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Positive psychological changes from meditation training linked to cellular health and physical health

Posted Nov 04 2010 10:47am
Telomerase is an enzyme that can rebuild and lengthen telomeres. Other studies suggest that telomerase activity may be a link between psychological stress and physical health. The research team measured telomerase activity in participants in the Shamatha Project at the end of a three-month intensive meditation retreat.

Telomerase activity was about one-third higher in the white blood cells of participants who had completed the retreat than in a matched group of controls.

The retreat participants also showed increases in such beneficial psychological qualities as perceived control (over one's life and surroundings), mindfulness (being able to observe one's experience in a nonreactive manner) and purpose in life (viewing one's life as meaningful, worthwhile and aligned with long-term goals and values). In addition, they experienced decreased neuroticism, or negative emotionality.
Using statistical modeling techniques, the researchers concluded that high telomerase activity was due to the beneficial effects of meditation on perceived control and neuroticism, which in turn were due to changes in mindfulness and sense of purpose.
The Shamatha Project is the most comprehensive longitudinal study of intensive meditation yet undertaken.The intensive meditation retreat took place at the Shambhala Mountain Center in Red Feather Lakes, Colo. The study included 30 participants each in the retreat and control groups. Participants received ongoing instruction in meditation techniques from Buddhist scholar, author and teacher B. Alan Wallace of the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies. They attended group meditation sessions twice a day and engaged in individual practice for about six hours a day.
 Shambhala Mountain Center in Red Feather Lakes, Colo.
A control group of 30 people matched for age, sex, education, ethnicity and meditation experience was assessed at the same time and in the same place, but did not otherwise attend at that time.
The Shamatha Project has drawn the attention of scientists and Buddhist scholars alike, including the Dalai Lama, who has endorsed the project.
The group from University of California is now in the process of publishing additional findings of the projects which includes; meditators being better at making fine visual distinctions, sustaining attention over a long period, and reduction in impulsive reactions, and an enhancement of positive psychological functioning.
UC Davis postdoctoral researcher Baljinder Sahdra is the lead author on that paper. 
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