Charlie Knoles and his daughter.
There’s a particular buzz around meditation right now, probably a direct result of more than half of working American adults being seriously concerned about their stress levels. Studies—and history—have shown that regular practice can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and keep depression and anxiety at bay. If you’re more concerned with the external effects of stress, how’s this: regular meditation might even make you look younger. Recent studies show that long-term practice changes your body on a cellular level that might actually slow down aging. Vedic Meditation instructor Charlie Knoles says, “People are spending a fortune on anti-wrinkle creams even though many of them have no scientific backing for their claims. They could be getting a much better result from meditating.”
It’s a bold statement, but decades worth of research supports his theory. A study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience in the mid-‘80s measured the biological age of long and short-term meditators versus the general population. After measuring blood pressure, vision, hearing, and skin elasticity, the former appeared 12 years younger than the general population! Even short-term practitioners came up five years younger. Of course, Knoles isn’t surprised. “Look at any president,” he says. “In four years, they go from looking youthful, fresh, and vibrant to gray, haggard, and worn out.”
One study in Japan measured levels of the enzyme telomerase in a group attending a meditation retreat for three months. Telomerase repairs the caps at the ends of chromosomes, called telomeres. Fraying telomeres are one of the main genetic causes of aging, but meditators showed a huge increase in reparative telomerase at the end of their retreat, physical proof of reverse aging. “These studies have found that meditation actually causes your DNA to heal itself, repairing your cells from a genetic level, which is quite amazing,” says Knoles. Whether this directly affects the markers of aging—a slower body, wrinkles, and gray hair, is still being studied, but anything that tackles stress is beneficial.
Knoles sees the proof in both his students and himself. “You can see the way their skin shines, they look brighter, they look younger, there is a healthful glow that transcends age,” he says. “I can always tell who practices and who doesn’t.” Knoles has practiced every day since the age of four, thanks to his father Vedic Guru Thom Knoles and most people assume he’s in his twenties. “When I tell people that I am 37, there is an audible gasp,” he says. “Meditation is powerful.”