Meditation May Reduce Loneliness in Older Americans

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A simple meditation program helped reduce loneliness in older Americans, according to a recent UCLA study.  

Feeling lonely has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, depression and even premature death. Developing effective treatments to reduce loneliness in older adults is essential, but previous treatment efforts have had limited success.

Researchers at UCLA now report that a simple meditation program lasting just eight weeks reduced loneliness in older adults. Further, knowing that loneliness is associated with an increase in the activity of inflammation-related genes that can promote a variety of diseases, the researchers examined gene expression and found that this same form of meditation significantly reduced expression of inflammatory genes. 

Senior study author Steve Cole, a UCLA professor of medicine and psychiatry and a member of the Norman Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at UCLA, and colleagues report that the two-month program of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), which teaches the mind to simply be attentive to the present and not dwell in the past or project into the future, successfully reduced the feelings of loneliness.

Buddha head

The researchers said, MBSR also altered the genes and protein markers of inflammation, including the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein (CRP) and a group of genes regulated by the transcription factor NF-kB. CRP is a potent risk factor for heart disease, and NF-kB is a molecular signal that activates inflammation.

 Inflammation is a natural component of the immune system and can help fight a wide variety of bodily insults, ranging from infections to a whack by a hammer. But chronic inflammation is now known to be a primary player in the pathology of many diseases and psychological disorders.

 "Our work presents the first evidence showing that a psychological intervention that decreases loneliness also reduces pro-inflammatory gene expression," Cole said. "If this is borne out by further research, MBSR could be a valuable tool to improve the quality of life for many elderly."

 In the study, 40 adults between the ages of 55 and 85 were randomly assigned to either a mindfulness meditation group or a control group that did not meditate. All the participants were assessed at the beginning and the end of the study using an established loneliness scale. Blood samples were also collected at the beginning and end to measure gene expression and levels of inflammation.

 The meditators attended weekly two-hour meetings in which they learned the techniques of mindfulness, including awareness and breathing techniques. They also practiced mindfulness meditation for 30 minutes each day at home and attended a single daylong retreat.

These MBSR participants self-reported a reduced sense of loneliness, while their blood tests showed a significant decrease in the expression of inflammation-related genes.

The history of meditation is intimately bound up with the religious context within which it was practiced. Even in prehistoric times civilizations used repetitive, rhythmic chants and offerings to appease the gods. Some authors have even suggested the hypothesis that the emergence of the capacity for focused attention, an element of many methods of meditation, may have contributed to the final phases of human biological evolution. Some of the earliest references to meditation are found in the Hindu Vedas from around the 15th century BCE, and in the Bible, dating around 1400 BCE. .Around the 6th to 5th centuries BCE, other forms of meditation developed in Taoist China and Buddhist India.

Western Christian meditation contrasts with most other approaches in that it does not involve the repetition of any phrase or action and requires no specific posture. Western Christian meditation progressed from the 6th century practice of Bible reading among Benedictine monks called Lectio Divina, i.e. divine reading. Its four formal steps as a "ladder" were defined by the monk Guigo II in the 12th century with the Latin terms lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio (i.e. read, ponder, pray, contemplate). Western Christian meditation was further developed by saints such as Ignatius of Loyola and Teresa of Avila in the 16th century.

By the 18th century, the study of Buddhism in the West was a topic for intellectuals. The philosopher Schopenhauer discussed it,  and Voltaire asked for toleration towards Buddhists The first English translation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead was published in 1927.

Secular forms of meditation were introduced in India in the 1950s as a Westernized form of Hindu meditative techniques and arrived in the United States and Europe in the 1960s. Rather than focusing on spiritual growth, secular meditation emphasizes stress reduction, relaxation and self improvement. Both spiritual and secular forms of meditation have been subjects of scientific analyses. Research on meditation began in 1931, with scientific research increasing dramatically during the 1970s and 1980s. Since the beginning of the '70s more than a thousand studies of meditation in English-language have been reported. However, after 60 years of scientific study, the exact mechanism at work in meditation remains unclear.

Your local library will have a variety of resources that approach meditation from a various traditions.  Here are some resources to get help you get started:

How to Meditate (Audiobook on CD)
Pema Chodron, (2007).
An introductory audio course on meditation presented by a Tibetan Buddhist nun, emphasizing: the practice of mindfulness; the importance of gentleness, patience, and humor; Shamantha (or calm abiding), the art of stabilizing the mind to remain present under any conditions; thoughts and emotions as "sheer delight" in meditation.

Full Catastrophe Living : Using the Wisdom of your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness (Audiobook on CD)
Jon Kabat-Zinn, (2008).

Meditation for Beginners
Jack Kornfield, (2008).
Offers a step-by-step method for bringing the fruits of meditation into one's life, enabling readers to create tranquility and loving kindness every day.

Easy Yoga for Easing Pain DVD
Peggy Cappy,instructor, (2012).
In this sixth title in the Yoga for the Rest of Us series, instructor Peggy Cappy shows how the practice of gentle yoga can help relieve aches and pains. Cappy stresses that yoga develops flexibility, balance, and strength as she begins in a seated position with gentle upper-body stretches and twists that increase blood flow to muscles and joints in the neck, shoulders, arms, and back regions. In a second segment, Cappy’s seated postures concentrate on feet, knees, ankles, and hips. She then demonstrates standing positions (viewers can use a chair for balance, if necessary) that promote balance and closes with a guided meditation and relaxation segment. Camera work is uneven, but viewers will appreciate Cappy’s calm demeanor and easy-to-follow instructions. As in Gentle Chair Yoga: Seated Moves (2011), from AV Cafe, this low-impact yoga instructional is a good choice for seniors and others seeking gentle exercise titles.
—REVIEW. First published August 7, 2012 (Booklist Online). Candace Smith

Tai Chi Fundamentals DVD
Tricia Yu,instructor, (2003).
Tai chi, a series of martial arts movements performed in a fluid, continuous sequence, helps promote flexibility and tranquility. Veteran instructor Tricia Yu, filmed in a tranquil outdoor setting, begins by demonstrating the traditional flowing movements in their entirety from both back and front views. This well-organized program offers a thorough introduction to an increasingly popular ancient practice. A companion title, Tai Chi: Exercise for Lifelong Health and Well-Being, is also available. — REVIEW. First published September 1, 2003 (Booklist). Candace Smi

Discover Tai Chi for Balance & Mobility DVD
Scott Cole, (2010).
Discover improved balance, strength, flexibility, and mobility at any age with gentle therapeutic Tai Chi-inspired exercise from America's premier Tai Chi and fitness expert, Scott Cole. Guiding you through a delectable continuum of breath, movement, Tai Chi, Chi Kung, stretching, and chair exercise, Discover Tai Chi for Balance and Mobility delivers easy-to-follow, effective exercises to help prevent falling, while improving overall balance, strength, flexibility, and mobility.  Read less

Yoga for Beginners
DVD
Michael Wohl; Barbara Benagh, (2006).

 

 

 

Images:

Lotus Position: A girl is sat outside with her hands out meditating doing the lotus pose By RelaxingMusic

Dynamic tranquility: the Buddha in contemplation.

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