For centuries, yogis have advocated for the use of yoga and meditation as a form of legitimate healing and now, according to Makiko Kitamura’s recent article (below), it looks like scientists are on the cusp of proving it.
John Denninger, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, is leading a five-year study on how the ancient practices affect genes and brain activity in the chronically stressed.
While hundreds of studies have been conducted on the mental health benefits of yoga and meditation, they have tended to rely on blunt tools like participant questionnaires, as well as heart rate and blood pressure monitoring. The government-funded study may persuade more doctors to try an alternative route for tackling the source of a myriad of modern ailments. The science is advancing alongside a budding “mindfulness” movement, which includes meditation devotees such as Bill George, board member of Goldman Sachs Group and Exxon Mobil Corp., and comedian Jerry Seinfeld. As a psychiatrist specializing in depression, Denninger said he was attracted to mind-body medicine, pioneered in the late 1960s by Harvard professor Herbert Benson, as a possible way to prevent the onset of depression through stress reduction. It’s an interest that dates back to an exchange program he attended in China the summer before entering Harvard as an undergraduate student. His current study, to conclude in 2015 with about $3.3 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health, tracks 210 healthy subjects with high levels of reported chronic stress for six months. One group with 70 participants perform a form of yoga known as Kundalini, another 70 meditate and the rest listen to stress education audiobooks, all for 20 minutes a day at home.
Participants come into the lab for weekly instruction for two months, followed by three sessions where they answer questionnaires, give blood samples used for genomic analysis and undergo neuro-imaging tests. Unlike earlier studies, this one is the first to focus on participants with high levels of stress. Harvard isn’t the only place where scientists have started examining the biology behind yoga.
In a study published last year, scientists at the University of California at Los Angeles and Nobel Prize winner Elizabeth Blackburn found that 12 minutes of daily yoga meditation for eight weeks increased telomerase activity by 43 percent, suggesting an improvement in stress-induced aging. MIT and Harvard neuroscientists explain why the practice helps tune out distractions and relieve pain.
Studies have shown that meditating regularly can help relieve symptoms in people who suffer from chronic pain, but the neural mechanisms underlying the relief were unclear. In a study published online April 21 in the journal Brain Research Bulletin, the researchers found that people trained to meditate over an eight-week period were better able to control a specific type of brain waves called alpha rhythms. There are several different types of brain waves that help regulate the flow of information between brain cells, similar to the way that radio stations broadcast at specific frequencies. A 1966 study showed that a group of Buddhist monks who meditated regularly had elevated alpha rhythms across their brains. The MBSR program calls for participants to meditate for 45 minutes per day, after an initial two-and-a-half-hour training session.

The researchers did brain scans of the subjects before the study began, three weeks into it, and at the end of eight weeks. The study is a “beautiful demonstration” of the effects of meditation training, and of the ability to cultivate an internal awareness of one’s own bodily sensations, says Clifford Saron, associate research scientist at the Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California at Davis, who was not involved in the research.
Subjects in this study did not suffer from chronic pain, but the findings suggest that in pain sufferers who meditate, the beneficial effects may come from an ability to essentially turn down the volume on pain signals. The subjects trained in meditation also reported that they felt less stress than the non-meditators. The researchers are now planning follow-up studies in patients who suffer from chronic pain as well as cancer patients, who have also been shown to benefit from meditation. The mind becomes more adaptive and goes in to meditaion readily with the practice of achieving a state of 0 thoughts in everyday life. Not sure if you are all aware but MBSR is Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction - a secular practice that has been very widely researched in recent years.
By engaging in easy to practice "mental activities" we are guiding our minds away from the external.
We then begin to reduce inner noise and distractions to gain a deeper sense of mental peace as the mind very naturally settles inward. Jon Kabat Zinn is speaking about Mindfulness tomorrow, Thursday, at 1pm-2pm, on the 1st floor of E25. Together with its members across the world, the World Heart Federation is running the Go Red for Women campaign to improve women’s knowledge of heart disease and stroke so that they can take action and achieve longer, better heart-healthy lives. His latest work follows a study he and others published earlier this year showing how so-called mind-body techniques can switch on and off some genes linked to stress and immune function. Only recently have neuro-imaging and genomics technology used in Denninger’s latest studies allowed scientists to measure physiological changes in greater detail.
Stress-induced conditions can include everything from hypertension and infertility to depression and even the aging process. While treatment with pharmaceuticals is still essential, he sees yoga and meditation as useful additions to his medical arsenal. Kundalini is a form of yoga that incorporates meditation, breathing exercises and the singing of mantras in addition to postures.
The study published in May in the medical journal PloS One showed that one session of relaxation-response practice was enough to enhance the expression of genes involved in energy metabolism and insulin secretion and reduce expression of genes linked to inflammatory response and stress.
Blackburn of the University of California, San Francisco, shared the Nobel medicine prize in 2009 with Carol Greider and Jack Szostak for research on the telomerase “immortality enzyme,” which slows the cellular aging process. Alpha waves, the focus of this study, flow through cells in the brain’s cortex, where sensory information is processed.

In the new study, the researchers focused on the waves’ role in a specific part of the brain — cells of the sensory cortex that process tactile information from the hands and feet. Half of the participants were trained in a technique called mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) over an eight-week period, while the other half were told not to meditate. At eight weeks, the subjects who had been trained in meditation showed larger changes in the size (amplitude) of their alpha waves when asked to pay attention to a certain body part — for example, “left foot.” These changes in wave size also occurred more rapidly in the meditators. This can be achieved either by holding on to a single thought like a holy name and then see it disappear leaving mind a blank or by sitting silently and just appreciating and feeling the nature, here one can see the sun rise or sun set, breeze blowing, trees swaying in wind, watch beauty in flowers and birds and think of nothing, Since While meditating the first aim is to achieve 0 thoughts,the internal journey begins only after all thoughts are gone. There are some excellent CDs around that follow the practices taught on the 8 week MBSR course. First we learn how to identify our different positive and negative mental states, and then we apply methods for eliminating negative states and cultivating positive ones.
Buddha didn't say to believe just he said so, just showed d way how to do it, & u have 2 find the truth and it's beneficial for u or not practically by urself. The fight-or-flight response releases stress hormones, increases blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and inflammation. But now I know that if I treat heart disease with something like Transcendental Meditation, I can get as much as 48-66% improvement with treatment.
TM is the most efficacious for us to treat one of the major risk factors of heart disease – stress. Simply knowing breath-management techniques and having a better understanding of stress can help build resilience. For example, they learn to focus sustained attention to the sensations of the breath; they also learn to engage and focus on body sensations in a specific area, such as the bottom of the feet, and then they practice disengaging and shifting the focus to another body area,” says Catherine Kerr, an instructor at Harvard Medical School and lead author of the paper. When this becomes a habbitto us we can always command our mind to sit in a crowded room and still achieve meditation. A good starting point is Jon Kabat Zinn who has worked tirelessly since the 1970s to bring mindfulness to westerners in an accessible, secular format. Once you learn the basic meditation techniques, you can use these methods for 5-10 minutes every day to help you improve your life. Suzanne Steinbaum explains why the Transcendental Meditation practice can be a game changer.

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