First, I want to welcome each of you who subscribed during these past few months. Ageless Aging newsletter will usually come to you on the second Tuesday of the month.
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But let's get to the topic at hand: Ageless aging and our brains.
My recent research has focused on an area called 'neuroplasticity' or 'how we can use our mind to change our brain'. This Newuroplasticisty is a fairly new concept and fascinates me - because it has so many practical applications
for us as we age.
It used to be thought that our brains were like a machine and different skills were 'hard wired' into different parts of our brains. It was thought that if some part of our brain was damaged by disease or accident, we just lost the skills that had been in that part of the brain.
We now know that knowledge and skills are not 'hard wired'. They can move around the brain and new areas can take over the works once done elsewhere.
We also know that memories are not stored in just one place. Instead our brains are 'redundant' and often store the same bits of information in several different parts of the brain so if we can not locate it in one place, we can find it in another.
(Have you ever tried to remember a name and then found a few hours later that it just 'pops' into your mind? Your brain was trying to 'track it down' and when it was not retrieved from the place where you usually store names, your brain kept looking.....and found it in another storage site.)
Now one of the things that has given great impetus to the study of neuroplasticity is a collaboration between the Dali Lama
and a number of advanced Tibetean Buddhist meditators with some neuro-scientists who got interested in the effects of certain meditation techniques on the body (including the brain).
As you know, Tibetan Buddhists practice a variety of meditation techniques and their meditation affects their physiology.
(These affects are not confined to Buddhist mediators. It is just
that the Buddhists, as a whole, are so well known for their practice.)
Anyone can learn many of these meditation techniques. When I taught a course in philosophical meditation some years back, one of the tests in the course was for the students to use their minds to raise them temperature in their fingers by at least 10 degrees within 20 minutes. Everyone in the class would pass that test! It was a mind/body exercise that convinced many of the students that they could use their minds to make changes in their body. Some went on to learn mind-body pain control etc. A lot cheaper than drugs - and no side effects!.)
But this new neuroplasticity research is being used researchers interested in aging. And I am convinced that neuroplasticity holds enormous promise for those exploring the Ageless Aging.
FIRST, we now know that there are MANY centenarians (people at least 100 years old) who have not suffered brain decline, memory loss or Alzheimer's. And it is our good fortune that some researchers have become interested in this group of elders. This focus on wellness is a fairly new direction in Aging research and I believe it will prove extremely helpful to those
of us who want to live well in our Third Age.
SECOND, we know that physical activity EVERY DAY is useful for our brains. A recent publication noted that walking for 45 minutes every day reduces your risk of Alzheimer's disease by 50%.
I should clarify, walking fast enough to get your heart rate into your 'aerobic target' range is what you need - but that is not so fast. I find that just walking, instead of strolling, will do it....especially if there is a slight hill somewhere along the way.
( If you do not know your target heart rate, you can find a page about it on the web site. Use the web site SEARCH page and type in 'target heart rate' and the page will come up so you can click on it.... or just go to: http://www.anti-aging-articles.com/Target-heart-rate.html )
I assume that other cardio vascular activities eg. biking, swimming, cross country skiing etc. will be just
as effective. But remember that biking and swimming DO NOTHING to strengthen your bones - in fact professional cyclist have been show to have lower bone density than almost any other group of athletes.
THIRD. Research shows that one particular form of meditation seems to reverse aging. Yes, reverse the effects of aging. In fact those who practice 'mantra meditation' every day develop brains [and bodies] that are up to 18 years years younger than their chronological age. (Mantra meditation can also be helpful for pain control without drugs.)
So last month we talked about 'psychological age' and how you
can use it to grow younger. This month, it is mantra meditation, for growing younger.
So what is Mantra Meditation? How do you do it?
First, you do Mantra meditation sitting. It helps to keep your spine straight (helps prevent your from falling asleep as you relax). DO NOT do mantra meditation while driving a car or operating any sort of machinery!
Second, you will want some sort of timer. I use a kitchen timer. Other people set their watch or computer to 'ding' after 15 or 20 minutes. Yes, 20 minutes is the usual time but there is nothing sacrosanct about it. You start with 10 minutes or even do 15 minutes. It IS best to keep your time under 30 minutes - unless you have a 'meditation teacher' to guide you. You do not want to meditate so long that you 'zone out' and have difficulty
getting back into your day. That can happen with long meditations. So keep it to 20 minutes or less. (Many people begin with 10 minutes sessions)
Third, you sit, then lightly close your eyes and say your mantra to the rhythm of your breath. Example: Say SAH on your inhale and HUD on your exhale. SAH - HUD...SAH - HUD...SAH - HUD....
Let me say that there is nothing special about those 2 word sounds. They have no 'hidden meaning' but the 'ah' sound in the intake of breath and the 'hu' sound are useful sounds to help your mind focus. Adding a consonant makes it easier to say and remember.
Try it again. Sah on your 'in breath' and Hud on your 'out breath'. Try it 10 times now.
Oh, yes, about thoughts....you may find that all sorts of thoughts, images, even sounds come into your head. These
are called 'distractions'. DO NOT fight your distractions them. Fighting them gives them energy. That makes them grow stronger. Instead just leave them there and keep your attention of
SAH as you inhale and HUD as you exhale. After enough practice distractions just go away. Sometimes they will come back in force but if you focus on your SAH - HUD, they will eventually go away again.
When your 10 minutes for meditation are up, just reflect on what happened. Some people find that their breathing
has slowed down. Good. That is good for your heart and blood pressure. Others find that they fall asleep. That could be a sign your body needs more sleep than it is getting. Others feel like they have had a 'mini' vacation and when they turn back to the work before them, things seem to go easier and they find solutions to problems more easily.
BUT one of the most important benefits takes place in the hidden corners of your brain. Endorphins are released and cortisol [the stress hormone] dissipates.
If you really want Ageless Aging, do 10 - 20 minutes of mantra meditation each and every day for the next month....and in next newsletter I'll share some ways your can use this to create an 'ageless mind' that will get clearer and stronger each year.
Oh, yes, some people find that meditating just before bed is NOT good since it rejuvenates them and wakes them up.
That is it for now. If you have any questions, you can hit reply to contact me. I can not promise that I will know the answer....but I promise to try. I want this newsletter to be
useful to you.
PS If you took Ageless Aging course I recently taught at the Desmond Eastate, today's newsletter may seem like 'old hat'. I promise new research for you next month.