Treating Depression with Meditation Plus Running

My digital subscription to the The New York Times often leads me to think about health and fitness.  This recent article about treating mood disorders through meditation combined with running is interesting.  Here’s the primary source for my comments :  Meditation Plus Running as a Treatment for Depression – The New York Times

images-1A disclaimer- I am a long term meditator.  I continue to practice Transcendental Meditation for an hour a day, as I have for the past for 44 years (two half-hour sessions daily).   I was also fortunate to have had the opportunity to have acquired several advanced TM meditation techniques.


I am also a fitness buff.  OK, I’m a fitness nut.  Since Jan. 1, 2016 I’ve averaged an 80 minute daily workout just about every day ( 84 sessions in three months). I am blessed to live in this time in history where we have something like the Strava Premium app that allow me to monitor my activity level and keep it up. I can’t recommend Strava enough!  It has been immensely useful to me in improving my engagement with the outdoors.  Here is  one of my 2016  training records graphics that is reinforcement for my continuing bicycling and hiking/jogging practice:

screenshot 18Check out the reader’s comments section after finishing the NYTimes article.

As one reader thoughtfully points out, the answers to some of the concluding questions in the article are already well established, and have been for thousands of years.

The science of yoga established that exercises and breathing techniques are performed in preparation for meditation.   When I was taught TM , we were also encouraged to engage in a brief 15 minute program of asanas (postures)  followed by a few minutes of pranayama (breathing techniques) before closing our eyes to start the practice.

Another way to think about the relationship between the two is this: rigorous exercise engages the fight/flight response, while meditation affects the parasympathetic nervous system ( reductions in blood pressure, breathing , heart rate).

Over the many years that I have been pairing exercise and meditation, I have gone both routes. At this point in my life I generally have a vigorous workout, then shower, and sit to practice a half hour of TM.  In my opinion, my meditation feels deeper than when I meditate first and then go at it outside.

My critique of this study is the same as my critique of other studies about meditation.  Many of these studies assign the term “meditation” to a broad range of mental practices  that have little in common with each other.  Some are concentration techniques, some are ” thinking about thinking”,  and at this point, I can tell you that what I am doing is  neither.  I can assure you, it is definitely not “hard work”, as one of the commenters states.

We are all exploring our own personal alternatives to stay on top of the tsunami of depression that modern society engenders.

I suggest you will need to do your own research, listen to your body, measure, and act accordingly.  But do take action, and consider pulling back the bow with a form of meditation that is enchanting enough that you might even continue the practice.


What’s Your “Fitness Age”? – 2014 version

The first “fitness calculator” I learned about was Dr. Oz’s Real Age.  It became popular several years ago.  Real Age is an online calculator that is based on the results of answering questions about 125 factors related to a person’s overall health, including health, feelings, diet, and fitness ( i.e., How often you eat fish versus red meat to exercise and sleep habits, asthma, smoking, aspirin use, cancer history, parental longevity, and conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes.). I took it once but didn’t get too worked up over using it more than once, even though my ” real age” was about 10 years younger than my actual age.

Now there appears to be a much briefer method of determining your relative fitness that is based on just 5 factors.

This 2013 study, from the  Norwegian University of Science and Technology,  reveals a more efficient, low-tech means of precisely assessing how well your body functions physically. It culminated in each of the 5,000 participants in taking a treadmill test assessing peak oxygen intake (VO2 max), or how well the body delivers oxygen to its cells. From the study, “VO2 max has been shown in large-scale studies to closely correlate with significantly augmented life spans, even among the elderly or overweight. In other words, VO2 max can indicate fitness age.”

The real value of this study is it’s apparent ability to establish one’s own VO2 max without the cost and inconvenience of paying for the medical procedure.  The researchers found that  just five measurements — waist circumference; resting heart rate; frequency and intensity of exercise; age; and sex — into an algorithm allowed them to predict a person’s VO2 max with noteworthy accuracy, according to their study, published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise

The researchers have used all of this data to create a free online calculator that allows you to determine your VO2 max without going to a lab. All you need to establish is your waist measurement and your resting heart rate.  You plug these numbers, along with your age, sex and frequency and intensity of exercise, into the calculator, and you’ll learn your fitness age.

