Can meditation boost your health?

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption From the womb to the grave, research shows that the brain and body go through a huge transformation when meditating

So, is meditation healthy? And what does it do to our bodies?

Some studies have found that the brain and body go through a huge transformation when meditating.

The most extreme effects, shown in mice, might work at a cellular level but not necessarily at a biological one.

We asked Dr Kenneth Biesiadescu, clinical research fellow in physiology at the University of Portsmouth, what different effects meditating can have on the body and brain.

Dr Biesiadescu, from Portsmouth’s Medical Research Council Southampton Biomedical Research Centre, said: “What we know is that some cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s appear to worsen when we’re exposed to extreme environments, such as those meditating in that facility at the age of 14.

“The effects may be greater in the brain because there may be certain behavioural similarities between this kind of environmental challenge and the sorts of environment which we find very stressful.”

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption An MRI scan shows changes in the brain

Brain and body during meditating

Cognitive therapies for the management of daily problems, such as anxiety, depression and insomnia have been shown to help both the brain and body become more resilient in certain areas, so that they’ll adapt over time to new, challenging environments.

“A lot of our brains are based on what we’ve experienced, including what’s happening right now, so if we’re able to apply a meditation-like technique that can have an effect on our mental state, we see positive effects on our bodies as well,” says Dr Biesiadescu.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Eventually the brain and body will adapt in a battle of the minds

What does it mean to meditate?

This hasn’t been shown in humans but we do know that mindfulness training, whereby the mind becomes more sensitive to the impact of repeated thoughts, have positive effects on our mental and physical health.

During yoga it can also result in physical transformation, such as by toning the muscles and providing a beneficial cardiovascular effect.

Dr Biesiadescu says there’s a gap between the psychological and the physical, since there’s no firm evidence yet that how the brain and body respond can be used as tools in training and maintenance of the brain to adapt.

However, the evidence for meditation as a type of intervention is building, especially in the field of cognitive neuroscience.

It’s very much a very new area of research, with no proof yet of what’s the best way to go about this. However, there is a lot of evidence around the effects of mindfulness on the brain and body.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption You can practise mindfulness meditation in rooms in a seaside hotel

In the UK, trained certified meditators can attend classes in a large range of locations. While you’ll find meditation centres in almost every town and city, you can find rooms at hotels and luxury properties on the coast, seaside and with medieval castles as well as gyms and high-end spas.

All have a basic minimum age, while a few also have a “volunteer” scheme with no qualification required. They can range from free to quite expensive. Many start in August.

Find out more on Meditation Central.

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