When daily stresses pile up and you feel like you’re at your wits end, what do you do? Do you head for junk food from the vending machine, vent to a friend or stick pins into voodoo dolls? We’ve got a better idea—a simple 12-minute technique that promotes relaxation…improves brain function…fights depression…and even helps counteract stress-induced chromosomal damage, right down at the cellular level!
What is this technique? It’s a form of meditation called kirtan kriya (pronounced KEER-tun KREE-uh). According to a new study, it showed remarkable benefits for family caregivers—people who typically are under constant stress as they struggle to take care of ill loved ones. If the technique can help people with that high level of chronic stress, surely it can help you and me.
12 MINUTES TO CALM
Earlier research has shown that kirtan kriya meditation improves brain function and mood in people with mild cognitive impairment or mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s disease (for more on that topic, click here). For the new study, researchers wanted to see whether kirtan kriya could help stressed-out caregivers rather than patients themselves. Why? Because roughly 50% of family caregivers develop clinical depression…and that, of course, can negatively affect their own health and well-being.
At the start of the study, all participants completed tests that assessed their level of depression…overall mental health…and cognitive functioning (attention, verbal memory, information-processing speed, etc).
They also had blood tests that measured the activity of telomerase, an enzyme responsible for maintaining telomeres. A telomere is the section at the end of each chromosome, and it helps protect the chromosome from damage. Studies suggest that telomeres and telomerase are affected by chronic stress and can be used as biomarkers of cellular aging—with shortened telomere length and reduced telomerase activity being linked to increased risk for various diseases and premature death.
Next, participants were randomly divided into two groups and instructed to practice their assigned stress-reducing technique for 12 minutes per day, at the same time each day, for a total of eight weeks.
Group one: These participants practiced kirtan kriya meditation, which involves repeating a mantra consisting of four syllables—Saa, Taa, Naa, Maa—while doing simple finger movements. The mantra is first chanted aloud…then said in a whisper…then repeated silently in one’s mind…then whispered again…and then chanted aloud again. During the meditation, eyes are closed and one imagines a light shining through the center of one’s head.
Group two: These participants de-stressed in a basic way that many of us instinctively do—they listened to soothing instrumental music while relaxing in a quiet place with eyes closed.
After eight weeks, all the assessment tests were repeated. Basically, both stress-reducing techniques helped—but kirtan kriya helped much more. Here’s how participants fared with regard to…
Depression: A 50% or greater improvement in depressive symptoms was seen in 65% of the kirtan kriya group—compared with just 31% of the basic relaxation group.
Mental health: A 50% or greater improvement in overall mental health scores was experienced by 52% of participants in the kirtan kriya group…but by only 19% in the relaxation group.
Cognitive function: The kirtan kriya group showed significant improvement on various tests of cognitive function…the relaxation group did not.
Telomerase activity: Here was actual physical proof of kirtan kriya’s benefits, with the meditators showing a 43% improvement in telomerase activity—compared with only a 4% improvement in the relaxation group.
How does it work? The researchers theorized that the chanting and finger movements of kirtan kriya add a “brain fitness” effect to the meditation technique’s stress-reducing benefits.
DO TRY THIS AT HOME!
If you are a family caregiver, you have a particularly good reason to take note of these encouraging findings…but even for people who are not caregivers, stress reduction is very good for emotional and physical health. And we now have scientific proof that kirtan kriya meditation is a very powerful stress reducer. So why not try devoting just 12 minutes per day to kirtan kriya to see whether it helps you feel and function better?
Here is a video that demonstrates this unique meditation technique. Although the practitioner in this video suggests spending about a half-hour on your meditation, the new study shows that 12 minutes is sufficient. Check it out…