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How the Dalai Lama can help you live to 120… October 5, 2006

Posted by tkcollier in Life, Lifestyle, Religion.
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UltraMetabolism Blog
“The mind has great influence over the body, and maladies often have their origin there.” — Moliere

What were Dean Ornish, Mehmet Oz, Dan Brown, the Dalai Lama, and I all doing in Woodstock, New York, last week?

We — along with an assortment of Tibetan monks and doctors, Buddhist scholars, meditation researchers, and prize-winning
biomedical scientists in the field of aging, the immune system, stem cells, genetics, brain aging, stress physiology, and more from MIT, Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Duke, and UCSF — were all part of a special conference at the Menla Center.

The subject of this conference: Longevity and Tibetan medicine.

If that seems intriguing, it was! Thanks to Maria Collier for this post.

The goal of the conference might sound complex — but it was
quite simple.

We were there to investigate the relationship between the
science of longevity and wellness and the ancient Indo-
Tibetan practices of meditation and training the mind.

The point wasn’t to learn how to treat disease, but to learn
what we know about regeneration of the body, protection from
illness, and optimization of our function and wellbeing.

The convergence of “post-modern biology” — the new science
of “systems” thinking and medicine — and the ancient wisdom
and practices of Tibetan medicine and Buddhism was
startling.

So what did we talk about?

Well, for one thing, we explored the relationship between
the nervous system and health and aging, and the connection
between the immune system and health.

As you get older, your immune system produces more
inflammatory molecules, and your nervous system turns on the
stress response, promoting system breakdown and aging.

That’s not just talk. It’s backed by scientific studies.

For example, Kevin Tracey, the director of the Feinstein
Institute for Medical Research, discovered how the brain
controls the immune system through a direct nerve-based
connection.

He describes this as the inflammatory reflex (i). Simply put,
it is the way the immune system responds to the mind.

Let me explain.

You immune system is controlled by a nerve call the vagus
nerve.

But this isn’t just any nerve.

It is the most important nerve coming from the brain and
travels to all the major organs.

And you can activate this nerve — through relaxation,
meditation, and other ancient practices.

What’s the benefit of that?

Well, by activating the vagus nerve, you can control your
immune cells, reduce inflammation, and even prevent disease
and aging!

It’s true. By creating positive brain states — as
meditation masters have done for centuries — you can switch
on the vagus nerve and control inflammation.

You can actually control your gene function by this method.
Activate the vagus nerve, and you can switch on the genes
that help control inflammation.

And, as you know from my books Ultraprevention and
UltraMetabolism, inflammation is one of the central factors
of disease and aging.

But that’s not all we learned at the conference.

Even more fascinating was the discovery that our bodies can
regenerate at any age.

Diane Krause, MD, PhD, from Yale University discovered that
our own innate adult stem cells (cells that can turn into
any cell in the body from our bone marrow) could be
transformed into liver, bowel, lung, and skin cells. (ii)

This is a phenomenal breakthrough.

Here’s why.

It means that we have the power to create new cells and
renew our own organs and tissues at any age.

And how are these stem cells controlled?

You guessed it: the vagus nerve.

So relaxation — a state of calm, peace, and stillness –
can activate the vagus nerve.

And the vagus nerve, in turn, activates your stem cells to
regenerate and renew your tissues and organs.

Scientists have even shown how meditation makes the brain
bigger and better.

They’ve mapped out the brain function of “professional
meditators” by bringing Tibetan lamas trained in
concentration and mental control into the laboratory.

The result? They found higher levels of gamma brain waves
and thicker brain cortexes (the areas associated with higher
brain function) in meditators. (iii)

Relaxation can have other powerful effects on our biology.

In biology, being a complex system that can adapt to its
environment and that is resilient and flexible is critical
to health.

The same is true for us.

The more complex and resilient we are, the healthier we are.

Take, for example, our heartbeat.

Its complexity is called heart rate variability (HRV) or
beat-to-beat variability. The more complex your HRV, the
healthier you are. The least complex heart rate is the
worst — a flat line.

So what does this have to do with relaxation?

The HRV is also controlled by the vagus nerve.

As you can see, turning on the relaxation response and
activating that vagus nerve is critical to health.

Let me review what we learned at the conference.

