Meditation may be more than just a way to relax – scientists have found evidence that meditation can affect us on a cellular level. In a study led by Dr. Linda E. Carlson involving 88 emotionally distressed breast cancer survivors, it was found that mindful meditation, a type of meditation inspired from Buddhist philosophy was increasing the lifespan of the participants.
The test group were randomly divided in to 3 groups: control, supportive group therapy and the mindfulness-meditation group. The control group participated in a 6 hour stress management seminar. The supportive group therapy was involved in 90 minute weekly group sessions for 12 weeks. The last group attended a 90 minute weekly group sessions for 8 weeks about how to meditate and do yoga. They were asked to meditate and practice yoga daily for 45 minutes.
Researchers found that telomere length was maintained in cancer survivors who participated in meditation or supportive group therapy, whilst it decreased in those who had received the standard care. Telomeres are like caps at the end of strands of DNA that protect our chromosomes. Shortened telomeres are associated with cellular ageing. Longer telomeres are instead associated with cancer survival.
Furthermore, those who participated in either the mindfulness-meditation or supportive group therapy also reported better moods and less stress. Little difference was reported between these two groups. Meditation has also been shown to help control high blood pressure, pain and difficulty sleeping. Many people find that it makes them feel calmer and reduces their anxiety and stress. This demonstrates the important connection between mind and body, and how our mental health may impact our physical health.
However, meditation may have some harmful effects. It may exacerbate feelings of depression and anxiety. This is because it may bring attention to problems which lead to negative thinking. However, with that being said, meditation is generally safe for most people to practice.
Overall it seems meditation may have both cellular and psychological benefits. Although this does not mean that meditation can replace anticancer drugs, it may be effective as a part of a complementary therapy. More research is needed to determine if there are any long-term benefits.
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