How Meditation Changes the Body

Woman jumping

When you’re meditating there are a multitude of extraordinary things going on in your mind and body. Here I will explore some of the research which has shown that fundamental, beneficial changes are taking place not only at a mental level, but at a cellular level too.

Nobel Prize winner Dr Elizabeth Blackburn, when at the University of California, San Francisco in 2009, discovered the protective ‘caps’ on chromosomes called “telomeres”. Telomeres are protective lengths of protein that exist at the ends of our chromosomes. Every time a cell divides, these protective caps wear down and, over time, the telomeres shorten.

As the telomeres shorten, our body’s cells start to malfunction and lose their ability to divide. Today, based on Blackburn’s research, scientists use the measure of telomere length as a metric for ageing and disease risk.

Blackburn also discovered an enzyme called “telomerase,” which protects the chromosomal caps from the wear and tear of cellular division, otherwise known as ageing. Therefore, the more telomerase you have, the longer your telomeres will be; the less telomerase you have, the shorter your telomeres will be. The shorter your telomeres, the more exposed to ageing, degeneration, and disease you become.

Part of Blackburn’s research was applied to meditators, and it was discovered that long-term meditators had preserved the length of their telomeres, whilst other subjects who did not meditate had not.

Other research at the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in 2016 showed that meditation alters the pattern of brain connectivity, and decreases stress chemicals.

We know that upon waking there is a massive release of cortisol, known as Cortisol Awakening Response (CAR), but its exact function is not understood.

Eva Fries at the Technische Universität Dresden in 2008 hypothesized that anticipation of the upcoming day is of major relevance for the magnitude of CAR which occurs as you wake.

This “stress perception”, and the consequent release of cortisol is probably to ensure we are fully switched on and ready for any threats that might appear at this vulnerable moment. However, too much cortisol has a profoundly damaging effect on the body, reducing the ability of the immune system to do its job.

Meditation has been shown by numerous studies to keep cortisol in check, and together with its role in the preservation of and improvement in the cellular structure of parts of the brain, is a fantastic way to ensure you stay healthy.

If you'd like to find out more about Vedic Meditation, and how the MindMojo courses work, book a place at one of our free, no obligation introductory talks in Brighton or London here.

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Anthony Thompson