We all assume it will make us more spiritual, and perhaps more attuned to our feelings, but it turns out it can actually improve our HEALTH as well.
Transcendental meditation (TM), popularized by the Beatles’ guru in the 1960s, is only one meditation technique among many. TM has you silently and effortlessly recite a mantra, a soothing sound without meaning. As you do this, your muscles unwind, your breathing slows, and your pituitary gland releases the calming hormone prolactin. It also causes our brain to increase its alpha brain waves, which are associated with spirituality. But what does it do for our physical selves? These brain changes help interrupt the body’s stress response, which is good for people with problems ranging from anxiety to high blood pressure and heart disease.
And yoga is a life saver too. Researchers have learned that using a specific type of yoga to engage in a brief, simple daily meditation reduces the stress levels of people who care for those stricken by Alzheimer’s and dementia. Now they know why.
Practicing a certain form of chanting yogic meditation for just 12 minutes daily for eight weeks led to a reduction in the biological mechanisms responsible for an increase in the immune system’s inflammation response. Inflammation, if constantly activated, can contribute to a multitude of chronic health problems.
As the US population continues to age over the next two decades, the prevalence of dementia and the number of family caregivers who provide support to these loved ones will increase dramatically. Currently, at least five million Americans provide care for someone with dementia.
Psychiatrist Helen Lavretsky says, "We know that chronic stress places caregivers at a higher risk for developing depression. On average, the incidence and prevalence of clinical depression in family dementia caregivers approaches 50%. Caregivers are also twice as likely to report high levels of emotional distress." What’s more, many caregivers tend to be older themselves, leading to what Lavretsky calls an "impaired resilience" to stress and an increased rate of cardiovascular disease and mortality.
But just a little yoga can change all that.