Are there options? Are there decisions to be made?
Of the two certainties in life, one of them is pretty stark: death! (The other certainty is taxes, by the way!)
So one could legitimately argue that if death is ‘non-negotiable’ then it’s not even worth spending a moment dwelling on it. And certainly not worth the time and effort in writing about it!
But, of course, this misses a very big point. That is that doing all we can to improve our quality of life, especially in the Autumn of our lives, is very important.
That’s why a recent item on the BBC News website jumped off the page at me. It was an article called: Health kick ‘reverses cell ageing’ written by Michelle Roberts, Health editor, BBC News online. Here is how the article opened:
Going on a health kick reverses ageing at the cellular level, researchers say.
The University of California team says it has found the first evidence a strict regime of exercise, diet and meditation can have such an effect.
But experts say although the study in Lancet Oncology is intriguing, it is too early to draw any firm conclusions.
The study looked at just 35 men with prostate cancer. Those who changed their lifestyle had demonstrably younger cells in genetic terms.
“Reverses ageing”! How on earth can that work?
The researchers saw visible cellular changes in the group of 10 men who switched to a vegetarian diet and stuck to a recommended timetable of exercise and stress-busting meditation and yoga.
The changes related to protective caps at the end of our chromosomes, called telomeres.
Their role is to safeguard the end of the chromosome and to prevent the loss of genetic information during cell division.
As we age and our cells divide, our telomeres get shorter – their structural integrity weakens, which can tell cells to stop dividing and die.
Researchers have been questioning whether this process might be inevitable or something that could be halted or even reversed.
The latest work by Prof Dean Ornish and colleagues suggests telomeres can be lengthened, given the right encouragement.
Now if you, like me, are noticing some of the rather frustrating aspects of ageing, then this one piece of science research could turn out to be invaluable. But best not to get too carried away just now, as the BBC article underlines:
Prof Ornish said: “The implications of this relatively small pilot study may go beyond men with prostate cancer. If validated by large-scale randomised controlled trials, these comprehensive lifestyle changes may significantly reduce the risk of a wide variety of diseases and premature mortality.
“Our genes, and our telomeres, are a predisposition, but they are not necessarily our fate.”
Dr Lyn Cox, a biochemistry expert at Oxford University in the UK, said it was not possible to draw any conclusions from the research, but added: “Overall, though, the findings of this paper that changes in lifestyle can have a positive effect on markers of ageing support the calls for adoption of and adherence to healthier lifestyles.”
Dr Tom Vulliamy, senior lecturer in Molecular Biology at Queen Mary University of London, said: “It is really important to highlight that this is a small pilot study.
Nevertheless, here’s how the article ends:
But past work has shown that people who lead a sedentary lifestyle can experience accelerated cellular ageing in the form of more rapid shortening of their telomeres.
All of which rather embarrassingly reminds me that back on the 6th August, in a post called The habit of doing nothing, I set out Leo Babauta’s ‘How To Meditate‘ guide. Then, frankly, ignored it! So to me and all you other readers who would like to chill out like your dog, here’s that guide again.
How to Do It Daily
There are lots and lots of ways to meditate. But our concern is not to find a perfect form of meditation — it’s to form the daily habit of meditation. And so our method will be as simple as possible.
1. Commit to just 2 minutes a day. Start simply if you want the habit to stick. You can do it for 5 minutes if you feel good about it, but all you’re committing to is 2 minutes each day.
2. Pick a time and trigger. Not an exact time of day, but a general time, like morning when you wake up, or during your lunch hour. The trigger should be something you already do regularly, like drink your first cup of coffee, brush your teeth, have lunch, or arrive home from work.
3. Find a quiet spot. Sometimes early morning is best, before others in your house might be awake and making lots of noise. Others might find a spot in a park or on the beach or some other soothing setting. It really doesn’t matter where — as long as you can sit without being bothered for a few minutes. A few people walking by your park bench is fine.
4. Sit comfortably. Don’t fuss too much about how you sit, what you wear, what you sit on, etc. I personally like to sit on a pillow on the floor, with my back leaning against a wall, because I’m very inflexible. Others who can sit cross-legged comfortably might do that instead. Still others can sit on a chair or couch if sitting on the floor is uncomfortable. Zen practitioners often use a zafu, a round cushion filled with kapok or buckwheat. Don’t go out and buy one if you don’t already have one. Any cushion or pillow will do, and some people can sit on a bare floor comfortably.
5. Start with just 2 minutes. This is really important. Most people will think they can meditate for 15-30 minutes, and they can. But this is not a test of how strong you are at staying in meditation — we are trying to form a longer-lasting habit. And to do that, we want to start with just a two minutes. You’ll find it much easier to start this way, and forming a habit with a small start like this is a method much more likely to succeed. You can expand to 5-7 minutes if you can do it for 7 straight days, then 10 minutes if you can do it for 14 straight days, then 15 minutes if you can stick to it for 21 straight days, and 20 if you can do a full month.
6. Focus on your breath. As you breathe in, follow your breath in through your nostrils, then into your throat, then into your lungs and belly. Sit straight, keep your eyes open but looking at the ground and with a soft focus. If you want to close your eyes, that’s fine. As you breathe out, follow your breath out back into the world. If it helps, count … one breath in, two breath out, three breath in, four breath out … when you get to 10, start over. If you lose track, start over. If you find your mind wandering (and you will), just pay attention to your mind wandering, then bring it gently back to your breath. Repeat this process for the few minutes you meditate. You won’t be very good at it at first, most likely, but you’ll get better with practice.
And that’s it. It’s a very simple practice, but you want to do it for 2 minutes, every day, after the same trigger each day. Do this for a month and you’ll have a daily meditation habit.
Yet again, dogs offer us a great example.
For here’s a photograph of Pharaoh that I took just a few moments ago showing him deep in meditation behind my chair!