Meditation May Boost the Immune System, Study Shows

Researchers found with behavioral training like breathing exercises and meditation, people can learn to modulate their immune system, as the nervous system may exert influence on immune responses, according to a new study, which appeared in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Inspired by Dutch celebrity daredevil Wim Hof who endured lengthy ice-water baths, hiked to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in shorts and made his mark in Guinness World Records with his ability to withstand cold, the research included participants undergoing training by Hof – including swimming in frigid water and lying bare-chested in snow, as well as breathing and meditation exercise.

When exposed to an inflammation test, the participants reported fewer flu-like symptoms than those who did not receive the training. Trained recruits also produced lower amounts of several proteins associated with inflammation, and higher levels of an inflammation-fighting protein called interleukin-10, according to the report.

The findings have raised hopes for patients who have chronic inflammatory disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease, although the results are preliminary, according to Matthijs Kox, a researcher at Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands.


Deepak Chopra Talks Meditation & The Future of Wellness

Deepak Chopra is no stranger to science. He has followed it, questioned it and even taken it on in heated debates. He also co-authored a book with prominent physicist Leonard Mlodinow titled, “War of the Worldviews: Where Science and Spiritualty Meet – And Do Not,” and he represented spirituality while Mlodinow represented science.

Science has evolved over the last 100 years, and most scientists are realists who believe the universe is all material. Albert Einstein was one of them, but there are still important questions about the universe science and the realist perspective cannot answer.

Chopra took the stage to kick off a weekend workshop at The Omega Institute in Rhineback, N.Y. this past June where he discussed “the future of wellbeing,” explaining how science views the world and what is missing from their view. He also shared new research he spearheaded, looking at how meditation effects overall wellness, including telomeres that keep the ends of our DNA chromosomes from fraying – something that is linked to aging, cancer and more.

“The two most important questions in science today – and the most open or unanswered – are ‘What is the universe made of?’ and ‘What is the biological basis of consciousness?’” Chopra told the audience. “Science has no good theory for either of those questions.”

Science can’t answer what the universe is made of because it’s invisible, says Chopra. But it generates infinite energy, galaxies, stars, planets and human life. As for the biological basis of consciousness, science refers to it as the “hard problem.” It understands that when we have an experience, something happens in the brain because it lights up on a scan, but can’t explain the cause behind it?

“Think of a beautiful sunset on the ocean,” he told the audience. “Are you having an experience? Can you see a picture? Well, where is that picture? If I go into your brain, do you think I’ll se the picture of a sunset? Where was that picture before I asked you to think of it? Did the brain activity cause the picture or was the picture causing the brain activity? Or was there something else causing the brain activity AND the picture?”

Science does not understand how we product thought, where the thought comes from before we have it, or where it disappears to after we have it. They just know what part of the brain lights up on a scan, he explains.

“When you don’t get an answer to a question that everybody is asking in the whole scientific world, then maybe it’s time to ask ourselves, are we asking the right questions?” Chopra said. “What is the universe made of? Maybe the universe is not made of anything. We are asking, what is the biological basis of consciousness, but maybe there is no biological basis of consciousness. Maybe consciousness is all there is. Maybe consciousness creates all experience, including the experience of a body and a mind.”

Chopra explained we can be sure of two things:

1. There is existence. Something does exist, and we call it the universe. What is it made up of, we don’t know, he said. But we call it the universe, and it exists, and we are all part of it.

2. There is awareness of existence. If there wasn’t awareness of existence, then we would not realize we indeed exist.

“The two go along with each other,” he explained. “Maybe they are the same thing. Maybe awareness of existence is existence.”

deepak_chopra_talk_2Meditation Improves Aging and Wellness, Study Shows
Chopra joined with 2009 Nobel Prize winner Elizabeth Blackburn, who co-discovered telomerase, the enzyme that replenishes the telomere (located at the end of the human DNA chromosome, holding it together) to study the effect meditation has on the telomeres. The results will be published soon, he said at the workshop.

“If you want to create a new way of thinking, you have to do science the way science is doing it,” he said. “This is one of the best controlled studies that has ever been done.”

