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November 14, 2010

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Oh, I hate to say it, but "studies" like this make me crazy!

a) It's just a correlation. They didn't come close to proving that meditation made the telomerase increase. They don't even have a mechanism to suggest how "mental well-being" would increase telomerase.

b) The control wasn't really a control. Comparing people meditating for 6+ hours a day for 3 months to people who, well, aren't isn't a good control.

c) The methodology didn't test for other factors. That is, we don't know if it was meditation that caused the psychological change or any other aspect of being on retreat for 3 months. What would have happened, for example, to people who were getting massages for 6 hours a day... or watching their favorite movies... or camping... or...

Here's all the study "shows" ... some group of people, for some reason, had an increase in telomerase (oh, we don't know how much of an increase -- how statistically important was it, what was the mean, the median, the standard deviation, etc.). Then it shows that people can make up a theory about why (because they WANT the answer to be "the positive effects of meditation") rather than actually investigate what is/isn't happening.

Steven, excellent points. The December 2010 UC Berkeley Health Letter has a "speaking of wellness" piece by a physician who is chair of the editorial board. Nature is, well, a natural relaxer, no formal meditation required

John Swartzberg says:

"Lately researchers have been looking at what happens to our brains and bodies when we're walking in a forest, in the mountains, or by the sea.

...People have increased vitality (that is, physical and mental energy) and a greater sense of well-being after walking through a tree-lined river path than after walking indoors.

...The proposed benefits of walking in nature include giving the brain a respite from the multi-tasking of everyday life."

So you're right: likely what makes meditation healthy is what makes walking in nature healthy (or riding my scooter healthy, or drinking a glass of wine healthy). We focus on the moment, leaving most of our thoughts about the past and future behind. The article also says:

"If you enjoy hiking, you know that you become more aware of your surroundings -- the sounds, smells, colors. Time slows down. Somehow this refreshes the brain and makes thinking clearer. Japanese researchers have found that walking through forests can help reduce stress, lower blood pressure and heart rate, and improve various aspects of immune function for anywhere from a few hours to a few days afterwards -- while walking in a city does not."

I just came across your Blog and enjoyed the half-dozen posts I had time to read. I'll be back. Seems that you ought to be a Unitarian. Look into it, if you haven't.

Interesting. Looking at the origins of the study suggest there may be a bit of bias.

The Shamantha Project appears to be coordinated by the Santa Barbara Institute which is "dedicated to interdisciplinary research and education to advance understanding of the nature and potentials of consciousness".

See http://www.sbinstitute.com/research_Shamatha.html

They state "We have engaged a team of talented neuroscientists and psychologists in a longer-term study, with state-of-the-art methods, to examine the effects of intensive meditation training on attention, cognitive performance, emotion regulation, and health"

Even more interesting, if you want to you can 'support a yogi'! That's right - you can donate to help one of their yogis meditate. See http://www.sbinstitute.com/SupportAYogi.html

One Third more telomerase in all 30 participants of I wonder which meditation? That's significant. Now they have to put people through each of the meditations used, then various combinations, then change the control group, then have them meditating on different foods in different environments, then bump up the amount of meditators to 10000 minimum during different seasons.

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