Meditation and the Mind-Body Connection
In this article, we will shine light on the intimate mind-body connection and how meditation positively impacts the delicate balance between the physical systems of the body and the psychological processes of the mind.
The mind-body connection is perhaps one of the most fascinating phenomena in the entire universe. Ever since the dawn of civilization, humans have always been intrigued by how their thoughts and emotions can generate bodily sensations and vice versa.
In fact, understanding the mind-body connection is the key to both physical and mental health. There are times when emotional problems can cause physical suffering and situations when medical conditions can negatively impact our emotional state.
The point is, when the body suffers, the mind suffers as well and vice versa. Fortunately, the same principle applies to healing, when the mind heals, the body heals as well, and vice versa. Meditation is the perfect tool to bring the body and mind back to its optimal homeostatic state.
A great body of research now suggests that meditation can have potent physiological benefits such as a lowered blood pressure and heart rate as well as induction of a series of biological events that effectively oppose the stress response .
Mind-body practices such as yoga and mindfulness are now gaining popularity with about 14% of the U.S. adult population report having incorporated some use of these techniques in their daily lives . Meditation has been historically used as a tool to promote well-being, insight, compassion as well as tools that leads to a connection to something larger than oneself.
Today, emerging research describes neurobiological and even genomic impacts of meditation . These include activation of specific brain regions as well as a reduction in stress-induced inflammation. The scientific literature suggests that some changes may be technique specific  however it is evident that meditation has a significant broad impact on human physiology.
Historically, primary care physicians concluded 60-80% of the visits to their clinics involved stress-related illnesses . Modern medicine of course recognises that persistent and excessive stress is a major contributor to morbidity . Therefore, such mind-body practices, as a result of their effects on the various bodily systems, can reduce the stress response and lead to a greater sense of well-being,
Randomised controlled trials have reported improved quality of life in multiple physical and mental health conditions that are related to or intensified by stress. These include cardiovascular diseases, anxiety, depression, cancer-related fatigue, tobacco addiction, chronic pain, inflammatory bowel disease .
It appears that the medical community in various parts of the world are now integrating these tools into the health care system. It would perhaps make even more sense to also incorporate these into the primary and secondary education. There is evidence that schools that incorporated techniques such as meditation noted improvements in cognitive as well as social and emotional outcomes for students .
Western medicine has revolutionised therapy through advancements in pharmaceutics and surgery. However, handling stress-related non-communicable ailments is still challenging. Medicine and surgery are poorly equipped to handle the psychosocial stress epidemic and such mind-body strategies, when learnt properly, can be a helpful adjunct for managing them. It is now becoming increasingly important to assess the emerging experimental evidence about meditation and its effects on the human body so we can best personalise these approaches and maximise their benefits to improve public health.
What is the mind-body connection?
The human body is composed of several organ systems that function in sync with each other. Briefly, the main systems of the human body include the circulatory system (to pump blood throughout the body), the digestive system (to break food into energy that can be utilised by the body), the endocrine system (to produce hormones necessary for growth, metabolism, and development), the nervous system (to extract information from the environment, to communicate that information throughout the body and then to determine an appropriate response), the renal system (to eliminate waste from the body and to maintain blood pressure).
Why it is important to improve the mind-body connection?
All of these body systems are extremely interconnected and malfunction in one can severely affect the others. While evidence from the literature points to the positive effects of meditation on various organ systems, those effects have been studied individually for different organs. If we put that knowledge together, it makes sense that meditation has positive effects on all of the body’s systems. Simply, the positive effects on the nervous system alone can translate into an increased hormone balance (a lot of hormones are controlled by the nervous system).
The hormonal balance will then lead to a better digestive and waste control system which will result in increased energy absorption for the rest of the bodily functions. From this example, it can be seen that meditation has a positive effect on all of the systems of the human body as all the systems are deeply linked with each other in order to function appropriately.
The mind-body connection can be examined in many ways however it can be best understood during a ‘fight or flight’ situation. The human body is designed to respond to acute stressors as a mechanism of adaptation to environmental changes across various developmental stages throughout life. The autonomic nervous system plays an important role in orchestrating the body’s reaction . Upon danger, the hypothalamus (a small region in the brain) within the brain secretes a corticotropin-releasing hormone that in turn induces the production of cortisol (the primary stress hormone). As a result, activation of what is called the ‘sympathetic nervous system’ then has a broad impact on various organs of the body that mediate the necessary “fight-or-flight” reaction .
How can meditation improve the mind-body connection?
Pain perception can be used to understand the effects of meditation on the mind-body connection. Structural MRI scans examined a group of meditators (defined as >10,000 hours of practice) and compared to control subjects, the expert meditators had much-reduced sensitivity to pain that was associated with structural changes in the brain such as a significantly thicker secondary somatosensory cortex (region of the brain responsible for processing sensations). These data suggest that meditation may increase the thickness of the sheet of brain cells (also known as the cortex) in pain-related brain areas, thus causing changes in pain sensitivity . Such changes have broad effects on the nervous system.
Meditation can also change the autonomic nervous system where increases in the blood flow to the front part (also called the front lobe) of the brain were associated with decrease in depression symptoms as well as chronic back pain . As you can see from these data, the effects of meditation are on a wide range of body systems, and altogether these benefits can transform your health. Changes in chemicals such as hormones affect the entire body, and we now know how meditation works to impact the endocrine system. The effects of meditation are largely mediated by the endocrine system. These effects will be discussed in the next section.
I hope you found this article on The Positive impact of meditation on human physiology as fascinating as I do. My aim is that it’s provided you with valuable insights into just how powerful meditation is at holistically healing the body and mind, and reducing the risk of psychosomatic stress-related diseases.
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