The field of anti-aging and longevity is more than just the physical natural remedies, or simply waiting for researchers of high-tech regenerative medicine to announce a world-shattering breakthrough. The mind-body connection, and its relationship to longevity, is an essential but commonly overlooked tool in restoring ourselves to optimal health. Despite the popular consciousness' focus on physical and cosmetic interventions, there are already many modalities that have profound benefits on our physical health, through acting on our mental, emotional and spiritual bodies. I use Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) and the Bush Flower Essences in my clinical practice, but this article will discuss meditation and yoga breathing.
Meditation May Make Your Cells Younger
A major underlying mechanism of the physical health benefits seen in meditation is the maintenance and even lengthening of our telomeres. The telomeres are protective caps on our DNA, which shorten with each cell division if left alone. If they get too short, the cell cannot divide, dies, and therefore contributes to aging through tissue degeneration. In a study of 60 volunteers, half attended a three-month meditation retreat while half stayed on a waiting list. The retreat involved meditating every day for six hours(!), and instruction in concentrative techniques and complementary practices to "cultivate benevolent states of mind". After the three months, telomerase levels (an enzyme that rebuilds telomeres) were significantly increased, with scores for Purpose in Life most directly related to higher telomerase. In another study, 20 "expert meditators" were compared to 20 matched people who had never meditated for both telomere length and mental health. The "experts" had an average telomere length of 10.82kb, compared to 9.94kb in the controls. Compassion and less experiential avoidance were associated with longer telomeres, while nonreactivity and nonjudging were not.
Yoga Breathing and Anti-Aging
Yoga breathing, originally known as Pranayama, is one of the Eight Limbs of Yoga systematised in Patanjali's yoga sutras over 2000 years ago, in around 200 BC. Prana means "life force", and is known as srong-lung in Tibetan, chi in China, and ki in Japanese. Pranayama is about the control or expansion of energy, with the basic concept being that there is a bi-directional relationship between the mind and breath, so the mind and consciousness can be affected by manipulating breath. It is believed to eliminate toxins, including negative "karmic airs"; clear subtle pathways of the subtle (energetic) body; and increase oxygenation to strengthen the physical body directly.
One yoga breath program, known as Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY), has been taught to over six million people around the world, and has been found to exert various pro-longevity effects. It contains four breath components: slow resistance breathing (Ujjayi), forceful bellows breath (Bhastrika), the "om" chant, and cyclical breathing (Sudarshan Kriya). SKY strengthens the "rest and digest" part of the automatic nervous system, stimulates the central nervous system in general, and helps relieve anxiety. Additionally, it increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which helps to grow new brain and nerve cells; improves immunity; and increases production of our own antioxidants. This is independent from the anti-aging effects of oxygen.
Overall, there are so many ways to improve health and longevity by acting on our non-physical bodies. Everything is connected, and while esoteric studies and spiritual practices have recognised this for thousands of years, mainstream society is finally catching up. If you would like to address your physical health issues or see me for Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), click here or here.