Telomeres are often compared to the plastic tips on shoelaces because they keep the chromosomes from fraying and sticking to one another, which would destroy or scramble the genetic information. Each time one of our human cells divide, the telomeres get shorter, and when they become too short, the cell can no longer divide and it becomes inactive or dies. This has been associated with aging, cancer and a higher risk of death.

The new study pulled 30 women who were new to meditation and attending The Chopra Center Seduction of the Spirit meditation retreat, and 30 women who were simply vacationing at the La Costa Resort and Spa where the retreat was being held. There were also 30 who were already experienced meditators. The resort group engaged in leisure activities, typical exercise, and a daily class on healthy living (including sleep, stress management and nutrition), while the retreat group practiced a mantra meditation, body and breath awareness and self reflection. Both groups ate an ayurvedic diet for lunch and dinner.

The researchers looked at EEG’s, blood pressure, blood tests, and more, including measuring telomeres, and after four days, those in the retreat group saw a 40 percent increase in telomeres, said Chopra. The research also showed meditation changes gene expression.

“We studied effects of cellular aging, the brain and the nervous system and gene expression networks,” he noted. “We measured everything we could measure, including response to stress, defense response, and acute inflammatory response. Everything moved in the direction of increased wellness at the cellular level, including cellular biology of aging, and everything moved away from inflammation.”

Other results for the retreat group include:

— Genes that regulate heart health in a positive direction were enriched 17 times in only four days, as were the genes that regulate homeostasis (keeping things stable and constant). This includes enrichment of genes regulating neurotransmitters, levels for heart contraction, heart rate, blood pressure, hormone levels and more.

— Networks of genes involved in self-regulation were activated improving overall wellness and decreasing risks of inflammation related disease disorders, such as Alzheimer’s, Cardiovascular Disease, etc.

— A shift in a person’s identity from me to we in the direction of oneness

— Shift in emotions in the direction of love, compassion, joy and equanimity

— An immediate change in blood pressure, heart health and brain waves in the direction of wellbeing

“The question of science – ‘what is the biological basis of consciousness?’ – is the wrong question,” said Chopra. “Biology is an expression of consciousness. Consciousness doesn’t exist in space and time. It’s transcendent, and your soul is part of that. It’s aware, self-knowing, self-organizing and self-regulating. Consciousness as the ground of existence – that is the solution to the hard problem in science.”

25 Minutes of Mindfulness Meditation Alleviates Psychological Stress, Study Shows

New research from Carnegie Mellon University is the first to show that brief mindfulness meditation practice — 25 minutes for three consecutive days — alleviates psychological stress. Published in the journal “Psychoneuroendocrinology,” the study investigates how mindfulness meditation affects people’s ability to be resilient under stress.

“More and more people report using meditation practices for stress reduction, but we know very little about how much you need to do for stress reduction and health benefits,” lead author J. David Creswell, associate professor of psychology in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences said in a press release.

For the study, Creswell and his research team had 66 healthy individuals aged 18-30 years old participate in a three-day experiment. Some participants went through a brief mindfulness meditation training program, where for 25 minutes over three consecutive days, the individuals were given breathing exercises to help them monitor their breath and pay attention to their present moment experiences.

A second group of participants completed a matched three-day cognitive training program where they were asked to critically analyze poetry in an effort to enhance problem-solving skills.

Following the final training activity, all participants were asked to complete stressful speech and math tasks in front of stern-faced evaluators. Each individual reported stress levels in response to stressful speech and math performance stress tasks, and provided saliva samples for measurement of cortisol, or the stress hormone.

The participants who received the brief mindfulness meditation training reported reduced stress perceptions to the speech and math tasks, indicating that the mindfulness meditation fostered psychological stress resilience. Additionally, on the biological side, the mindfulness meditation participants showed greater cortisol reactivity.

“When you initially learn mindfulness mediation practices, you have to cognitively work at it — especially during a stressful task,” said Creswell. “And these active cognitive efforts may result in the task feeling less stressful, but they may also have physiological costs with higher cortisol production.”

Creswell’s group is now testing the possibility that mindfulness can become more automatic and easy to use with long-term mindfulness meditation training, which may result in reduced cortisol reactivity.


