THE MAGIC OF MICRO-MEDITATION
Running late? Stuck in traffic? Nail polish chips right before a job interview? Contemplating your chipped nail while mulling over the fact that you haven't been on a job interview in over twenty years? You're probably stressed.
Life is filled with stressors, big and small. And guess what happens when you let them boss you around? A recent study published in The Lancet stated:
Heightened activity in the amygdala -- a region of the brain involved in stress -- is associated with a greater risk of heart disease and stroke.
Which brings me to my new obsession. Forget about crows feet. I have much bigger fish to fry: lengthening my telomeres. Recent research underscores the importance of telomeres (the caps on the end of chromosomes; they look sort of like those plastic things at the ends of shoelaces) to our overall health, well-being, and how we age. In fact, shorter telomeres are directly linked to disease and premature death. Hmmm.
Here's the quickie version of telomeres: when we're young, they're long, but as we get older they naturally start to get shorter. We want them longer, because longer telomeres=better health. The good news is that we have some control over the length of our telomeres. Exercise, eating well, and drum roll, please . . . managing stress . . . all help to keep telomeres long and healthy.
So, I recently made a list of things I could be doing (most of which I am!) to get and keep my telomeres long:
- exercise: check!
- eating well: check!
- limiting processed food: check!
- sleep enough: check!
- no smoking: check!
- manage stress: needs work.
That's when I re-read the chapter in The Telomere Effect (a fabulous book on all things 'telomere') on the extremely close relationship between stress and telomeres and discovered a few fundamental truths about life: we all have stress. That's a fact. It's how we handle that stress that answers the question: "How long are my telomeres anyway?" Well, according to the authors (one is a world-renowned microbiologist who heads the Jonas Salk Institute and the other is a health psychologist) if you're exercising, eating well, sleeping enough, and dealing with stress in a positive way (and not smoking!), you can safely assume your telomeres are the length they should be. However, if you haven't figured out how to manage stress--which can wreak havoc with your brain and body--it's possible that your telomeres could use some help.
Meditation seems to fit the bill. Full disclosure: I'm not the "meditation type." Sit still for an hour? 30 minutes? Not sure I can. There's always something to do, think about, plan for, watch, read, eat. You know what I'm talking about. And, I'm training for a marathon (okay, two marathons), which takes time and commitment. Meditation?
But, after a long talk with myself during a particularly long run (which, I have always used as a form of meditation) I realized that I do, in fact, need to step up my meditation game if I'm going to truly comply with the prescription for successful and healthy aging.
And that's when I discovered
the Magic of Micro-Meditation.
Instead of committing to an hour, I devote one, two, sometimes five or ten minutes to meditation throughout the day. It's simple and I can do it anywhere, any time, even with my eyes open if I have to. I've taught myself (with a bit of help from a fabulous app -- Headspace) how to focus on my breathing, bring my thoughts back and get them centered when they wander, and slow down my heart rate. I pull this little rabbit out of the hat whenever I need it, and it's never failed to calm me down, soothe my soul, and make me smile.
This small-step healthy habit has been easy to incorporate into my life, and is, according to all research, a golden ticket to longer telomeres (and successful aging!).
Take a look at this video I did for AARP showing how truly simple micro-meditation is. Really . . . if I can do it, so can you. You don't even have to say "Ohm". Pinky swear.