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How yoga, meditation benefit the mind and body

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Yoga and meditation have both become increasingly popular in the Western world, and practitioners praise their psychological and physical benefits. Current research also suggests that meditating and doing yoga can boost overall well-being and resilience to stress factors. A new study suggests that yoga and meditation are beneficial for physical and mental well-being and that they improve resilience to stress.

Increasingly, yoga practice and meditation have been the focus of research aiming to test their benefits. Recently, Medical News Today has reported on a wealth of studies pointing to many different advantages of yoga and meditation, including countering cognitive decline, acting on genetic factors that predispose individuals to stress, improving lower back pain, and easing depression. A new paper published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience now shows that yoga and meditation appear to have a positive effect on the central nervous system as well as the immune system and that it may improve the individuals' overall sense of well-being.

How yoga, meditation benefit the mind and body

The study - led by Dr B Rael Cahn, from the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles - was part of a larger body of research addressing different approaches to promoting resilience.

Yoga and meditation may improve resilience

Dr Cahn and team worked with some of the participants at a 3-month yoga and meditation retreat. At this retreat, the participants engaged in daily meditation and yoga practice, and they followed a vegetarian diet.

Of the 200 participants (both male and female), 98 volunteered to participate in tests measuring particular biomarkers. However, due to a lack of funding, only 38 volunteers (19 male and 19 female) underwent these assessments.

Additionally, due to circumstances that rendered some of the data unusable, biological samples collected from 26 of these volunteers were analyzed.

Many participants had previous experience of practising yoga and meditation on a frequent basis, including Shoonya and Samyama meditation, Hatha yoga, and pranayama.

The participants were assessed both before and after participating in the yoga retreat. They had to undergo:

  1. psychometric tests that collected data about their psychological well-being, mindfulness, and psychological involvement

  2. measurements of the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is a protein that promotes the survival and growth of various nerve cells and is involved in immune response, metabolic regulation, and resilience to stress

  3. assessment of the "cortisol awakening response" (CAR), which measured the secretion of cortisol, a hormone involved in the interaction between the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal gland (also known as the "HPA axis")

  4. measurements of pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokine levels, which are involved in the functioning of the immune system

After analyzing the data, the team found that engagement in the yoga and meditation practices at the retreat was associated with decreased anxiety and depression levels - as reported by the participants - as well as with an increase in their level of mindfulness.

From a biological point of view, the scientists noted an increase in BDNF plasma levels, as well as a strengthened CAR, suggesting improved resilience to stress factors.

The data also showed an increase of an anti-inflammatory cytokine (interleukin-10) and a corresponding decrease in a pro-inflammatory cytokine (interleukin-12), which led to a reduction of inflammatory processes.

"It is likely that at least some of the significant improvements in both HPA axis functioning as exemplified by the CAR as well as neuroimmunologic functioning as exemplified by increases in BDNF levels and alterations in cytokines were due to the intensive meditation practice involved in this retreat," suggests Dr Cahn.

Potential benefits to the nervous system

The researchers believe that the various biological improvements gathered from the collected data indicate an enhanced overall sense of physical and psychological well-being.

They highlight that their results may point to an enhanced functioning of certain elements of the central nervous system, a healthier immune system, and a strengthened sense of focus and awareness.

posted Aug 20 by Mahendra.h.s

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 At first, I couldn’t believe that a simple daily meditation practice affected my life so powerfully. So, I started doing research and devoured all of the scientific studies on meditation that I could find. I was amazed at what I found – it turns out meditation can transform nearly every area of your life.

Here are fourteen scientifically proven ways of meditation rewires your brain for happiness, peace and success.

1: Meditation reduces stress

Feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders? Meditation is incredibly effective at reducing stress and anxiety. One study found that mindfulness and zen type meditations significantly reduce stress when practised over a period of three months. Another study revealed that meditation literally reduces the density of brain tissue associated with anxiety and worrying. If you want your stress levels to plummet, meditation may be the answer.