By learning to create positive brain states through deep
relaxation or meditation, you can:

* Reduce inflammation
* Help regenerate your organs and cells by activating stem cells
* Increase your heart rate variability
* Thicken your brain (which normally shrinks with aging).
* Boost immune function
* Modulate your nervous system
* Reduce depression and stress
* Enhance performance
* Improve your quality of life

Not bad for just learning to chill out!

Think you’re too stressed out to relax?

Not so fast. We learned that it’s not always outside
stressors that are the most important, but our responses to
those stressors.

In fact, the Dalai Lama told a story of a Tibetan monk he
met who had been in a Chinese gulag, where he was tortured,
placed in solitary confinement, and prohibited from
practicing his traditions for more than 20 years.

The Dalai Lama asked him what his greatest stress was.

The monk replied that it was his fear that he would lose
compassion for his Chinese jailers!

I have met a number of these old monks, who spent the better
part of their lives imprisoned and tortured. What is
remarkable is that they didn’t suffer from post-traumatic
stress syndrome — that they emerged intact, peaceful,
happy, smiling, and giving back to the world.

Perhaps stress is more about the stories we tell ourselves
about our lives.

On the other hand, the damaging effects of stress are clear.
As we learned at the conference, one of the leading theories
of aging is that the protective ends of our DNA (called
telomeres) shorten as we age.

Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD, who discovered telomeres,
explained that, ultimately, they become so short that the
end of our DNA unravels and we can no longer replicate our
cells, so they die.

Remarkably, mental stress produces a more rapid shortening
of the telomeres — and leads to faster aging.

What’s even more remarkable?

In a study of caregivers of sick patients, the health of the
caregivers’ telomeres was determined by their attitude!

It sounds impossible, but it’s true.

The caregivers who felt the care to be a burden had shorter
telomeres, while those who saw their work as an opportunity
to be compassionate had no shortening. (iv)

In closing, the Dalai Lama said that the seat of compassion
is actually biological and — necessary for survival.

Perhaps the development of compassion and wisdom in coping
with unfavorable life conditions is the true key to
longevity.

It just may be that working to understand our true nature
through the cultivation of our minds and hearts with
positive practices like meditation or similar techniques is
critical to health and longevity.

The ways we can change our bodies through changing our minds
is not longer a theory.

There is a new scientific language to understand how the
qualities of the mind control the body through effects on
the vagus nerve, immune cells, stem cells, telomeres, DNA,
and more.

Remember, your body has all the resources and infinitely
adaptable systems to self-regulate, repair, regenerate, and
thrive.

You simply have to learn how to work with your body, rather
than against it. Then you can have a healthy, thriving life
— and live out your full lifespan, which can be as high as
120+ years!

So here are a few tips to activate your vagus nerve and
prevent aging:

1) Learn to meditate.

Find a teacher or check out tapes or CDs like those at
www.mindfulnesstapes.com.

2) Stretch it out.

Try a yoga class in your area. Yoga can be a great way to
release tension and deeply relax.

3) Get some energy.

Learn qi gong, a relaxing ancient system of energy treatment
and balancing.

4) Get rubbed the right way.

Massage has been proven to boost immunity and relaxes the
body deeply.

5) Make love.

The only way you can do it is if you are not stressed!

6) Get back to nature.

Climb a mountain and watch a sunrise, which will calm your
nervous system.

7) Express yourself.

Write in your journal about your inner experience — this
has been shown to boost immunity and reduce inflammation.

Now I’d like to hear from you…

Have you noticed how stress affects you?

Have you noticed people looking older after significant life
stressors?

Have you noticed how people who seem to have a happy
disposition or compassionate attitude toward life don’t seem
to age as quickly as people who are angry and miserable?

Do you have any other suggestions for how to reduce stress,
or better yet, how to better your manage your own response
to stressful events?

Please let me know your thoughts by posting a comment below
— just click on the Add a Comment link.

