Saturday, October 17, 2009

What Are You Doing--Part 4 (Meditation)

Researchers at Harvard Medical School have discovered that, in long-term practitioners of relaxation methods such as yoga and meditation, far more "disease-fighting genes" were active, compared to those who practised no form of relaxation.

In particular, they found genes that protect from disorders such as pain, infertility, high blood pressure and even rheumatoid arthritis were switched on. The changes, say the researchers, were induced by what they call "the relaxation effect", a phenomenon that could be just as powerful as any medical drug but without the side-effects.

Dr Herbert Benson, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, led the research. He found that a range of disease-fighting genes were active in the relaxation practitioners that were not active in the control group.

The good news for the control group with the less-healthy genes is that the research didn't stop there. The experiment, which showed just how responsive genes are to behaviour, mood and environment, revealed that genes can switch on, just as easily as they switch off.

After two months of practicing meditation, they were able to measure changes in the bodies of the control group – the genes that help fight inflammation, kill diseased cells and protect the body from cancer, all began to switch on.

More encouraging still, the benefits of the relaxation effect were found to increase with regular practice – the more people practised relaxation methods such as meditation or deep breathing, the greater their chances of remaining free of arthritis and joint pain with stronger immunity, healthier hormone levels and lower blood pressure.

Benson believes the research is pivotal because it shows how a person's state of mind affects the body on a physical and genetic level. It might also explain why relaxation induced by meditation or repetitive mantras is considered to be a powerful remedy in traditions such as Ayurveda in India or Tibetan medicine.

For meditation I am following the practice recommended by Yuttadhammo in his "How To Meditate" series. I do twelve minutes of sitting meditation and twelve minutes of walking meditation each day.

I am also doing some tapping exercises which build on acupuncture, Emotional Freedom Techniques and Body Talk.

And that about rounds out the changes to my life and where I'm pinning my hopes for recovery--or at least delay in the progression of my cancer. The meditation, tapping and physical exercise programs take up about an hour of my day. And I have to say I am feeling very good at the moment.

What impact all of this will have on my cancer will be determined by the various scans that are being conducted every couple of months at Princess Margaret Hospital.

I will let you know the results. And I am very open to comments or criticisms about the specifics of this approach.