Meditation helps calm the mind and reduce stress. Regular practice helps us meet many of the routinely challenging situations in our lives with less effort, and we achieve better results.
Few people realize that meditation also slows the aging process. One study associated meditation with higher levels of the ‘anti-aging hormone’, DHEA, implying that meditation slowed aging. A Harvard study showed that it even impacts us at the genetic level, affecting around 2,000 genes, some of which counteracted damage to the body from free radicals, thus potentially slowing the rate of aging.
A simple way to meditate is to sit down and listen to the sound of your breathing for about 10 minutes a day.
2) Believe that your mind can help you to heal
Studies of the placebo effect – where people get better in medical trials while taking dummy drugs – reveal that belief can make us well from many different ailments. When you believe in a medicine, or in the physician prescribing it, it is likely to work better for you. We have a powerful capacity to affect our own health with our minds.
One interesting placebo study saw volunteers in a pain study have placebo cream applied to one of their hands or feet, although they thought it was a local anaesthetic. Then they had extract of chili (capsicum) injected into their hands and feet. Incredibly, the pain selectively reduced where the cream was applied but not on the other hands and feet.
A simple way to build belief like this is to tell yourself regularly that the mind can help heal the body. Read up on scientific evidence of mind over matter (there’s lots around) and this will help you to believe in yourself.
The most common methods people use to visualize healing are where they imagine inside the body at the site(s) of illness and imagine changing it from illness to wellness. They imagine cleaning, clearing, scooping, melting, or even sending love and affection, or any other method they can think of. And they do it regularly.
Of course, using visualization is not a substitute for medical advice. It is something that you would use in addition to medical advice. That’s the intelligent approach.
3) Show compassion and kindness to people
Compassion physically impacts the brain, building up empathy centers and areas that help us to feel more positive and emotionally balanced. It is also linked with the vagus nerve. Some studies show that compassion is associated with the fitness of the vagus nerve in how it reduces inflammation in the body.
This is a good thing because too much inflammation plays a major role in heart disease, some cancers, and possibly the majority of diseases we know of.
Kindness is also good for your health. The bonding hormone, oxytocin, is released through warm emotional contact, which is something that kindness cultivates. Great research on oxytocin shows that it is cardioprotective – it helps protect your arteries from agents of disease. So kindness is cardioprotective. I love that because everyone is familiar with the idea that kindness (and love) is good for the heart (and soul). Science is saying the same thing.
Kindness can also make a real difference in someone’s life. We shouldn’t do kindness because we are trying to gain. We are kind because it’s the right thing to do. But the gains are real; they are side effects, written into our genetic code through the millions of years of caretaking behaviour of our ancestors.
4) Be Positive
OK. We’ve all heard this before, but it is important from a health perspective. A good dose of positivity can help us navigate some of the difficult situations in our lives with less stress. And stress, as we know, plays a role in illness and disease. Less stress can equal longer life.
Some studies on positivity show that it is associated with better health. One 30-year study found that optimists had around a 50% lower risk of early death than pessimists and a few others show that a positive attitude is associated with a longer lifespan.
Of course, there are always exceptions. We all know positive people who die young and very pessimistic people who outlive their entire families. That’s a statistical thing and will always be true. But take a sample of several thousand people and you will see that positivity is associated with longevity.
5) Cultivate a heart of gratitude
Counting our blessings is good for our mental and emotional health. One 3-week study compared those counting blessings with those counting their hassles. It was called a ‘Blessings vs Burdens’ study. The blessings group kept a daily diary of some things that they were grateful about while the burdens group kept a diary of their daily hassles. After the 3 weeks, those in the blessings group were 23% happier than those in the burdens group.
A few simple methods that you might use are, a) Write a daily list of 5-10 things that you are grateful for that have happened in the last day (it’s good to do this just before going to bed), or b) Choose a different person each day and spend a few moments thinking of all the reasons why you are grateful for their presence in your life.
Gratitude is a tasty ingredient in food for the soul