In the Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens wrote:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…. It was the season of light, it was the season of darkness. It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair”
Yes, the period of which Dickens wrote is a lot like the present day.
We are living through extraordinary times in a complicated world. In my 74 ½ years, I’ve never seen anything like it — from the virus to political strife to protests, stress is rampant.
Stress may impact negatively virtually every system of our body, from the immune system leading to decreased resistance to virus infections, such as Covid-19 and cancer, to heart problems, elevated blood pressure, autoimmune disease, and more.
Chronic stress has also been revealed to impact mental health leading to high levels of anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Moreover, stress in and of itself is a risk factor for lower cognitive ability. People who report high levels of stress, including adverse childhood experiences and early life stress such as trauma, abuse, or neglect, have a much higher risk of developing this fatal, mind-robbing disease.
Stress also has a pronounced negative effect on your genes, decreasing the level of a crucial enzyme called telomerase, which controls the length of your telomere at the tip of your DNA. While shorter telomeres are associated with poor immune system function, inflammation, accelerated aging, and Alzheimer’s, longer telomeres equal a longer life with a clear mind.
Calm Your Mind, Create Better Health
The modern science of stress began in 1949, when Dr. Walter Hess, a Swiss physiologist, won the Nobel Prize for his work revealing two spots in the hypothalamus of the brain, often called the brain’s brain. One spot is the stress center while the other is the anti-stress center, which was further delineated by Herbert Benson, M.D. twenty-five years later. Benson coined the phrase, The Relaxation Response, to describe the anti-stress effects of meditation. Benson’s work reveals that meditation has a multitude of health-promoting benefits.
Beyond the simple Relaxation Response popularized by Benson, other basic meditation techniques such as Transcendental Meditation ™, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and so-called yoga meditation Kirtan Kriya (KK) — which can even affect positively the prevention or reversal of memory loss. The beauty of Kirtan Kriya is that while TM and MBSR require extensive training and a long daily time commitment, Kirtan Kriya takes only 12 minutes once a day.
The Benefits of Yoga Meditation
This chart summarizes the many proven benefits of KK, all of which are critically important to boost immune and brain function today. Enhanced brain function leads to a better immune response as well. It’s also important to note that KK increases telomerase by 43 percent, and also actually increases telomere length.
In addition to the many physical health benefits, the practice supports the cultivation of higher levels of psychological well-being (PWB):
1. Acceptance: You accept life as it is and people as they are and make the best of it. You change what you can and perhaps drop what you can’t.
2. Self- esteem or self- efficacy: The deep knowledge that what you do makes a difference in your health and well-being.
3. Independence: You live free from the influence of others’ negative thoughts towards you. You are your own person, comfortable in your own skin. You also look forward to living independently in your own home for as long as possible.
4. Persistent personal growth: The desire and ability and continued practice of good, health-promoting behaviors, such as a good diet including supplementation, stress management, especially through yoga and meditation, and regular physical and mental exercise.
5. Positive relationships: Called a sangat in Eastern healing philosophy or being with like- minded people with whom you share love and support. While this may be a challenge during the pandemic, technology helps you reach out to family and friends.
6. Purpose or mission: Discovering your own purpose or mission in life has by itself been shown to reduce Alzheimer’s risk. Fortunately, practicing KK regularly leads to clarity of your mission and how you can best serve others.
Growing research suggests that the healthiest people are the ones who grow with age and experience; even in times of trouble like these.
Spiritual Fitness, a new concept I’d like to share with you, takes PWB further with four features that promote health and peace of mind:
1. Patience: Developing patience also allows you to slow down and enjoy life, because you’re in the flow of the Universe so it works for and through you.
2. Awareness: Awareness brings self-acknowledgement and self- appreciation. Naturally, when you see your true self without judgment, you can view others in the same way and look beyond their faults. This leads to gratitude and forgiveness, which release anger, a devastating toxin to your brain, immunity, and genes. As you gain the knowledge of who you are on a deep level, you break unconscious thought patterns that cloud your true identity. This allows you to clarify your mission.
