I've meditated every day since 1970, with just a handful of exceptions.
That's over forty years. During most of that time I thought I was engaged in a spiritual journey from illusion to enlightenment. Now, I don't believe much, if at all, in that possibility.
But I still meditate. Every day. Along with doing Tai Chi at least three days a week, which is a form of moving meditation.
Meditation is good for the body and mind.
So those who don't believe in soul or spirit can benefit from meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, mindfulness, and other ways of eliciting the Relaxation Response (opposite of Stress Response).
Recent research showed this to be true. I learned about the study in New Scientist. Here's what "Meditation boosts genes that promote good health" said:
FEELING run-down? Try a little chanting, or meditation – yes, really. Such relaxation techniques can boost the activity of genes that promote good health, and a few minutes each day is enough to show results.
"It's not New Age nonsense," says Herbert Benson of the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He and his colleagues analysed the whole genomes of 26 volunteers – none of whom regularly meditates – before teaching them a relaxation routine lasting 10 to 20 minutes. It included reciting words, breathing exercises and emptying the mind.
After eight weeks of performing the routine daily, gene analysis was repeated. Clusters of beneficial genes had become more active and harmful ones less so (PLoS One, doi.org/mfj).
The boosted genes had three main effects: improving cellular energy efficiency; upping insulin production, which improves control of blood sugar; and preventing the breakdown of caps on chromosomes that help prevent cells wearing out and ageing.
Clusters of genes that became less active were those involved in chronic inflammation, which can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease.
By taking blood immediately before and after the technique was performed, researchers also showed that the gene changes happened within minutes. Further studies in people who regularly meditate suggest these changes could be long term. "It seems fitting that you should see these responses after just 15 minutes just as, conversely, short periods of stress have physiological effects that are harmful in the long term," says Julie Brefczynski-Lewis of West Virginia University in Morgantown.
The team is now looking at whether these techniques could be used as an adjunct to conventional medicine in people with high blood pressure, inflammatory bowel disease and cancer.
A lot more detail can be found in the study itself, which has a rather imposing title: Relaxation Response Induces Temporal Transcriptome Changes in Energy Metabolism, Insulin Secretion and Inflammatory Pathways.
What's beneficial is the relaxation response. Meditation is just one of the ways to achieve it. The study says:
The relaxation response (RR) is the counterpart of the stress response. Millennia-old practices evoking the RR include meditation, yoga and repetitive prayer.
...The RR is elicited when an individual focuses on a word, sound, phrase, repetitive prayer, or movement, and disregards everyday thoughts. These two steps break the train of everyday thinking.
Millennia-old mind-body approaches that elicit the RR include: various forms of meditation (e.g., mindfulness meditation and transcendental meditation); different practices of yoga (e.g., Vipassana and Kundalini); Tai Chi; Qi Gong; progressive muscle relaxation; biofeedback; and breathing exercises.
When I mentioned the subject of tonight's blog post to my wife, she was patting one of our two dogs. Her canine-centric reaction: "Patting a dog is another way to relax."
A few minutes of Googling revealed that this intuitively correct notion has some scientific evidence to back it up. So says the Harvard Health blog.
Studies going back to the early 1980s support the idea that dogs—and other pets—have enormous health benefits for people. Pets have been shown to lower blood pressure, improve recovery from heart disease, and even reduce rates of asthma and allergy in children who grow up with a Fido or a Frisky in the house. Pets also improve people’s psychological well-being and self-esteem.
Along with a survey of dog owners.
The poll of 1,000 of the UK's seven million dog owners, conducted for dog food makers Winalot, showed 55 per cent felt more relaxed after time with their dog, 44 per cent were more optimistic and another 44 per cent were less worried about life's everyday problems like job security and financial troubles.
Psychologist Dr David Lewis, of Mindlab International, said: 'You’ve had a tough and stressful day. The boss has been on your case, the children playing up, the shops packed and the traffic bumper-to-bumper.
'Now all you want to do is relax and unwind. Actually, forget the TV and interact with the dog instead. The research we conducted shows this is a profound and effective stress reducer and increases feelings of contentment and relaxation.'
In addition the survey found that one in four people describe their dog as their best friend and one in six women share their deepest, darkest secrets with their pet alone.
Sure. Who needs God?
Those who share their life with a canine know that reversing those letters reveals the true ultimate deity who must be loved, served, and honored: DOG.