To your good health,

Mark Hyman, MD
i Kevin J. Tracey, The inflammatory reflex, Nature 420, 853
– 859 (19 Dec 2002)

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v420/n6917/abs/nature01321.html

ii Krause DS. Plasticity of marrow-derived stem cells. Gene
Ther. 2002 Jun;9(11):754-8. Review.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?db=pubmed&cmd=Retrieve&dopt=AbstractPlus&list_uids=12032704&query_hl=8&itool=pubmed_DocSum

iii Lazar SW, Kerr CE, Wasserman RH, Gray JR, Greve DN,
Treadway MT, McGarvey M, Quinn BT, Dusek JA, Benson H, Rauch
SL, Moore CI, Fischl B. Meditation experience is associated
with increased cortical thickness. Neuroreport. 2005 Nov
28;16(17):1893-7.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?db=pubmed&cmd=Retrieve&dopt=AbstractPlus&list_uids=16272874&query_hl=12&itool=pubmed_docsum

iv Epel ES, Blackburn EH, Lin J, Dhabhar FS, Adler NE,
Morrow JD, Cawthon RM. Accelerated telomere shortening in
response to life stress. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004 Dec
7;101(49):17312-5. Epub 2004 Dec 1.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?db=pubmed&cmd=Retrieve&dopt=Abs

Comments»

1. Linda Raphael - October 7, 2006

WAKE UP WORLD ~ AWESOME INFORMATION ~ thank you for sharing ~ I would like more info about what the Dalia Lama contributed ~ NAMASTE’

2. Dawn - November 10, 2006

Love it! This is what I have been trying to get across to people in my journals and discussions and things for a while. The mind and spirit rule the body, not the other way around. Even science now proves it. Thank you!

3. World Health - February 3, 2007

What role in our life is played with medicine? Health of the nation is a priority problem of the government in the field of health protection. WBR LeoP

4. pcwork - April 21, 2007

When there is a disparity between the
actual experience and a person’s
expectations, a person experiences
stress. If the person does not have very
high expectations, he or she may not
experience stress. I found informations
at http://mshn.org/

5. Valintino - May 4, 2007

Hello, Your site is great. Regards, Valintino Guxxi

6. Bruce Fletcher - July 2, 2008

Thanks for this – it is very exciting! Is there specific information on what to do in meditation or guided imagery / hypnosis to activate the vagus nerve? Or does the vagus nerve always get activated appropriately during relaxation & meditation?

7. Bruce Fletcher - July 2, 2008

Hi again,
Here is a book I have found related to a lot of the tips at the end of your piece:
“Healthy Pleasures” by Robert Ornstein (neurophysiologist) & David Sobel (MD)
It was published in the 80’s but it seems to be prescient or prophetic about recent findings since its publication. Hope you find it of use.

8. Penny - June 5, 2009

That vagus nerve…The story of my last 7-8 years, and I am finally finding out now.
I always knew when I was stressed, I had this sickly feeling in the area of my neck/throat where I now realize the vagus nerve is. And many times that lead to either passing out or coming very close, and a severe blood pressure drop.
The last time this happened was in my obgyn’s office. She is notorious for stressing me out-to make a long story short-I have mild displasia of the cervix. Last time she checked, she went on and on how bad it looked, how this family she knew all died of different cancers, how this displasia was changing, and she went on and on until the room became white, and I was getting weaker and sicker by the second, and passed out! She said it happens to her patients 60% of the time. Time for a new obgyn! (BTW, still only mild displasia, which I will heal with relaxation and meditation)
Anyway, thanks for confirming my suspicions! Any meditations for the vagus nerve? E-mail pamann@cfl.rr.com
May God always bless the Dalai Lama

9. Catherine - June 29, 2009

Thank you for taking the time to share this information to all.
The vagus nerve, is the channel to the heart from the brain. The heart has an electromagnetic field 5000 times greater than the brain, it produces, yes produces “brain cells,” well they look like brain cells but they are 60% more complex than the “brain cells” produced in the brain. Stress? Feel the base of the skull, the balance of mind, body and spirit will reflect in this area…. the area that integrates the longest 18″ in the world, from the brain to the heart.
Peace, Love, and Wonder

10. Gillian Hearn - August 19, 2009

I loved reading this. I am having ongoing stress and my neck is like iron. I have a hiatus hernis and my vagus nerve seems hyperactive. It beats just below my sternum like a second heart and interrupts my hearts rhythm which is very scary….any suggestions?? I am trying meditation and yoga. just started this…..but the whole thing is very scary.