2: Meditation increases your sense of well-being

Want to fill your life with happiness and energy? Mindfulness meditation increases your psychological functioning and the process improves your sense of well-being. Yoga and tai chi have been found to do this also – according to studies, they have significant therapeutic effects and increase the quality of life when practised regularly.

3: Meditation increases your sense of connectedness and empathy

Feeling a little disconnected from those around you? Try compassion meditation. Lovingkindness meditation (sometimes called Metta) is a compassion-based meditation that enhances brain areas associated with mental processing and empathy. It also increases your sense of social connectedness. Not a hugging person? You just might become one after trying metta!

4: Meditation improves focus

Would you love to add razor-edge focus to your life? Research shows that meditation improves cognition and increases your ability to perform tasks requiring focus. One study tested a variety of different meditation types, including Transcendental Meditation, Vipassana, Tibetan Buddhist Meditation, Sufi Meditation and Hindu Meditation, and found that they all improve focus by varying degrees. I used to think coffee was the best way to get focused – now I just meditate.

5: Meditation improves relationships

Want to strengthen your relationships? Meditation has been shown to better your ability to relate to others. How? It improves your ability to empathize, and it hones your ability to pick up on cues indicating how others are feeling. Meditation also increases your emotional stability, making you less likely to be influenced by any negative people in your life.

6: Meditation makes you more creative

Ever feel like you could use some more inspiration? Meditation increases your creativity, according to various studies. It’s no wonder that famous creatives like Yoko Ono, David Lynch and Marina Abramović make meditation a major part of their life.

7: Meditation improves memory

Whether you want to become a memory champion or you simply want to remember the name of that guy who works down the hall, meditation can help. Research has shown that it improves your ability to memorize things and to store and consolidate new information.

8: Meditation improve your ability to make decisions

There’s a reason high powered executives turn to meditation to help them do their jobs better. Studies have found that both mindfulness meditation and Transcendental Meditation help you make better decisions by improving the functioning of your brain’s decision-making centres. If you want to start cultivating your inner executive, give meditation a try.

9: Meditation helps people overcome addictions

Do you know someone who has struggled with addiction? One of the most beautiful effects of meditation is that it can help people overcome powerful addictions. One fascinating study found that Vipassana meditation can be incredibly effective at helping people overcoming alcohol and drug-related addictions, and similar effects have been found for various types of meditation.

10: Meditation improves cardiovascular health

Want to get some of the benefits of exercise by sitting in one place? Researchers have found that both mindfulness and Transcendental Meditation improve your cardiovascular health and reduce your risk of heart disease.

11: Meditation enhances your immune system

Do you get sick more often than you would like? Believe it or not, a variety of different types of meditation, from mindfulness to yoga, have been shown to strengthen the human immune system and make you more resistant to viruses and infections. Take that, cold season.

12: Meditation helps you find “flow”

Have you ever felt totally, utterly absorbed at the moment? Maybe you were playing a sport or painting a picture, and the world around you just seemed to vanish. This is called “flow,” and is a rare state where the human mind is operating in complete harmony with itself when you reach a challenge perfectly suited to your abilities. Meditation can help you reach this amazing state of mind, according to some fascinating research.

13: Meditation reduces physical and emotional pain (better than morphine)

Perhaps the most amazing benefit of meditation is that it has the capability to reduce mental and physical pain better than morphine. Yep, you read that right. That’s a pretty incredibly scientific finding.

14: Meditation takes you towards enlightenment?

Traditionally, the goal of meditation is to reach Enlightenment or a state of perfect happiness and understanding. Can you reach enlightenment by meditating? Who’s to say? Many people say yes, although science still doesn’t have an answer. If you’re curious, there is a podcast dedicated to interviewing people who claim to have reached some stage of enlightenment called Buddha at the Gas Pump. 

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Yoga and meditation typically go hand-in-hand and have been around for thousands of years. They have been used as an alternative form of exercise to keep the mind and body healthy and happy. Practicing yoga improves balance, endurance, flexibility, and strength, while meditation helps keep the mind sharp, relieves stress and anxiety, and can strengthen your immune system.