Laughter is Good Medicine: Triggers Brain Waves Similar to Those Produced with Meditation

Laughter triggers brain waves similar to those associated with meditation, according to a new study, led by Lee Berk, an associate professor in the School of Allied Health Professions, and an associate research professor of pathology and human anatomy in the School of Medicine, at Loma Linda University in California.

“What we have found in our study is that humor associated with mirthful laughter sustains high-amplitude gamma-band oscillations. Gamma is the only frequency found in every part of the brain,” Berk said in a university news release. “What this means is that humor actually engages the entire brain — it is a whole brain experience with the gamma wave band frequency and humor, similar to meditation, holds it there; we call this being ‘in the zone.”

A total of 31 people had brain waves monitored while watching humorous, spiritual or distressing video clips. While watching the humorous videos, the participant’s brains had high levels of gamma waves – the same ones produced during meditation, researchers found. Also, during the spiritual videos, participants’ brains showed higher levels of alpha brain waves, similar to when a person is at rest.

During the distressing videos, there were flat brain wave bands, similar to when a person feels detached, nonresponsive or doesn’t want to be in a certain situation.

With laughter, “it’s as if the brain gets a workout,” Berk said, explaining this effect is important because it “allows for the subjective feeling states of being able to think more clearly and have more integrative thoughts. This is of great value to individuals who need or want to revisit, reorganize or rearrange various aspects of their lives or experiences, to make them feel whole or more focused.”



Mindful Meditation to Curb Chocolate Cravings

In a new study, researchers set out to better understand how being mindful may decrease cravings for chocolate, and using three simple mind exercises, participants of the study were able to lessen their cravings, Medical Daily reported.

“There is now good evidence that mindfulness strategies generally work at managing food cravings, but we don’t yet know what aspect of mindfulness and what mechanisms are responsible for these effects,” Julien Lacaille, a psychologist at McGill University in Quebec said in the report. “This is what motivated this research.”

In the study, researchers reviewed 196 participants – all who were prone to intense chocolate cravings – and split them up into five groups: four were trained in mindfulness training to fend off chocolate cravings, and the last group was told to “distract themselves” to prevent food cravings.

Those who received mindfulness training were told to exercise three different actions when they received a chocolate craving: awareness, or the ability to notice the thought or craving; acceptance, or not judging the thought; and dis-identification, or detaching yourself from the craving by seeing such thoughts as separate from yourself. After two weeks, the participants were given a chocolate bar to unwrap and touch for one minute, and then rated their level of craving.

The researchers found those trained in mindful thinking craved the chocolate much less, “because they now perceived it as generally less desirable,” Lacaille said. And it was the third exercise, dis-identification or detachment from thought, which was the most successful.

“Something we can all take away from this study is that we are not our thoughts and that we can take control over our thoughts in a relatively short period,” Patrick Williams, a postdoctoral researcher and psychologist at the University of Chicago, told Reuters.

Meditation Linked to Faster Stress Recovery

Meditation may alter the expression of genes linked to inflammation and promote a faster recovery from a stressful situation, according to a new study published in the journal, “Psychoneuroendocrinology.”

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison took blood samples from 40 volunteers — 19 were longterm meditators — before and after an eight-hour session. The group of experienced meditators spent the session in guided and unguided meditation, while the other group watched documentaries, read and played computer games.

While there was no significant difference in genetic markers between the two groups at the start of the eight-hour test period, at the end of the day, researchers found reduced expression of certain histone deacetylase (HDAC) genes and of the genes RIPK2 and COX2 — all of which are linked to inflammation, the report stated.

“The changes were observed in genes that are the current targets of anti-inflammatory and analgesic [pain-relief] drugs,” said Perla Kaliman, lead author of the article and a researcher at the Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona, Spain.

In a stress test, the volunteers performed an impromptu public-speaking role involving mental arithmetic performed in front of two judges and a video camera. Levels of cortisol — a hormone associated with high stress levels — were measured before and after the stress test. Among both groups of volunteers, those participants with the lowest levels of RIPK2 and HDAC genes had the quickest return to normal, pre-stress test levels of cortisol.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first paper that shows rapid alterations in gene expression within subjects associated with mindfulness meditation practice,” said study co-author Richard J. Davidson, professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in the statement.

Additionally, there was no difference in the tested genes between the two groups of people at the start of the study. The observed effects were seen only in the meditators following mindfulness practice.