Vikki - September 4, 2009

Hi Gillian,
You and I have the same problem….and it’s very frightening.
Apparently our hernias are easily stimulated and between the pvc’s that my heart produces, I am spending more time monitoring the whole thing then enjoying my life.
I have also begun using the meditation that hopefully will quiet this tap dancing in my heart area.
We have been fighting foreclosure for a year now and am convinced the added stress has added to this issue.
I wish there was a way for me to leave my email address so we could write to each other…but sending best wishes that you feel better and soon….Vikki

11. gilian hearn - September 7, 2009

Thank you Vikki for your message. I am feeling better now that the major stress has been removed which proves it is my response to stress that is the problem. I have heard of a method to control stress called the Linden method. He is in the UK. I will contact his organization and see if it would work for me. Apparently if you control a part of the brain where the amigdala is you can help yourself. Good luck Vikki Gillian

12. Vikki - September 7, 2009

I will check this method as well. And also will be looking into possible surgical regair of that hiatal hernia. We will see as surgery of any kind is always a risk but I suspect the pvc’s are interacting with it as I have a thump in the diaphram area with the pvc.
Thanks for the info on the Linden Method.
Best…Vikki
Don’t hesitate to contact me at my email below if they post it here…:)

13. Arlys - September 17, 2009

Vikki…please tell me how everything comes out. I am having palpitations and the electrocardiologist will do an ablation on me if nothing else checks out. I do not want to have that and am checking EVERYTHING else it could possibly be. Next week I have an endoscopy and I believe it’s related to reflux and the vagus nerve. I wish I could remove that old vagus nerve if that is the cause. I’ve been to 3 cardiologists, an internist, an endocrinologist a menopause specialist and soon a gastrologist. I am thinking of accupuncture and a naturpathic dr. if I don’t receive any relief soon. My endocrinologist didn’t even know what the vagus nerve was! I am going to study the above suggestions and try to get some relief. Thanks!
A

14. gillian hearn - September 18, 2009

Hello Arlys why dont you try an Edgar Cayce Caster oil pack on the abdomen 2 hours a day for a week or you can do it at night. Its a wonderful remedy for many conditions and could work for you. Give it a try. Look up the Edgar Cayce website and you can order by phone. Good luck Gillian

15. The Irreverent Buddhist - February 20, 2010

I explained the neurological basis for using one type of Buddhist meditation over another in this post http://www.vipassanaforum.net/forum/index.php/topic,638.msg4992.html#msg4992

The fundamental point is activation of the Vagus nerve. Thanks for such a well written piece. Note not all meditations will activate the Vagus equally.

16. Georgia - April 19, 2010

I have an overactive vagus nerve that supresses the electrical synapse in my heart so that it stops for several seconds. The electrocardiologists wanted to put a pace maker in me 2 years ago. I have chosen acupuncture to try to calm the nerve as it is connected to many organs it can over relax and undermine optimal function. So far, I have unscrambled my energy, regained more balance, handle stress with more grace and centeredness, and have many fewer “episodes” where I experience a kind of mini-blackout and have to breathe deeply to clear the feeling. Some used to feel like mini seizures. I have lost consciousness suddenly 2 times in about 14 years. I do take a drug whose side effect is to calm the vagus nerve. That helps too, but I keep cutting back bit by bit. I continue acupuncture but have zero doctor support for this.

17. RCB2010 - July 18, 2010

I was told I have “heightened vagal tone” last week, giving me fainty feelings galore, but never fainting full out. Had Tilt Table Test, didn’t faint til the nitroglycerin dopped my BP like a rock. Had a two 3-4 second pauses in my heart while on BP meds, Doxazosin. Dr stopped that, and the pauses stopped too. But fainty feeling came back, while I’m on L-Arginine supplements, keeps BP low 66% of time. So he said “pacemaker” and so did 2nd opinion Cardiologist. AND NOW I SEE THIS! YEAY! Naturally Relax your Vagus nerve, it has a “trigger” just like any other muscle in your body. Just wash your hands afterward!

http://www.nctimes.com/lifestyles/health-med-fit/article_fe8b4b13-c4c8-53f2-b262-29d55bd2f70b.html

Relaxes your diaphragm nicely. Let’s you breathe!
And, I found this blog thank goodness!
Yoga alone won’t calm my tight diaphragm.
Love & meditation might. Gotta try this!
I do not want a pacemaker, or drugs.
RCB2010


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