Meditation Connects Your Mind and Body
I believe meditation practice can be an important part of health and well-being. Meditation not only is a powerful means of relaxing, but also useful for addressing anxiety, managing pain, preventing disease and relieving stress.
Meditation Reduces Your Risk of Heart Disease and More
There is growing evidence demonstrating your mind and body are intricately connected, and wide acceptance that whatever is going on in your mind has some bearing on your physical health. Brain imaging has shown meditation alters your brain in beneficial ways, and scientists have identified thousands of genes that appear to be directly influenced by your subjective mental state. The mind-body connection is real, and what you think does affect your health.
In fact, research1 suggests a persistent negative state of mind is a risk factor for heart disease. Conversely, happiness, optimism, life satisfaction and other positive psychological states are associated with a lower risk of heart disease. The study authors said:2 “[The] findings suggest that positive psychological well-being protects consistently against cardiovascular disease, independently of traditional risk factors and ill-being. Specifically, optimism is most robustly associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular events.”
While some people appear to be born with a sunnier disposition than others, meditation has been shown to boost optimism and help regulate mood. Meditative practices have also been shown to help optimize your LDL cholesterol and lower your:3
- Blood pressure
- Heart rate
Such findings are consistent with a downregulation of your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and sympathetic nervous system, both of which are overactivated by stress. Stress is also a well-known risk factor for heart disease, making meditation all the more important. In addition to promoting heart health, meditation:
Your Brain Benefits From Meditation
Meditation can be considered a form of “mental exercise” for your brain. The goal is to continually draw your attention to your breath to the exclusion of everything else. Whenever your mind wanders, you seek to gently bring it back to your breath. According to Forbes.com, meditation helps us connect with and leverage our minds:6
“Through meditation, we get better acquainted with the behavior of our minds, and we enhance our ability to regulate our experience of our environment, rather than letting our environment dictate how we experience life.
With recent neuroscientific findings, meditation as a practice has been shown to literally rewire brain circuits that boost both mind and body health. These benefits of meditation have surfaced alongside the revelation that the brain can be deeply transformed through experience — a quality known as ‘neuroplasticity.’”
Indeed, neuroplasticity allows the nerve cells in your brain to adjust to new situations and changes in their environment. The short-term effects of meditation include enhancing attention, inhibiting inflammation, lowering blood pressure and reducing stress.
Long-term meditation benefits, reaped over time with consistent practice, include enhanced empathy and kindness, greater emotional resilience and increased gray matter in brain regions related to memory and emotional processing. As noted in one of the largest studies7 to date on meditation and the human brain, different types of meditation produce different changes to your brain.
Neuroscience researchers at Germany’s Max Planck Institute of Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences conducted a meditation program through which 300 participants were examined with respect to three different types of meditation, for three months each. Brain scans performed after each three-month program showed more gray matter in regions of the brain involved in each type of meditation, as compared to scans from the control group. The focal point for each type of meditation and the brain changes elicited were as follows: