Benedict Cumberbatch is probably the It Guy in filmdom’s galaxy these days. A continuous roll of outstanding performances, including his current, multiple award-nominated role as Alan Turing in “The Imitation Game,” puts him very much in the public’s eye. In fact, just this morning he was nominated for an Oscar for that role.
But, according to Cumberbatch, what has helped him get where he is today is being a meditator. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal last week, Cumberbatch said, “I meditate a lot. That’s a huge tool in trying to calm myself, get away from the crazy circus of it all, have a focused mind as well as be a kinder, considerate person in the world.”
After studying drama at Manchester University, Cumberbatch taught English to Tibetan Buddhist monks in Darjeeling. “It was a profoundly formative experience at a very young age. It’s something I’ve tried to keep in my life.”
And there’s good scientific reason for the profound effect that meditation has on our health. A 2013 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that exposure to chronic stress – the kind that sets off our fight-or-flight response – changes the way that genes are activated in our immune cells. Epigenetics, which studies what turns genes “on” or “off,” tells us that too much stress over time ignites the cells to fight an infection that doesn’t actually exist – this leads to increased inflammation, and increased inflammation can lead to chronic health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, obesity, cancer and more.
A 2014 study published in Psychoneuroendocrinology found that meditating for at least 25 minutes a day, three days a week, reduces stress.
Bottom line: Everything we can do to reduce stress increases our chances of a healthier life, and meditation has become an increasingly popular method – I have used it and recommended it to my patients for more than 25 years. I suggest at least 20 minutes per day, every day, and my patients say it makes a difference in their sense of well being, not to mention their health.
Cumberbatch, like other celebrities, also knows meditation’s benefits. He has good company: Goldie Hawn, The Beatles, Kobe Bryant, the Seattle Seahawks, Lena Dunham, Hugh Jackman, Phil Jackson, Oprah Winfrey, Anderson Cooper, Arianna Huffington, U.S. Rep Tim Ryan, and more. The list is long, the positive results verifiable.
Powell, D., et al, Social stress up-regulates inflammatory in the leukocyte transcriptome via B-adrenergic induction of myelopoiesis, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2013.
Crewswell, D., et al. Brief mindfulnessness meditation training alters psychological and neuroendocrine responses to social evaluative stress, Psychoneuroendocrinology, 2014.