Biophysical Benefits of Meditation and Yoga Therapy

Meditation is a complex mental process involving changes in cognition, sensory perception, affect, hormones, and autonomic activity. Yoga therapy traditionally involves physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation or relaxation techniques. This purpose of this report was to offer an empirical investigation into the biological substrates of meditation and yoga therapy and the efficacy these therapies have upon stress reduction. I completed this report on the biophysical benefits of meditation and yoga therapy for a course that I took at Tennessee State University.

 Biological Bases of Meditation and Yoga Therapy
This purpose of this report was to offer an empirical investigation into the biological substrates of meditation and yoga therapy and the efficacy these therapies have upon stress reduction. Meditation is a complex mental process involving changes in cognition, sensory perception, affect, hormones, and autonomic activity. Yoga therapy traditionally involves physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation or relaxation techniques. A preliminary examination of the current literature revealed that a significant number of scientific studies have been conducted to investigate the beneficence of meditation and yoga therapy as a stress management technique. Results have indicated that the key subjective experiences in meditation and yoga include general relaxation, reduced mental activity and a general positive affect. Meditation and yoga therapy have linked to energy metabolism, mitochondrial function, and insulin secretion.

Processes Involved in Meditation
Research suggests that meditation might also be expected to alter activity in the limbic system, especially since stimulation of limbic structures concerning emotional regulation. Other biological bases involved in meditation and yoga therapy include neuropsychological mechanisms, autonomic activation, and emotional regulation. According to more recent studies, meditation has been adopted by many psychodynamic programs due to reported beneficial effects with a number of functional somatic, psychiatric, and stress-correlated symptoms (Baer, 2003). Some of the supposed psychological effects of these therapeutic practices are motor and perceptual changes.
Neurobiological Modulation and Regulation
The hippocampus acts to modulate and moderate cortical arousal and responsiveness via rich and extensive interconnections with the prefrontal cortex, other neocortical areas, the amygdala, and the hypothalamus. The ability of the hippocampus to stimulate or inhibit neuronal activity in other structures likely relies upon the glutamate and GABA systems. Activation of the autonomic nervous system can result in intense stimulation of structures in the lateral hypothalamus and median forebrain bundle, which are known to produce both ecstatic and blissful feelings when directly stimulated. Researchers have suggested that meditation involves the neuropsychological mechanism of activation of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is a biological function of autonomic nervous system. During meditation, activity in the frontal and parietal lobe slows down. The frontal lobe is highly engaged during yoga and meditation during certain phases.
Biological Substrates
Prior studies have shown indicated predominant parasympathetic activity during meditation associated with decreased heart rate and blood pressure, decreased respiratory rate, and decreased oxygen metabolism. The physiological effects that have been observed during meditative states seem to outline a consistent pattern of changes involving certain key cerebral structures in conjunction with autonomic and hormonal changes. Further investigation also revealed that prefrontal and cingulate activation may be associated with the volitional aspects of meditation. The cingulate gyrus is credited in focusing attention involvement, possibly in tandem with the prefrontal cortex. The lateral posterior nucleus of the thalamus provides the posterior superior parietal lobule with the sensory information it needs to determine the body’s spatial orientation (Grossman, Niemann, Schmidt, & Walach, 2004).
Neurobiological Results
Due to the increased activity in the right hemisphere of the prefrontal cortex during meditation, there is a adjuvant increase in the activity in the reticular nucleus of the thalamus. Some theorists have proposed that deafferentation of these orienting areas of the brain is an important concept in the physiology of meditation. According to Lutz, the practice of meditative techniques was hypothesized to induce changes in the neural networks that underlie affective processing (Lutz, Brefczynski-Lewis, Johnston, & Davidson, 2008). The flow of sensory data to the thalamus is reduced during meditation and yoga according to research. In addition, the arousal signal for the reticular formation is reduced during the meditative process.
Conclusion:
Both meditation and yoga are reported to be clinically effective for physiological, psychological benefits, and biochemical benefits. Meditation and yoga therapy are apperceptive processes that induce a set of integrated physiological changes termed the relaxation response. They have adapted by several professional practices including the medical and psychological communities to assist with decreased anxiety, stress management and improved mental acuity due to these reported benefits. This may aid emotional well-being and balance over time (Lutz, Slagter, Dunne, & Davidson, 2008).

References:

Anantharaman, V., and Sarada Subrahmanyam. Physiological benefits in hatha yoga training. The Yoga Review, 3(1):9-24.
Baer,R.A.(2003).Mindfulnesstrainingasaclinicalintervention:A conceptual and empirical review. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10, 125–143.
Baer, R.A., Smith, G.T., & Allen, K.B. (2004). Assessment of mind- fulness by self-report. Assessment, 11, 191–206.
Baer, R.A., Smith, G.T., Hopkins, J., Krietemeyer, J., & Toney, L. (2006). Using self-report assessment methods to explore facets of mindfulness. Assessment, 13, 27–45.
Brefczynski-Lewis, J.A., Lutz, A., Schaefer, H.S., Levinson., D.B., & Davidson, R.J. (2007). Neural correlates of attentional expertise in long-term meditation practitioners. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 104, 11483-11488.
Grossman, P., Niemann, L., Schmidt, S., & Walach, H. (2004). Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits. A meta- analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 57, 35–43.
Lutz, A., Slagter, H.A., Dunne, J.D., & Davidson, R.J. (2008). Attention regulation and monitoring in meditation. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 12, 163- 169.

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