Archive for the ‘meditation’ Category

courtesy of time magazine

In the December 23, 2010, issue of Time Magazine, reporter Maia Szalavitz profiles a fascinating new study on meditation and longevity.  It is well worth the read and I’ve posted it all here:

The image of the ancient but youthful-looking sage meditating on a mountaintop might be closer to reality than you think, according to a new study that found that after a three-month stay at a meditation retreat, people showed higher levels of an enzyme associated with longevity.

The study is preliminary and didn’t show that meditation actually extends life, but the findings suggest a possible means by which it could.

Researchers led by Tonya Jacobs of the University of California-Davis compared 30 participants at a meditation retreat held at the Shambhala Mountain Center in Colorado with matched controls on a waiting list for the retreat. Participants meditated six hours per day for three months. Their meditation centered on mindfulness — for instance, focusing solely on breathing, in the moment — and on lovingkindness and enhancing compassion towards others.

After the three-month intervention, researchers found that the meditators had on average about 30% more activity of the enzyme telomerase than the controls did. Telomerase is responsible for repairing telomeres, the structures located on the ends chromosomes, which, like the plastic aglets at the tips of shoelaces, prevent the chromosome from unraveling. Each time a cell reproduces, its telomeres become shorter and less effective at protecting the chromosome — this, researchers believe, is a cause of aging. As the chromosome becomes more and more vulnerable, cell copying becomes sloppier and eventually stops when the telomeres disintegrate completely. Telomerase can mitigate — and possibly stop — cell aging.

“Something about being on a retreat for three months changed the [amount of] telomerase in the retreat group,” says Elizabeth Blackburn, a study author who has won a Nobel Prize for her previous work on telomerase. “We didn’t prove that it was meditation [that caused the change]. A lot of things happened during the retreat. But the interesting thing was that the changes we saw tracked quantifiably with the change in people’s psychological well-being and outlook.”

In other words, people with higher levels of telomerase also showed more increases in psychological improvement. In retreat participants who showed no psychological change, telomerase levels were not any higher than in controls. (Researchers were unable to compare telomerase levels in the groups both before and after the retreat for logistical reasons.)

“It’s a very good study with interesting results in terms of health implications,” says Alan Marlatt, a professor of psychology at the University of Washington who has studied meditation for decades but was not associated with this research.

Of course, the relationship between health and telomerase is complex. In a recent study in mice by Harvard researchers, they found that boosting levels of telomerase reversed signs of aging, restoring graying fur and fertility, increasing brain size and sharpening scent perception. Too much telomerase activity can also be a problem, however. A cell that reproduces endlessly sounds like a good thing at first — that cell would be immortal. But this is exactly what happens with cancer cells — infinite replication. “If telomerase levels go too far up, that’s [associated with] cancer,” says Clifford Saron, associate research scientist at the University of California-Davis Center for Mind and Brain and a co-author of the new paper.  He notes, however, that the difference is one that is orders of magnitude higher—so that meditation could not possibly cause cancer.

So how does meditation affect the machinery of cellular reproduction? Probably by reducing stress, research suggests. Severe psychological stress — particularly early in life and in the absence of social support — has been linked with poorer health, increasing risk for heart disease, stroke and some cancers. This is likely due to the negative effects of high levels of stress hormones on the brain and body. By reducing stress hormones, perhaps meditation contributes to healthier telomeres.

In a study published a few years ago in Lancet Oncology, researchers compared 30 men before and after adopting lifestyle changes following a diagnosis of low-risk prostate cancer. The patients started meditating, switched to a healthy plant-based diet, exercised and attended a support group. Like the new study, the Lancet Oncology paper found increases in telomerase linked with reduced psychological distress.

“The mind has a big influence on the body. If you get anxious, your heart beats faster and your stomach churns,” says Blackburn. “But we don’t know yet [if meditation is linked to] a reduction in stress hormones. The physiology is very complex.”

Recent evidence supports a connection: a study published this month in the Archives of General Psychiatry showed that mindfulness meditation can reduce relapse in patients who recovered from depression just as well as antidepressants.

Of course, the increases in telomerase seen in the current study could be due to some other unknown factor that separates the meditators from the controls. That’s another reason why it’s too early to suggest that stress-reducing mind-body interventions like meditation be prescribed as a treatment for any diseases or disorders. The study also did not show that meditation actually extends life, only that it may increase the activity of an enzyme that is associated with longevity.

Still, research on meditation is expanding dramatically, with studies finding it helpful for pain, depression, addiction and many other conditions. “There’s a very exciting dialogue going on,” Marlatt says of the research. “It works for many different kinds of clinical problems. It’s very promising.”

That noise you hear in the background? Millions of new meditators chanting, “Om.”

This study is really interesting.  I wonder if we would see the same results if the subjects began a daily meditation practice, or if the increase in telomerase was the result of the 3-month immersion like?  Regardless, study after study shows that meditation is an amazing practice to cure what ails you.  Studies like these make me wonder why more yoga studios don’t offer meditation classes.