From the NYTime article, “The results can be sobering. A 50-year-old man, for instance, who exercises moderately a few times a week, sports a 36-inch waist and a resting heart rate of 75 — not atypical values for healthy middle-aged men — will have a fitness age of 59. Thankfully, unwanted fitness years, unlike the chronological kind, can be erased, Dr. Wisloff says. Exercise more frequently or more intensely. Then replug your numbers and exult as your “age” declines. A youthful fitness age, Dr. Wisloff says, ‘is the single best predictor of current and future health’.”

I have been recording my heart rate on a daily basis for the past two months with an iPhone app called Cardiio .

Cardiio app on iPhone 5s
Cardiio app on iPhone 5s

While there are manual methods that don’t rely on a watch, the program’s charting features give you the ability to aggregate and share data. I  sent the summary results to my doctor, as I am concerned about my occasional heart rate drops into the high 30’s.  While heart rate is one of the five measurements in the Norwegian study that drove my “fitness age” to 38, I want to stick around to enjoy my fitness.

She referred me to a local sport-aware cardiologist for a screening after my own office EKG results were normal.  I’ll keep you posted, but in the meantime, I’m going to try and drop another inch off my waist line, continue hammering the backpacking and bicycling, and doing my TM twice daily, which I feel has resulted in a decreased resting heart rate after practicing it twice daily for 42 years.

What’s Your ‘Fitness Age’?. <<- click here for full New York Times article.




Across the Universe onto Canal St.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail has left me with a set of narrow skills that surprises me,  no matter where I might be.  Last night found me really hungry, but with no  time to find even a fast food restaurant, due to my back-to-back schedule of paid workshops here at the National Association of School Psychologists annual convention  here in New Orleans.  Walking  across the street , I  spotted  a seedy combination liquor store/ mini mart down a bit on Canal St. here by the Mississippi River.  I headed down and quickly found an isle next to the beer and wine section that set me chuckling to myself. Big bags of beef jerky and bags of assorted nuts.  Bingo. Instant meal time. I was all set.

Several events are clustering together here to set me thinking.  First, Mardi Gras, where the centuries old masking  and costuming rituals  are tapping into a deep human need to interact with the world in a way that we are not able to do in normal life.  Then thinking about the culture of  AT trail  names that enables us to shed our old routines and habits,  and  allowing us the possibility for a fresh view of  ourselves in the world.  And now reading in the New York Times about the passing of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who rose to fame by offering yet another transformation of perception, a transformation of consciousness for  anyone who would close their eyes and let go of thinking through the Transcendental Meditation technique. Maharishi’s death is impacting me more than any other death of a world leader , or media hero.
I  have practiced the technique daily  for some 38 years now, after learning it for $35 from my initiator, Bill Deknatel in Amherst, MA,  one auspicious day back in the fall of my 20th year.  One time was all it took for me to be hooked, with the quietest prompt and nudge from Bill in a quiet, sandalwood incense fragrant room.  It is a treasure of my life.
The Beatles have a part in bringing TM to me, for sure.  Read this article in today’s New York Times about the Beatles’ own need for transformation, for their desperation release from the cage of fame that prompted them to take their own turn at masking and renaming where they transformed themselves into Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and they gave the world what has been considered the greatest popular music album of all time.  It was around then that they traveled to Rishikesh, India to start TM and progress on their own path’s to Maharishi’s  map to “ unbounded infinite Being”.
I was fortunate to personally encounter Maharishi twice. Marcia and I spent a month at Queen’s University in London Ontario for a teacher training,  in 1972 I think.  One afternoon I was standing outside the lecture hall and was able to hand Mararishi a red rose, and that he gentle lifted and gazed at it for a bit and said, “Yesterday’s memories, tomorrow’s promises”.
Another time I was in La Antilla , Spain and preparing to be a full teacher of TM.   For two months , we lived in a small apartment on the ocean’s edge and met in a huge tent set up on the beach where we were taught by a Canadian , whose name might have been Guy Hatcher.  In the end, we received the final teaching instructions from Maharishi himself.  He was the real deal.