Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Studies on meditation flood the news these days, as Western doctors, researchers, and hospitals are learning what the Eastern philosophers have known for centuries: that meditation is good for our health. But the studies are almost always on simple seated meditation. That’s what makes this new study by the University of California, Los Angeles, so exciting—it involved yogic chanting.
How Chanting Helps Caregivers
The study was done to try and find ways to help caregivers for people with Alzheimers and other forms of dementia. More often than not, these caregivers—who number 5 million plus in the United States alone—are relatives who not only take care of the dementia patient (frequently a mom, dad, or spouse), but also have to be bear the daily reality that the personality of their loved one is changing. It’s a stressful position to be in, but, unsurprisingly (to us), meditation and chanting can help.
For the study, the researchers recruited 49 people, from 45-91 years old, who were taking care of relatives with dementia. The participants were divided into two groups: a yoga group and a simple relaxation group. Every day, the people in the yoga group performed a 12-minute yoga practice that included kirtan kriya, a chanting meditation used within Kundalini Yoga, at the same time for eight weeks. The participants in the relaxation group used a daily 12-minute block to chill out to a relaxing piece of music.
The people in the yoga group reported positive results that more than doubled those of the relaxation group. What’s more, those who did the kirtan kriya also showed improvement in cognitive functioning, and had increased telomerase activity. Telomerase is an enzyme that protects our cells, and prevents them from dying—so a boost in this enzyme (which is negatively affected by stress) can potentially add years to our lives.
Dr. Helen Lavretsky, a professor of psychiatry at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, published the findings recently in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. She stated that the kirtan kriya was chosen because it employed several elements of meditation—including chanting, mudras, and visualization—which offered not only relaxation benefits, but a mini workout for the brain, as well. Hari om!