New research shows the health benefits of meditation both physically and mentally. Publishing in the journal Pschoneuroendocrinolgy, researchers from Wisconsin, Spain, and France have found that mindfulness meditation can cause molecular changes.
I am proof positive of the benefits of meditation. Before I started meditating seven years ago I spent little time in the present moment. I was stressed by the future and hurt by the past, constantly worrying what people thought of me. Meditation has reduced that weight dramatically. It’s made me feel lighter and more engaged in the present moment. And scientists are backing my experiences up with more and more research that shows the health benefits of meditation.
The study followed a group of practiced meditators and a control group of untrained subjects who engaged in quiet non-meditative activities. After eight hours of mindfulness meditation, the meditators showed a range of genetic differences in levels of pro-inflammatory genes.
“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first paper that shows rapid alterations in gene expression within subjects associated with mindfulness meditation practice,” says study author Richard J. Davidson, founder of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds and the William James and Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“Most interestingly, the changes were observed in genes that are the current targets of anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs,” says Perla Kaliman, first author of the article and a researcher at the Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona, Spain (IIBB-CSIC-IDIBAPS), where the molecular analyses were conducted.
Specifically, the genes in the meditating group showed less inflammation and faster recovery from stressful situations. At the beginning of the research when the two groups were studied, there was no difference in the two groups. However, the study did not look at the longterm impact of mediation, just changes in the two groups after a lengthy period of mediation.
“Our genes are quite dynamic in their expression and these results suggest that the calmness of our mind can actually have a potential influence on their expression,” Davidson says.
It’s all the more reason to add a meditation practice to your life. And it doesn’t have to be a big deal. Consider setting aside 10 minutes each morning. Find a secluded space to sit quietly. Set the alarm on your cell phone, close your eyes, and begin to watch your inhales and exhales. Commit to just a few minutes each day and as you feel comfortable, you can add five minutes. Over time you may even look forward to your meditation.
Meditation doesn’t stop you from thinking, so don’t get aggravated if you can’t stop the slew of thoughts that pop into your mind. Instead, watch your thoughts like a movie, without getting involved in them and attaching emotion. Over time, the relaxation you cultivate during meditation will carry over into your life, reducing stress and its impact on your body.
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Image: Jamesy Pena