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.”

Mindfulness Meditation May Reduce Stress-Induced Inflammation, Study Shows

Those suffering from chronic inflammatory conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and asthma, where psychological stress plays an important role, may benefit from mindfulness-based stress reduction, a form of meditation, according to a study by University of Wisconsin-Madison neuroscientists with the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center, reported.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction, which is designed for patients with chronic pain, has practitioners continuously focus attention on the breath, body sensations and mental content, while either seated, walking or practicing yoga.

The study compared two methods of reducing stress: a mindfulness meditation-based approach, and a program designed to enhance health in ways unrelated to mindfulness.

The other group participated in the Health Enhancement Program, which included nutritional education; physical activity, such as walking; balance, agility and core strengthening; and music therapy, the article stated.

Both groups had the same amount of training, the same level of expertise in the instructors, and the same amount of home practice required by participants.

“In this setting, we could see if there were changes that we could detect that were specific to mindfulness,” Melissa Rosenkranz, assistant scientist at the center and lead author on the paper, which was published recently in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity said in the article.

Using a tool called the Trier Social Stress Test to induce psychological stress, and a capsaicin cream to produce inflammation on the skin, the researchers took immune and endocrine measures before and after training in the two methods. While both techniques were proven effective in reducing stress, the mindfulness-based stress reduction approach was more effective at reducing stress-induced inflammation.

The results show behavioral interventions designed to reduce emotional reactivity are beneficial to people suffering from chronic inflammatory conditions. The study also suggests mindfulness techniques may be more effective in relieving inflammatory symptoms than other activities that promote well-being, the article stated.

“This is not a cure-all, but our study does show there are specific ways that mindfulness can be beneficial, and that there are specific people who may be more likely to benefit from this approach than other interventions,” Rosenkranz said in the report.

Meditators Have More Willpower and Self-Control, Study Shows

People who practice meditation regularly are better at tasks requiring self-control because they are open to their own emotions, according to new research from the University of Toronto, reported.

“These results suggest that willpower or self-control may be sharpest in people who are sensitive and open to their own emotional experiences. Willpower, in other words, may relate to ‘emotional intelligence,’” Michael Inzlicht, associate professor of psychology at the University Toronto said in the report.

In a paper scheduled for publication in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, the researchers looked at Error Related Negativity (ERN), which is an electrical signal that shows up in the brain within 100 ms of an error being committed, well before the conscious mind is aware of the error, the report stated.

“It’s kind of like an ‘uh-oh’ response, or cortical alarm bell,” Rimma Teper, co-author of the paper and PhD student said.

For the study, participants were asked about experience mediating and took a test to measure how mindful they were of the present moment, and how aware and accepting they were of their emotions. They were hooked up to an electroencephalograph and given a Stroop test, which shows them the word “red” spelled in green letters, and asked to say the color of the letters. This requires them to suppress the tendency to read the word, and instead concentrate on the actual colors, the report stated.

Meditators were not only generally better at the test than non-meditators, but also had stronger ERN responses. Also, those who did the best on the test were those who scored higher on emotional acceptance.

According to the study, the ERN may have a motivational or affective component, meaning it gives a bad feeling about failing a task, motivating someone to do better. Because meditators are more in tune with their emotions, they may pick up on this feeling more quickly and improve their behavior, according to Teper.

“Meditators are attuned to their emotions. They’re also good at regulating their emotions. It fits well with our results.”

Doctors Trained in Meditation and Communication Offer Better Care, Study Says

Training physicians in mindfulness meditation and communication skills can improve the quality of care, according to a new study from researchers the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Researchers found both primary care practitioners and their patients believed care was improved after the training, and the findings are published online in the journal “Academic Medicine,” reported.

“Programs focused on personal awareness and self-development are only part of the solution,” the researchers said. “Our health care delivery systems must implement systematic change at the practice level to create an environment that supports mindful practice, encourages transparent and clear communication among clinicians, staff, patients, and families and reduces professional isolation.”

The researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 20 of the physicians who participated in the mindfulness-training program.

The findings in the new study include:

  • Sixty percent reported learning mindfulness skills improved their capacity to listen more attentively and respond more effectively to others at work and home.
  • More than half of the participants acknowledged having increased self-awareness and better ability to respond non-judgmentally during personal or professional conversations.
  • Seventy percent placed a high value on the mindfulness course having an organized, structured and well-defined curriculum with time and space to pause and reflect.

The researchers developed and implemented required mindful practice curricula for medical students and residents at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, and are also studying the effects of an intensive, four-day residential course for physicians, according to the report.