More than 9 percent of American adults now practice yoga. Almost as many meditate.
Most American classes offer Hatha Yoga postures, and only begin or end with a moment of meditation. Add more meditation: A growing body of evidence now suggests that even for beginners, 15–30 minutes a day of a mindfulness/meditation exercise brings measurable benefits in as little as two months.
When studies refer to ‘yoga’ or ‘meditation’ or ‘mindfulness,’ they may be talking about very different exercises. That said, meditation or mindfulness training has been found to help us sleep and manage depression, fibromyalgia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and irritable bowel, among other problems related to stress.
In one study, only 12 minutes a day brought surprising results among a notably stressed-out group—people caring for family members with dementia. Half of a group of caregivers practiced Kirtan Kriya, which includes chanting, holding the body in certain positions, and a visualization meditation. The control group listened to relaxing music instead. The researchers gave everyone tests assessing symptoms of depression and mental skills and also checked their blood.
The Kirtan Kriya group did better on the tests at the end of the study, but most dramatically, had an average 43 percent boost in the activity of an enzyme called telomerase—which was associated with the better mental health scores— compared to only a 3.7 percent change in the comparison group. The boost in telomerase activity may indicate that the chanting and meditation practice helped slow aging related to stress.
To get started on a basic mindfulness practice, neuroscientist Britta Hölzel recommends the book, Full Catastrophe Living, or a stress reduction mindfulness program offered at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and online. She points out that meditation researchers tend to be biased in favor, and “You can really find anything you want to find,” she says. But she also predicts that more science will eventually back up that meditation can make a difference for some people. “It’s just not understood exactly how and to whom and when,” she says.