We’re learning how to meditate in the Wednesday Yoga class. Meditation involves focusing attention on one thing, such as breath, a sound or an image. It is done while sitting or lying quietly and is accessible to everyone. Meditation consists of breathing exercises and mentally training the mind to stop the ‘internal dialogue’, usually referred to as our ‘thoughts’. It has been practiced by the Yogis for centuries and is considered to be very beneficial. It doesn’t appeal to everybody but it is certainly worth a try. Those who do meditate claim that it helps to focus the mind, improve concentration, and causes the practitioner to experience life more fully. But are these effects real?
It turns out that there may be a scientific basis for why the practice seems to have a valuable result on the practitioner. Have you ever heard of telomeres? They are the found at the ends of your chromosomes, much like the little plastic caps on shoelaces. When cells replicate a little bit of the telomere ‘wears off’ each time, much like the shoelaces caps on a pair of well-used sneakers start to gently fray as time goes on. Telomeres are thus considered to be an indicator of youthfulness and of health. Other things besides age can wear them down, such as chronic stress, depression, illness or poor nutrition. When the body is constantly reacting to these stressors, the chemical processes shorten the telomeres. Short telomeres are an indicator for possible heart disease, diabetes and atherosclerosis.
In some studies reported in the Annals of the NY Academy of Sciences and others, research has shown that meditation can help to reduce the shortening of the telomeres. Since the telomeres are worn down by stress, it makes sense to reduce stress. Meditation does this by slowing down the body and the mind. Most persons experience a reduction in blood pressure and a feeling of relaxation in both the body and the mind as they meditate. Meditation also increases a positive state of mind and reduces tension in the parasympathetic systems such as digestion. There is some evidence that meditation can possibly contribute to the creation of hormones which perform important maintenance and repair functions in the body.
I’m sure research is being done on the exact biochemical processes which take place during meditation and the performance of various yogi poses, and how these affect the mind, body and spirit. What I do know is this: Yoga has been practiced for thousands of years and by millions of people (that’s pretty convincing to me) and, I feel a tremendous sense of well-being when I do yoga and meditation. I always feel great on Wednesdays after yoga class and wish we had class every day. While it may be beyond my comprehension to feel any perceptible difference in my telomeres, the mere thought that they might stay strong and healthy is enough to keep me looking forward to Wednesday’s yoga class.
If you are interested in taking a yoga class at MC, you can view class schedules online.