woman on the beach practising meditation

How yoga and meditation improves stress resilience

Mind-body interventions like yoga and meditation have a profound effect on our mental and physical health.

While we are learning so much about the benefits of such interventions, very little is known about how yoga and meditation affect mind-body health.

A new study from the University of California investigates the effect of yoga and meditation on brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) – the activity on the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) effects and inflammatory markers.

BDNF is a key protein that promotes development, survival and plasticity of neurons in the central and peripheral nervous systems.

The researchers believe that the biological changes observed in the study are related to meditation practice during the retreat with some of the changes being linked to the physical aspect of the retreat – yoga practice – including the diet.

In this study, 38 participants with an average age of 34 years, took part in a three month retreat which involved meditation and yoga.

Prior to the retreat many participants maintained a yoga and meditation practice which included Shoonya mediation, Samyama meditation and Hatha yoga including pranayama practice.

The frequency of such practice was collected before the retreat started.

The 3 month residential retreat also included a vegetarian diet and a full daily schedule where the participants did not engage in normal work activities but participated in projects around the retreat centre.

During the retreat the participants engaged in open awareness meditation, “no thought” mediation and focused-attention meditation. They also practiced physical postures with a focus on mantras, controlled breathing, hatha yoga and chanting.

The researchers measured BDNF, circadian salivary cortisol levels and pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines besides recording psychometric measures.

Participants filled out pre-retreat psychometric questionnaires and post-retreat psychometric questionnaires for researchers to investigate variables such as mindfulness, absorption, depression and anxiety. This helped them understand the relationship between psychological improvements and biological changes.

The researchers  noticed an increase in the plasma levels of BDNF, a neuromodulator that plays an important role in learning, memory and the regulation of complex processes such as inflammation, immunity, mood regulation, stress response and metabolism.

They also found an increase in the cortisol awakening response (CAR) – part of the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis (HPA), which suggests improved stress resilience.

There was a decrease in inflammatory processes caused by an increase of the anti-inflammatory cytokine Interleukin-10 and a reduction of the pro-inflammatory cytokine Interleukin-12 after the retreat.

The researchers believe that the biological changes observed in the study are related to meditation practice during the retreat with some of the changes being linked to the physical aspect of the retreat – yoga practice – including the diet.

Such changes are indicative of mind-body integration that takes place while enhancing our wellbeing and improving our stress resilience.

Yoga and meditation practice has many positive health benefits and now we know some of the  biological mechanisms that occur in our body when we engage in such practices.

This study further justifies that rolling out your yoga mat and engaging in interventions like yoga and meditation is the right thing to do for your health and wellbeing.

Source: Frontiers in Human Neuroscience

Meena Azzollini

Meena Azzollini

Meena is passionate about holistic wellbeing, alternative healing, health and personal power and uses words to craft engaging feature articles to convey her knowledge and passion. She is a freelance writer and content creator from Adelaide, Australia, who draws inspiration from family, travel and her love for books and reading.

A yoga practitioner and a strong believer in positive thinking, Meena is also a mum to a very active young boy. In her spare time, she loves to read and whip up delicious meals. She also loves the smell of freshly made coffee and can’t ever resist a cheesecake. And she gets tickled pink by anything funny!

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