neurophysiologic impact of this and similar meditative practices,” says Dr. Newberg.

This research was funded by the Alzheimer Research and Prevention Foundation, Tucson, AZ.

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