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Benefits of Meditation:
Increased Telomerase

The human mind and body are intrinsically linked something that mystics from time immemorial have been indicating. The state of the mind, to a great extent, controls the well-being of the body. This is something that has recently been proved by the researchers at the University of California, Davis, and the University of California, San Francisco. The Shamatha Project, led by Dr. Clifford Saron at the UC-Davis Center for Mind & Brain, has shown that intensive meditation can lead to increases in telomerase, an enzyme important for the long-term health of cells in the body.

To put this in context, telomerase are the proteins that ‘cap’ the chromosomes in our body. When the cells divide during the process of genetic copying a very small portion of the telomeres does not get copied, as a result they begin to shrink. So every time the cells divide, the telomerase shrink leading to cell damage and death. This results in the process of aging. Scientists have now proved that the enzyme telomerase found in the germ and cancer cells in our body can repair and replace telomerase and slow the aging process.

There is enough evidence to show that the many everyday discomforts, diseases and tensions arise from the fact that we are alienated from our bodies. The mind can be an important cause of sickness in the body. As a corollary, it naturally follows it can also provide the cure.

Today, many doctors admit that a more holistic approach is needed to control diseases and promote general well-being. Accordingly, modern medicine has started to look for different methods of treatment to cure diseases and to help people get their lives back on track again. This kind of research is carried out objectively within the confine of the medical science. The Shamatha Project is just one example.

The study takes a more holistic look at the process of aging and provides the first ever link between positive well-being and higher telomerase, the enzyme important for the long-term health of cells in the body. The effect can be attributed to psychological changes that increase a person’s ability to cope with stress and maintain feelings of well-being.

The Shamatha Project is the most comprehensive longitudinal study of intensive meditation ever to be undertaken. As part of the study, an extensive meditation retreat took place at the Shambhala Mountain Center in Red Feather Lakes, Colo. The 30 participants each in the retreat and control groups received ongoing instruction in meditation techniques from Buddhist scholar, author and teacher B. Alan Wallace of the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies. They attended group meditation sessions twice a day and engaged in individual practice for about six hours a day.

The research team measured telomerase activity in participants at the end of a three-month intensive meditation retreat and found that Telomerase activity was about one-third higher in the white blood cells of participants who had completed the retreat than in a matched group of controls.

There were other beneficial psychological qualities that were also observed and these included perceived control (over one's life and surroundings), mindfulness (being able to observe one's experience in a nonreactive manner) and purpose in life (viewing one's life as meaningful, worthwhile and aligned with long-term goals and values). In addition, the participants also witnessed a decrease in negative emotionality.

Commenting on these findings, Clifford Saron, associate research scientist at the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain said, "We have found that meditation promotes positive psychological changes and that meditators showing the greatest improvement on various psychological measures had the highest levels of telomerase."

He further added that the take-home message from this work is not that meditation directly increases telomerase activity and therefore a person’s health and longevity. “Rather meditation may improve a person’s psychological well-being and in turn these changes are related to telomerase activity in immune cells, which has the potential to promote longevity in those cells. Activities that increase a person’s sense of well-being may have a profound effect on the most fundamental aspects of their physiology."

The lead author of the study was UC Davis postdoctoral scholar Tonya Jacobs. The research is a product of the UC Davis-based Shamatha Project, led by Saron. Elizabeth Blackburn, who shared the 2009 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine for discovering telomeres and telomerase professor of biology and physiology at UCSF, is a co-author of the paper.
The Shamatha Project has drawn the attention of scientists and Buddhist scholars alike, including the Dalai Lama.

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