11 July 2012

Ian Gawler Blog: St Petersburg and telemorase

This blog brings news from Russia, and fascinating research demonstrating how meditation can increase your levels of telomerase. But first -

Thought for the day:
Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.
                                                          - Mark Twain

St Petersburg. City of Tzars and Tzarinas, revolutions and opulence. A somewhat decayed edge with multiple restorations in progress. More like Paris than anywhere we have been; the similar pale blue/pink light and routinely beautiful.

Catherine the Great. Now there is a woman. Supplanted her husband when Tsar, installed herself as Tsarina, took multiple lovers and ruled over all of Russia from 1762 to 1796. Quite a role model for Queen Victoria in the next century - although not so sure about the lovers for the English Queen!

St Petersburg. Home of Ruth’s two grandfathers. Jewish men living in a city that did not welcome your average Jew at that time. Two men with enough talent to over-ride the obstacle of their bloodline. One a musician, the other an architect. Living in a city within a land that challenges conventional thinking.

Churchill’s famous quote “Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”. At times there seems to have been scant regard for the blood of men when it came to revolution and staggeringly harsh reforms. There have been times too, marked by the excesses of power and the willingness to display it in lavish and finely adorned palaces. Long live the revolution!

Everyone we meet is warm and friendly, but this is a land where one is forced to think of man’s potential to wield power over his fellow man. Of what is fair and reasonable and just and honourable. And what to do when it is not. Of when to stay, and when to go. The grandfathers left in 1921, just before Lennin closed the doors and the intelligencia began to suffer deeply. Long live the revolution!

We take the soft option and tour the Hermitage. Get up close and personal with Leonardo – da Vinci that is, along with his mates Michelangelo, Raphael and Caravaggio. Close enough to examine the masterworks intimately and to almost feel we are in the presence of Rembrandt’s subjects; their psychology captured in time by strokes of paint that are either precise or imprecise as the occasion demands. Awe inspiring craftsmanship. Such a privilege to see it all so close.

On another day we enter the Cathedral of St Isaac, adorned with mosaics so fine they appear to be paintings. We move past the array of icons tiered on high, enter a vestry, and join with a Russian Orthodox service where the chanting reaches deep into the heart; stills and stirs it simultaneously. The growling depths of the men’s bass amidst those ethereal harmonies gets me every time.

Next we walk at the speed a tourist’s schedule requires in an attempt to find the Conservatorium of Music and the Marinsky Theatre, two venues for the violinist grandfather’s St Petersburg life.

For joy we manage to find them, enter the Conservatorium and persuade a warm-hearted but rather incredulous guard to let two Australian’s enter. The building is old and evocative. Maybe not so much has changed since grandfather’s day. We walk down creaking wooden halls with pianos, violins and operatic singing reverberating off the walls. I find it almost as moving as Ruth, who is delighted to connect with this part of her history.

We walked so far in St Petersburg I do not mind saying it took me a couple of days to fully recover. But then, recovery touring up river to Moscow, stopping now and then to visit Russian families, the most amazing wooden churches and recently revived monasteries; this is the price one happily pays for travel.

Tomorrow? Oh yes, tomorrow it is Moscow.

1. Correction. In a recent Blog, I inadvertently claimed Dean Ornish demonstrated how a lifestyle program very similar to that in You Can Conquer Cancer and taught at the Gawler Foundation could lengthen telomeres. This was not correct. The program led to significant increases in the enzyme telemorase, which has many positive benefits as highlighted in the new study below. My apologies for this error and thanks to the reader who corrected me.

2. Meditation retreats – good for you, good for your telomerase. Good for longevity? Probably!

In 2010, Alan Wallace, a renowned meditation teacher, writer and researcher, brought together a remarkable team for the Shamatha Project. During an intensive 3 month retreat led by Wallace, a vast amount of scientific research data was recorded. Analysis is on-going but already some remarkably significant findings have been recorded.

Telomeres are protective DNA—protein complexes at the end of chromosomes. Telomere shortness is emerging as a prognostic marker of disease risk generally, along with the specific progression, and premature mortality in many types of cancer. Once telomeres become too short, we die! Happily, telomere shortening is counteracted by the cellular enzyme telomerase, but this shortening remains one of the root causes of aging. Delay telomere shortening, delay aging.

While in 2008, Dean Ornish showed that a lifestyle-based program, very similar to the one I have been involved with for 30 years, could increase telomerase levels, Wallace showed meditation could also achieve this outcome.

Collaborating with Elizabeth Blackburn, an Australian Nobel Prize laureate, Wallace demonstrated that meditation may improve a person’s psychological wellbeing and that when it did, these changes are related to telomerase activity in cells. Telomerase activity was 30% higher in the meditators compared to matched controls, and these changes have the potential to promote longevity in those cells.

Ref: Jacobs TL, Wallace A, Blackburn E et al, 2010 Psychoneuroimmunology Journal


  1. Always find your blog a great read Ian...living longer and HEALTHIER sounds almost too good to be true for some people but as a long time meditator and now teacher the possibilities are only an Om away.

  2. Thank you very much for your Blogs whilst traveling,Ian. Very interesting and entertaining read. Safe travels and do return before the oil runs out!

  3. Thoroughly enjoying the travel blogs Ian.
    Vert best wishes to you and Ruth.


  4. I don't mean to change topic but does anyone know the shelf life of the flax seed egg substitute recipe once it is jarred and refridgerated?