Believe it or not, it takes less time than you think to relieve depression and anxiety through meditation and yoga — and both may even ward off aging.
You probably know yoga and meditation help relieve stress. What might be surprising: just how little you need to see measurable benefits.
In one 2015 study, just 20 minutes of Sun Salutations a day was enough to provide substantial emotional benefits. Stressed-out college students performed a quick warm-up, then did 13 cycles of Sun Salutations followed by a seated cool-down. They were all initially inactive, and met daily for 14 days at the school gym for their 20-minute sessions.
The results were startling. After two weeks, the students reported feeling more relaxed, at peace, rested, and refreshed. They also were less stressed and worried and reported fewer negative emotions. The real kicker? Their minds were quieter, and they felt more joy. Not bad for just 20 minutes a day.
You might be able to get by with even less time.
Another pilot study found benefits for meditation at just 12 minutes a day. The participants — all caring for a family member with dementia — used a method called Kirtan Kriya, which involves chanting and hand movements. They practiced daily, while a control group listened to relaxing music for the same amount of time.
At the end of eight weeks, the meditators had improved cognitive function and reduced symptoms of depression.
More strikingly, they also showed reduced signs of cellular aging.
As we age, the caps of our DNA, called telomeres, shorten each time our cells divide. When the telomeres become short enough, cells die. An enzyme called telomerase adds to telomere length as cells divide, but its activity decreases with age and in response to certain environmental conditions. Ultimately, telomere length can stand in as an indicator of stress and age.
One fascinating study looking at aging in mothers sharply illustrates this effect. In the study, telomeres in women caring for a chronically ill child were the equivalent of a full decade older than women with healthy children. The finding built on previous studies suggesting stress shortens telomere length — and provides powerful evidence of the effects of stress on aging.
Which gets us back to meditation’s effects. In the study of Kirtan Kriya, the memory trainers in the study saw a 3.7 percent increase in telomerase activity. The meditators, on the other hand, saw a whopping 43 percent jump — a serious boost in cells’ ability to repair the ravages of aging and stress.
Again, just 12 minutes of meditating a day — combined with a longer one-hour guided session each week — measurably improved signs of cognitive decline. The authors suggest meditation can delay atrophy of the hippocampus, a part of the brain linked to progression of Alzheimer’s.
Want to give yoga or meditation a try? The Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation has collected detailed instructions for Kirtan Kriya. You can order guided meditations from a variety of sources, or follow along to a free one on YouTube.
It’s not clear whether all forms of meditation work the same way, but virtually all are likely to provide benefits. Feel free to experiment with different methods to find one that clicks for you. Mindfulness-based meditation, for example, has also been shown to affect regions of the brain involved in memory.
Or, if you’d like a more active form of meditation — along with the benefits of exercise — try working up to 20 minutes of Sun Salutations daily. Yoga, too, has benefits for the brain and aging.
The good news: whichever method you choose, relief from stress is only a few minutes a day away.
September 26, 2018
Janet O’Dell, RN