Meditation vs Vacation
A recent newsletter of the Consciousness and Healing Initiative carried news of an interesting piece of research.
Scientists from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the University of California, San Francisco, and Harvard Medical School used a rigorous study design to assess the biological impact of meditation compared to vacation.
They examined the effect of meditation on gene expression patterns in both novice and regular meditators.
The paper, which you can read here, was published in August in the Journal Translational Psychology and is a you’d expect from a science journal pretty dense in places.
In essence they looked at the ‘gene networks’ that are involved in stress, immune and (other) regulation systems in the human body and more subjective psychological indicators.
In the experiment that took a randomised groups of (female) experienced meditators and non-meditators between the ages of 30 and 60 either to a ‘retreat’ where meditation was ‘on the menu’ or to a ‘resort’ with all its amenities.
The changes in psychological well-being scores indicated major improvements in all groups from the first to fifth day and 1 month later on all measures (depressive symptoms, perceived stress, mindful awareness and vitality).
The randomized group immersed in meditation and yoga for the first time exhibited more sustained well-being up to 1 month later, compared with the resort group.
Ten months later; the novices maintained a clinically meaningful improvement in depressive symptoms compared with the vacation group. Thus, we found both a short-term vacation effect for everyone and a significant benefit of learning meditation on longer-term mood.
My reaction ti this was “Duhh” – as it seems pretty logical from a ‘gut feeling’/’intuitive’ level.
However science isn’t always about the ‘gut feeling’ – it’s about measurement and evidence, so in many ways this study could be seen as evidence supporting the intuition; measurement set against ‘common knowledge’.
The study has some limitations, not least the sample size and I would suspect that a competent gene-scientist could pick holes in some of the assertions/assumptions in the research. But that’s the nature of science – question, research, measure, define, publish, re-question.
This direct quote from the article sums up the findings:
In summary, our results point to both a significant ‘vacation effect’ that benefited all groups, and a suppression of stress-related responses and immune function related to acute-phase wound healing and inflammation. We also identified a ‘meditation effect’ within the regular meditator group, characterized by a distinct network of genes with cellular functions that may be relevant to healthy aging, and this network was associated with increased expression of a number of telomere maintenance pathway genes and an increase in measured telomerase enzymatic activity.
This study provides a strong distinction between beneficial effects of short-term relaxation typical of a vacation versus acute intensive meditation for regular meditators.
So – rather than the stress (financial, mental and physical) of planning that holiday to a boutique resort, you could have a stay-cation and extend your meditation practices!
Travel is, however, good for the soul and the experience of other places brings its own benefits so perhaps the best solution is to meditate to become sedate and vacate in order to relate!