Following a few simple poses, breathing techniques, and positive coping skills can help retirees manage stress, improve mental clarity, manage chronic conditions, and promote a healthier lifestyle. With so many health benefits linked to these traditional practices, many Baby Boomers are taking notice and incorporating these techniques into their lifestyle. Check out these ten surprising benefits of yoga and meditation

Treats Back Pain

Believe it or not, doing a few yoga poses throughout the week can help with chronic back pain. Studies have shown that stretching exercises and poses have improved spinal flexibility and helped ease lower back pain problems in people after just one week of yoga.

Helps with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Iyengar yoga, which is a type of yoga that uses blocks, belts, and other positioning props, has been shown to help people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Hot yoga, like Bikram and gentle yoga, has also been shown to help because of its slow, easy-paced poses and movements that benefit the joints, bones, and muscles.

Hangover Cure

While you may not want to move or get out of bed when nursing a hangover, experts say that doing yoga can detox your system and get you feeling fresh much faster. Certain yoga poses like “plow”, “bow”, or “shoulder stand” work on the thyroid gland, which improves the metabolism to kick those toxins out of your system. By reversing the blood flow and bringing more circulation to the brain, your body will create balance and spring back to life. Not only are you getting rid of your hangover faster, but also blasting fat and cellulite.

Improves Heart Health

When it comes to heart health, Baby Boomers need to be wary and maintain a healthy lifestyle as much as possible. Thanks to yoga and meditation, keeping your heart healthy is easy. Studies have shown that yoga is linked to a reduced risk of heart disease because of its cardiovascular benefits that eliminate arterial plaque. Meditation also helps lower heart rate and improve blood circulation. Meditating one time a day for ten minutes can help you relax, reduce stress hormones, lower your blood pressure, and allow for better blood flow.

Helps with Asthma

If you suffer from asthma then you might want to take up yoga. Research has shown that adults with mild to moderate asthma who did an eight-week session of yoga combined with their regular meds saw a marked improvement. Pranayama is a type of yoga that focuses on breathing techniques that have shown to be especially effective against asthma.

Improves Digestion

If you have trouble with your daily fiber intake and can’t get things moving easily then practicing yoga can be a tremendous help. There are many yoga poses, twists, and moves that massage internal organs that help food move along in your digestive system. Yoga also stimulates the lymphatic system that helps flush out toxins, making your body cleaner. Meditation can also help with symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD) by reducing the frequency of stress-related flare-ups.

Sleep Better

In order to live a healthy, balanced lifestyle you need to get enough rest so you can function the next day. If you have trouble sleeping or suffer from insomnia, yoga can greatly improve your sleep quality. Doing yoga twice a week helped people sleep better, reduce stress, and lower anxiety. Meditation and breathing techniques also help clear your mind so you can relax and slow down your thoughts, allowing you the peace of mind to get a good night’s sleep.

Mood Booster

Yoga and meditation have been linked with emotional health boosts. Studies have shown that yoga and meditation help improve cognitive-behavioral performance as well as aid with mood swings, menopause, schizophrenia, insomnia, depression, and anxiety. Practicing yoga in a group setting also stimulates the production of oxytocin, which is the love hormone, and it also produces higher serotonin levels, which is the happy hormone. Combined, these hormones dramatically improve someone’s mood.

Combat Migraines

No one likes to endure the pain of a migraine. That’s why it’s beneficial to practice yoga to fight them off. One of the recommended moves that alleviate migraines is the “bridge pose.” You lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet hip-width apart on the floor. With your hands on the floor, press down into your legs and draw your hips up. The trick is to relax the tension in your muscles from your neck and shoulders, which can be misaligned or stressed from hunching over a computer or phone all day long.

Mental Clarity

A healthy dose of yoga and meditation will keep your brain sharp and clear. Simple yoga practices and breathing techniques allow you to free your mind from “clutter” that trickles down to your physical well-being. Slow breathing and yoga poses will help your memory and keep your thoughts more organized once you get rid of stress, anxiety, and negative thinking. Reaching a place of quiet peacefulness is the key to healthy memory function.

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