Can Kind, Loving Thoughts Slow the Biological Aging Process?

We all know that kindness and compassion are very important in our lives, and most of us pursue to be kind and compassionate as often as possible. But did you know that focused intent of kind and loving thoughts could actually benefit your physical health as well as your psychological wellbeing?

A recent study from the University of North Carolina suggests exactly this. The study, published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, found that regular practice of Loving Kindness Meditation appears to slow down the rate of attrition in telomeres, which are a vital part of the biological aging process.

What are Telomeres?

Telomeres are biological caps at the end of each strand of our DNA. Formed by replicating sequences of base pairs, their function is to protect chromosomes from deterioration and to facilitate cell division. Each time a cell divides, between 30-200 base pairs are lost from the telomere until eventually the telomere is too short to allow cell division, and the cell dies. A white blood cell telomere may contain around 8000 base pairs in a newborn baby, dropping to approximately 3000 in an adult and 1500 in an older person.

The Effects of Loving Kindness Meditation on Telomeres

During the twelve-week study, groups of middle-aged adults who had never meditated before were selected to be taught either Mindfulness Meditation or Loving Kindness Meditation. A third group, the control group, was wait-listed and did not receive any meditation tuition. The meditation tuition workshops took place weekly between weeks 3 and 9 and participants were encouraged to meditate daily. The telomere lengths of all participants were assessed two weeks before the study began and three weeks after it ended.

The results showed that telomere length in all three groups had shortened, but that in the Loving Kindness Meditation group, it had shortened by significantly less. This suggests that the focused intent behind sending out loving thoughts to the world can have a real, physiological effect on the aging process. By slowing the rate at which a telomere shortens, the life span of that cell is effectively prolonged.

It is not yet fully understood whether telomeres actively contribute to the aging process or whether they are merely indicators of aging taking place, but anything which slows down telomere attrition is likely to have a positive effect on longevity. The study also demonstrates that the effects take place quite quickly, within weeks of beginning to meditate, so it’s not necessary to be a meditation expert in order to experience the benefits.

Of course, telomere length is not the only thing affecting the aging process. Another key component in why we age is oxidative stress – but studies have shown that meditation can help to reduce this too.

What’s Special About Loving Kindness Meditation Compared to Mindfulness?

Mindfulness Meditation involves a shift of attention, either into focused attention or into open awareness. Loving Kindness Meditation, on the other hand, involves a shift of emotion. Mindfulness Meditation has been extensively studied and has shown numerous benefits of its own but the attention shift probably activates different areas of the brain to those activated by the emotional shift of Loving Kindness Meditation. It may be the activation of socio-emotional brain processes in Loving Kindness Meditation which triggers the telomere effect.

Interestingly, shorter telomeres have also been linked to anxiety, whereas longer ones have been linked to optimism and emotional intelligence, suggesting that the complex links between positivity or happiness and longevity are starting to be uncovered.

Getting Started with Loving Kindness Meditation

Loving Kindness Meditation or METTA BHAVANA comes from the Buddhist tradition and it involves radiating unconditional love to all living beings.

To get started with Loving Kindness Meditation, you can follow these 5 easy steps:

1. Sit comfortably, somewhere quiet, where you will be undisturbed for ten minutes or so. Quieten your mind and become aware of your ANAHATA CHAKRA. In order to offer unconditional love to others, you first need to be aware of God offering love to you as He does to all His creation, so begin by spending a few moments bathing yourself in His love and kindness. Alternatively, you could repeat a simple phrase over and over to yourself, such as “I am filled with love, I am blissful, I am free.”

2. Shift your emotional intent towards someone you choose – not a direct family member, but perhaps a good friend or someone you know personally and respect. Bathe them in love and kindness. You can do this by reflecting on their qualities, or through visualization, or by praying for them.

3. After you do this, shift your emotional intent towards a neutral person. This should be someone you have met but about whom you have no particular feelings – for example, a co-worker, a neighbor or someone who served you in a restaurant. Bathe them in love and kindness, following the same method as above.

4. Next, shift your attention to someone you have tense feelings about; someone you dislike, for whatever reason. Bathe them in love and kindness, as above, to the best of your ability. Many people find this difficult initially. If you sense that you’re losing the radiating love stream, you can briefly return to step one and start to channel love again, so that you can then come back to this step and radiate it towards the person you dislike.

5. Finally, when you have successfully completed the above, you can radiate love outwards towards the wider world. If it’s too difficult to think of all living beings then you can take it step by step. For example you can work geographically, by sending love and kindness to everyone in your immediate vicinity, then your whole town, then your county, then your country and so on.

Most people find steps 1-3 to be quite easy, but 4 and 5 take practice and perseverance. Since this world is so much in need of love and kindness, however, it is well worth the effort – and also remember that recent science suggests that it may just improve your own longevity too.


April 24, 2020


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