3. Compassion: Compassion or living with love, is a strength and conveys kindness and empathy, which embolden healthier communication. Compassion also fosters clarity and commitment and the courage to be yourself without fear. You can then pass to the next level of spiritual fitness, which is surrender. Physically, compassion is an excellent heart healer.
4. Surrender: “Surrender to the stretch” is often said in yoga. In this case, the stretch of surrender is to your spirit, your soul. It also involves faith and trust in your higher power. When you surrender to your soul, you gain the strength to sacrifice and to serve or give to others without thought of reward for yourself. This brings with it a deep and lasting happiness and serenity, which conveys peace of mind. Medically, gaining peace of mind is a tremendous immune system booster.
Surrendering to the stretch in your life is a wonderful, overall illness-prevention and anti-aging tonic. Perhaps the best one there is. It allows you to master yourself, your environment, and retain a strong sense of independence and interdependence.
Purpose in life involves finding meaning and direction, especially when confronting challenges in times like these. Our true purpose, however, is to remove the layers of artificiality we have accumulated during our life thus far and rediscover our own divine well-being and carefree essence.
Kirtan Kriya yoga meditation is an important ingredient to that, so I’d like to encourage anyone interested to do it the first thing in the morning for forty days. Why forty? Because that is in my experience the amount of time it takes to create a long-lasting, beneficial change in your brain, mind, and spirit.
How To Practice Yoga Meditation
Kirtan Kriya (KK) is based on five specific actions:
1. Breath: The breath flows naturally. As you practice, you’ll find that your breathing rate will slow down. I always notice a deep sigh at about 3 minutes, which signifies the release of tension.
2. Posture: You can sit comfortably with your spine straight in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Alternatively, you can sit in a comfortable, crossed-legged posture on the floor.
3. Sound or Mantra: KK prescribes very specific sounds: Saa Taa Naa Maa. The tune to which these sounds are sung is the first four notes of the familiar children’s song, Mary had a little lamb. Your jaw should remain relaxed as you sing, which activates the vagus or anti-stress nerve and thus turns on your relaxation response. Using the mantra Saa Taa Naa Maa has many wonderful benefits and will take you to new levels of health, happiness, and spirituality.
4. Finger movement or mudras: Using the mudras of KK, which involves touching the finger tips in sequence, gives such a powerfully dynamic effect because the hands and finger tips are highly represented in the brain, revealing why the combined effect of the finger touching and singing so strongly stimulates it, thereby increasing cerebral blood flow. After all, we are the only species that evolved to be able to speak and use our hands and fingers to such an extent.
5. The Focus or Visualization: The sound is visualized coming down from the top of the head and out through the middle of the forehead, lined up over your nose like a capital “L.” You may think of this action as sweeping through like a broom (see below).
Now you’re ready to do it. Here’s how:
- For the first 2 minutes, sing out loud
- For the next 2 minutes, sing in a stage whisper
- For the next 4 minutes, silently say the sounds to yourself
- For the next 2 minutes, sing in a stage whisper
- For the last 2 minutes, sing out loud to complete the sequence.
When outside thoughts intrude, simply return your focus to the fingertips, sounds, and visualization.
To complete the meditation, inhale very deeply through your nose, stretch your hands above your head, and then bring them down slowly in a sweeping motion, as you exhale through your nose. Take a couple of deep nasal breaths before opening your eyes and resuming your activity.
As we have seen, this practice, even for just 12 minutes a day, has many important benefits on your physical and mental health, and beyond. To time the exercise you can use a digital clock, smart phone timer, or watch rather than any type of alarm. Using the available downloadable digital MP3 on the ARPF website makes timing your practice easy.
The Evolution Revolution starts now
Now that we are in a reset mode, what some call The New Normal, perhaps it is time to both maximize our immunity and to change the world for the better.
Let The Evolution Revolution begin.
12 minutes of daily KK yoga meditation practice can be a great place to start.
“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” — Sir Paul McCartney in The End on Abbey Road by The Beatles, composed by Lennon and McCartney.
Yours in Brain Health,
Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D.
President/ Medical Director
Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation