How yoga, meditation benefits the mind and body
Both yoga and meditation have become increasingly popular in the Western world, and practitioners praise their psychological and physical benefits. Current research also suggests that doing meditation and yoga can increase overall well-being and resilience to stressors.
Increasingly, yoga practice and meditation are the focus of research aimed at testing their benefits. Recently, Medical News Today reported several studies pointing to the many different benefits of yoga and meditation, including combating cognitive decline, acting on genetic factors that predispose individuals to stress. It improves low back pain, and reduces depression.
A new paper published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience now shows that yoga and meditation have positive effects on the central nervous system as well as the immune system, and can improve individuals’ overall well-being.
The study – led by Dr. B. Rayl Kahn 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 flexibility
Dr. Kahn and team worked with some participants on a 3-month yoga and meditation retreat. In this retreat, participants engaged in daily meditation and yoga practice, and followed a vegetarian diet.
Of the 200 participants (both male and female), 98 volunteered to take part in trials measuring particular biomarkers. However, due to lack of funding, only 38 volunteers (19 male and 19 female) completed these assessments.
Additionally, due to conditions that rendered some of the data unusable, biological samples collected from 26 of these volunteers were analyzed.
Many participants had previous experience practicing yoga and meditation consistently, including zero and abstinence meditation, hatha yoga and pranayama.
Participants were assessed before and after participating in the yoga retreat. They had to go through:
Psychometric tests that collect data about their psychological well-being include trusted sources, mindfulness, and assigned sources in psychological
Measurement of brain-derived neurotrophic factor reliable source (BDNF), which is a protein that promotes the survival and development of various nerve cells and is involved in immune response, metabolic regulation and resilience to stress.
Evaluation of the “cortisol wakefulness response” (CAR), which measured the secretion of cortisol, a hormone involved in the interaction between the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal gland (also known as the “HPA axis”).
Measurement of pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokine levels, which are involved in immune system functioning
After analyzing the data, the team found that engagement in yoga and meditation practices at the retreat was associated with lower anxiety and depression levels — as reported by the participants — as well as increased levels of their mindfulness.
From a biological point of view, the scientists noted an increase in BDNF plasma levels as well as a stronger CAR, suggesting better resilience to stress factors.
The data showed an increase of an anti-inflammatory cytokine (interleukin-10) and a corresponding decrease in a pro-inflammatory cytokine (interleukin-12), leading to a reduction in inflammatory processes.
“It is likely that there is at least some significant improvement in both HPA axis functioning as exemplified by CAR, as well as increased BDNF levels and changes in cytokines, meditation benefits neuroimmunological functioning, as exemplified by the intense meditation practice involved in this withdrawal. The reason was “Dr. Cahn suggests.
Potential benefits to the nervous system
Researchers believe that the various biological improvements gathered from the collected data increase an overall sense of physical and psychological well-being.
They highlight that their results may point to better functioning of certain elements of the central nervous system, a healthier immune system, and a stronger sense of focus and awareness.
“The observed increased BDNF signaling [is] possibly related to enhanced neurogenesis and/or neuroplasticity, increased CAR likely related to enhanced alertness and readiness for mind-body engagement, and increased anti- and pro-inflammatory cytokines possibly indicating enhanced immunological readiness.”
Dr. B. Rael Cahn
Meditation benefits In addition, the researchers suggest that there is an exciting possibility that some of the effects seen after the retreat suggest that meditation and yoga may stimulate the hippocampus to function better.
“An interesting potential link between effects on BDNF and CAR is hippocampal functional integrity, as increases in BDNF levels due to physical exercise have been previously related to hippocampal neurogenesis and possibly related to its positive effects on well-being and depression.” Dr. Can says.
Still, scientists caution that not all of these positive effects may be due to yoga and meditation. Some, they suggest, may be due to the influence of individuals’ dietary practices, social interactions, or yoga and meditation teachers.
Still, Dr. Cahn and his team are excited by the results of their research and believe they are the basis for further studies on the potential physical and psychological benefits of yoga meditation benefits and meditation.
“To our knowledge, our study is the first to examine a wide range of pro- and anti-inflammatory markers in a healthy population before and after a yoga-meditation intervention. Our findings are important for the replication, specificity and assessment of long-term effects of these findings.” The study of yoga and meditation retreats justifies further study,” Dr. Cahn concluded.