Why meditation may boost your immune system on a molecular level
Meditation is not my strong suit. I’m less of an “ancient practice that aligns your mind and body” person and more of a “scrolls and clicks on the most upsetting headline” person. I have made several attempts to remedy this (using my fuzzy white carpet as a makeshift meditation pillow, burning incense, indulging my inner child), but an article promising to reveal “Five Ways We’re All Doomed” is enough to derail my best intentions.
Needless to say, I would not be a helpful addition to the Isha Institute of Inner Sciences, where people are so good at nourishing their souls, they were perfect participants in a neuroscience study on meditation and the brain. You can read about that story and more in today’s Inverse Daily. I’m Ashley Bardhan, the newsletter writer at Inverse. How will you keep calm today?
“The rules were characteristically strict,” writes Nick Keppler, “For eight days, participants at the Isha Institute of Inner Sciences’ April 2018 advanced retreat were instructed to meditate for ten hours a day, eat a vegan diet, maintain consistent sleep and wake up times, and remain entirely silent.”
Although difficult, the retreat’s parameters were ideal controls for a science experiment. And so they were — the retreat allowed neuroscientist Vijayendran Chandran and his researchers to study meditation “at the molecular level.”
The study’s results were novel. It seems that meditation activates genes associated with the immune system, but not inflammation, providing an immediate boost.
This is why we care: You probably don’t need to go on an eight-day vegan meditation retreat for the study’s results to be relevant. Researchers plan to study if casual meditation elicits the same immune-boosting response, but even still, it’s a promising start as we continue to battle illnesses like Covid-19.
Then get loud: Does scream therapy work?
Beyond our Solar System, there are a lot of planets. Like, thousands, maybe even millions of planets. But because they’re so far away, it’s difficult for scientists to spot them, let alone determine whether or not they’d make good homes for humans. This is where the James Webb Space Telescope, now nearly at its destination, comes in.
“If there is an atmosphere that is reasonably like Earth, Webb will have the sensitivity to start to detect this water vapor,” says Knicole Colón, the James Webb Space Telescope Deputy Project Scientist for Exoplanet Science at NASA, in conversation with Inverse.
But the Webb telescope is no miracle. “What Webb does depends on how it is being used,” says Colón, “like using a camera and using a certain filter, just like you would use, say, a Snapchat filter on your phone. There’s a certain scale of colors of light that we can collect with Webb and we can take that snapshot and then dissect the light.”
This is why we care: As the most powerful telescope of its kind ever, the Webb is capable of bringing us key images and information for moving our species elsewhere. But experts like Colón know its limitations, and it’s important to know science from fiction, no matter what Elon Musk tweets.
But wait, there’s more: The Webb telescope will show us planets like never before
Inverse is exploring the climate crisis in Tajikistan’s Pamir Mountains in a three-part series. In part one, written by investigative reporter Klas Lundstrom, readers are invited to meet the Tajikistan residents whose livelihoods are already being threatened by climate change.
“Unpredictable climate patterns have both turned winters cruelly cold and summers punishingly dry,” writes Lundstrom, “The soil is becoming saltier, and the animals are less able to survive the winters — despite the price-inflated food brought in from Dushanbe.”
Residents are mourning the loss of seasons, healthy grass, and affordable food.
This is why we care: The “climate crisis” has a certain ominous ambiguity to it, but it’s not a description of a doomed future, it’s our present. Some parts of the world will be hit sooner and harder than others, and those places, like Tajikistan, should inform our approach to climate change as soon as possible.
Prepare for all of it: The climate crisis at the roof of the world
There’s always time to take another look into the past. You never know what you might notice at second glance — a Bronze Age horse, perhaps?
“We can learn a lot about the first urban societies by the intricate artifacts they left behind,” writes card story editor Jennifer Walter. “The Standard of Ur, which was crafted by ancient Sumerians, shows scenes of war and peace. Wagons and weapons abound, with animals towing people along.”
Those animals are called kungas, belonging to the same genus as horses and donkeys but aren’t either. In fact, a new study reveals that kungas are a hybrid species.
This is why we care: Diving into equus history is a little niche, but this learning about this early hybrid species and the people that created it gives us a fascinating insight into our ancient relationship to animals.
But we have those, too: Where did domestic horses come from?
About this newsletter: Do you think it can be improved? Have a story idea? Want to share a story about the time you met an astronaut? Send those thoughts and more to firstname.lastname@example.org.