Does your local yoga studio have a meditation class? Tell me about it! Know of a good one in the Los Angeles area?


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Next week, famed Hollywood filmmaker David Lynch will launch a national initiative called Operation Warrior Wellness, which aims to teach Transcendental Meditation techniques to soldiers re-adjusting to life back home and to help relieve them of symptoms related to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As many of you might already know, David Lynch (who has directed classics such as The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive, and Twin Peaks), has been practicing Transcendental Meditation for over 30 years, and has committed much of his own time and money through the David Lynch Foundation to bringing meditation techniques to populations who might not otherwise have been introduced to them.

Read the rest of the article at Elephant Journal

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I saw this story in The Press Enterprise, a small newspaper serving inland Southern California and thought it was beautiful.  It was written by Carl Love and profiles the dream of Todd Hailstone, an 88-year-old man from Temecula, California: to build a meditation garden.


Todd & Hazel Hailstone / photo courtesy Carl Love and Press Enterprise


At 88, Todd Hailstone is slowing down. He struggles to get around and doesn’t get out very often.

That doesn’t mean he’s too old to see a dream come true.

His goal was a meditation garden at the Temecula United Methodist Church, something that seemed more like a pipe dream last spring when the spot was covered with weeds.

Then a work party cleaned the place up. People realized the potential of the half-acre. A group of what Hazel Hailstone, Todd’s wife, fondly calls “angels” (including Tim Griffin, Joe Benvenuto and Diane Martinez) shifted into high gear, weeding, planting and planning.

Miraculously, it is now what Todd envisioned, a serene place to sit down and meditate.

“It’s coming right along,” Todd said happily as he negotiated the winding gravel paths with his wife’s help.

The spot includes about a dozen concrete benches covered with gorgeous tiles, 26 olive trees (a type of tree mentioned in the Bible, appropriately enough) and a host of plants with an emphasis on the drought-tolerant. Even in late fall, plenty are blooming.

The garden is surrounded by attractive white rail fencing with a black wrought-iron gate as an entrance. A marker in the first planter area greets visitors: “Welcome to our meditation garden first envisioned by Todd Hailstone, generously supported by friends and members who caught his vision and lovingly tended by dedicated angels. Peace to all who enter.”

Befitting a serene place, the garden is environmentally friendly, with recycled water used in a drip irrigation system. Still to come is more fencing to keep the bunnies out and a fire pit.

Todd visits the garden a couple times a month, not nearly as much as he’d like. Each time he sees more things planted and the place looks calmer.

Griffin has been weeding at least once a week.

“We’re really happy that Toddy’s vision has come to fruition,” he said. “I want to get out there and help.”

Martinez likes to buy plants for the garden. Asked why she helps, she said: “Because I love these people (the Hailstones) and I love this garden.”

Pastor Randy Johnson estimated that “several thousand” dollars have been donated to the project, not to mention the free labor. The garden, at the northeast corner of the church property at 42690 Margarita Road, is open to the public. It is used for Bible study meetings and receptions.

“It shows what a committed few can do,” Johnson said of the spot.

Todd envisioned the garden 15 years ago while volunteering on the church’s construction. He has meditated for 45 years, having started in Canada after hearing a Buddhist monk speak.

A Christian, he still meditates and said it brings about self-realization, helping people to become who they really are. He finds the garden the perfect place to do so.

“It is a place to be and a place for being,” he said.

A thought as pure as the garden he first dreamt.

In other news, in a very small study conducted by Canadian researchers, meditation was noted to improve quality of life for individuals suffering from traumatic brain injuries.


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Jerry Brown's Official Governor's Portrait

Tuesday, November 2nd,  is a very important day in this country, whether you are a Democrat or Republican, Christian or demon yogi – yes, that’s right, it’s Election Day! In my neck of the woods, by the end of next Tuesday a newsworthy contest for governor will have been decided between former e-bay CEO, Meg Whitman, and current California State Attorney General, Jerry Brown.
Why is this relevant to my little blog about yoga? Why my friends, because Jerry Brown is a yogi. While this fact alone should not persuade you to vote for him (just because you do yoga doesn’t make you a good politician…and until very recently I thought I had never met a yogi I didn’t like), I do find it fascinating as there aren’t many politicians in this country who would openly admit to a serious yoga practice. And, no, Sarah Palin in tree pose doesn’t count.
And Mr. Brown admits more to just practicing yoga. In fact, in February of this year, his campaign accepted $25,000 from yoga gangster, Bikram Choudhury. So, in the spirit of election season, I am posting portions of an interview that Mr. Brown gave L.A. Yoga Magazine during his 2004 election for Attorney General. The entire interview is worth a read (especially if you are a Californian and you are looking for his take on the issues), but the following are selections concerning his spiritual practice and yoga practice:

Jerry Brown, Mayor of Oakland, former Governor of California and three-time presidential candidate, is running for Attorney General. Brown studied for the Catholic priesthood as a young man, and years later spent time in Japan studying Zen Buddhism as well as in India working with Mother Teresa…

…We sit down. Suddenly he gets up again and runs upstairs to shave since he hadn’t known photos would be taken. We are interrupted frequently by the ringing of his cell phone, assistants asking how much longer this interview will take or someone pulling him outside the room to talk out of earshot. Yet through all this, Brown focuses his attention on whatever is in front of him. He doesn’t lose his train of thought and although impatient at times with questions he deems lengthier than they should be, he is present, gracious, and true to form, tenacious and opinionated.

