Right now, we don't have a magic fountain of youth that can keep us young forever. But science is getting closer and closer to figuring out how aging works so that, in the future, "old" might be completely redefined. And now a new study suggests that regular meditation could be a simple, free anti-aging agent.
Slowing down your internal clock
A 2017 study by a French-U.S. team analyzed immune system cells from 38 people. 18 of the individuals were practitioners of mindfulness or compassion-related meditation. The other 20 individuals weren't meditators. The researchers used a process known as DNA methylation to look at a marker of aging in cells, our so called "epigenetic clock".
The researchers discovered that, of the participants who didn't meditate, those who were 52 years and older had faster epigenetic clocks than the younger non-meditators. Meditators, by comparison, didn't show this type of acceleration. And older meditators who had more years of meditation experience actually had slower clocks.
The researchers are cautious with their findings, stressing that they need to confirm the results in larger studies. But they know that cumulative chronic stress seems to speed up the epigenetic clock. The idea thus is that, because meditation so effectively combats stress, it's able to keep the epigenetic clock ticking away at a slower pace.
If the team in fact can replicate their results, it's yet another reason for businesses to invest in inner work. By giving workers ways to meditate through the day and structuring the inner work into regular operations, leaders might find that their teams stay able-bodied and mentally sharp longer.
How to start meditating
While you might hear of different styles of meditation, all meditation boils down to trying to free your mind from distractions and giving just one thing your full attention. The goal is simply to be still and enter a state of consciousness that is relaxed and calm. You don't judge yourself, your thoughts or anything else through this process, but rather aim to become more aware of what you're experiencing. That's tough for most people, because the world trains us to be frantic and critical. But one of the easiest places to start is with body awareness, as with the following exercise from Yoga International:
- Find a quiet place that doesn't have a lot of clutter to distract you.
- Sit with your back against a wall or your chair in a position that's comfortable for you.
- Starting at the top of your body, think about your different muscles and tissues. Focus on one part until you feel the area relax, or just ask yourself what sensations you're feeling. Work your way all the way down to your toes.
- Focus on your breath without trying to control it, thinking about how your lungs are working.
- If thoughts come into your mind, acknowledge them but don't react. Simply let the thought pass and try to bring your attention back to your breath.
It's OK if you have some difficulty at first, and you might find yourself wondering about the effectiveness or point of the meditation even as you do it. That's normal. Your brain will want to do exactly what it's used to. But stick with it! Over time, you'll know where you're going, you'll get better control of your body and thoughts, and it will become easier to quiet yourself.
As for me, I'll be taking some time today to meditate on just what I'd do with a longer, higher-quality life. Whenever you're ready, I hope you'll join me.