Due to the many interruptions, we are running over. People are filtering in for a previously scheduled strategy meeting in the same room, so Brown decides to move the interview a few floors up, where he lives.

Here in his home, another side of Jerry Brown is on display and following the interview he shares stories of his collection of artifacts, a private side of his life. A large statue of Kuan Yin graces the dining room. He is eager to explain the meaning of an ornate cross, given to him by Mother Teresa, which comes from the hidden Catholics of Nagasaki. On one side it is a plain cross, a Buddha is on the other side. Should the authorities come knocking at the door, it can be turned around quickly. Zen art and hundreds, maybe thousands of books add to the mystique of the man as a renegade spiritual philosopher politician. He turns on a CD of Gregorian chants that were part of his recent wedding, asking me if I recognize them.

With so many problems to address in the State of California, indeed the entire planet, and the 2006 elections already heating up, he intends this interview to keep politics in our awareness.

Julie: In what ways does your background as a former Jesuit and student of Zen Buddhism affect the way you live now?


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Photo courtesy of abramsbooks.com


My grandmother taught me how to knit and crochet when I was probably 8 years old. I made a few potholders here and there as a kid, but never anything substantial. About 5 years ago, I picked up my knitting needles again and made scarves and blankets for family and friends. They weren’t anything special, but I found it to be a good way to unwind after work.

One afternoon, as I sat quietly knitting before a yoga class, my teacher approached me and asked me to teach her how to knit. So, the next day, we sat in the empty, dimly lit Chicago yoga studio, and I showed her the basics: casting on, and performing the knit stitch.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I met her before each class and we’d each bring …

Read the rest at Elephant Journal

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If all the hoopla from the Toe Sox ad and the Slim, Calm, Sexy debate wasn’t enough to make you want to grab your yoga mat and head for the Himalayas, then this just might.  How about a little asana starring The Jersey Shore’s Snooki?

Here she is doing a little…um…vrksasana? Or, how about…

What do you call this pose?  Reachforvodkasana?  No?  I can’t decide whether or not my favorite photo is of Snook’s bhujangasana…

…or if I prefer the more meditative padmasana…

Thanks to the Daily Mail for posting these photos, and for providing an in depth and thought-provoking analysis into the popularity of Snooki rivaling the recent New York Times article.  The Mail article includes an interview with one sage scholar who philosophized that the “guidette”, as she likes to call herself, has become a household name because she’s so “down to earth.”  Is that how you describe someone who admits that her life goals are “GTL” (gym, tan, laundry)?

Happy Tuesday.

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The American Medical Association is presenting a continuing medical education course  for physicians focusing on yoga and meditation entitled “The Heart and Science of Yoga”.  Most states across the country require physicians to take continuing medical education courses in order to maintain a license to practice medicine.  “The Heart and Science of Yoga”, a program created by Leonard Perlmutter, director of the American Meditation Institute, and Bernie Siegel, M.D., is the first of its kind.  Both Mr. Perlmutter and Dr. Siegel have devoted their lives to the practice of mind-body medicine and healing.   Mr. Perlmutter’s book, “The Heart and Science of Yoga: A Blueprint for Peace, Happiness, and Freedom from Fear”, published in 2005, was awarded six major book of the year accolades including the Benjamin Franklin, ForeWord Magazine, Independent Publisher, Eric Hoffer and Nautilus Book Awards.  His programs on yoga, meditation and healing have also been accredited bythe New York State Nurses Association for continuing education credit.  Dr. Siegel, a pioneer of mind-body medicine in the west, has authored several best-selling books including “Love, Medicine & Miracles” and “Love, Magic & Mudpies”.

While I have never read any of Mr. Perlmutter or Dr. Siegel’s books, I can only imagine the stories that these men might tell having witnessed firsthand the cultural shift in attitudes toward alternative medicine practices.  They have each maintained careers spanning decades and have likely been on the receiving end of many a snicker, sneer, and eye roll as a result of their approaches to healing.  Today, the words “mainstream medicine” when used together is nearing a sense of nastiness.  But we’re not there yet!  Given that their program for the AMA was noted in its press release to be the first and only of its kind, we still have a long way to go.   Next stop…yoga classes covered by your medical insurance.  You mark my words: it is our future.  Aw, shucks, who am I kidding?  It’ll  never happen in my lifetime.

But maybe my next!  And while I’m making requests…I want Perlmutter’s beard!

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