Yoga and meditation linked to stress resilience

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Image: Getty Images
Image: Getty Images

The physical, mental and spiritual practices have long been associated with health benefits, with the discipline increasingly recommended to aid issues such as back pain and increase general health and stamina.

There is still much to learn about how they affect mind-body health, but experts from the University of Southern California have now discovered that they can positively impact physiological and immunological markers of stress and inflammation.

In the study, academics analysed participants who attended a three-month retreat involving daily meditation and Isha yoga, accompanied by a vegetarian diet.

The researchers monitored psychometric measures, brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), circadian salivary cortisol levels, along with pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines.

"The data showed that participation in the retreat was associated with decreases in both self-reported anxiety and depression as well as increases in mindfulness," the team stated in a report. "The research team observed increases in the plasma levels of BDNF, a neuromodulator that plays an important role in learning, memory and the regulation of complex processes such as inflammation, immunity, mood regulation, stress response and metabolism."

In regards to past studies into the positive effects of meditation on mental fitness and inflammatory status, the researchers note their findings are related to the meditative practices that the retreat participants engaged in. They now hope to carry out further research in order to clarify the extent to which the positive changes on mind-body wellness and stress resilience are related to the yoga and meditation practices respectively, and to account for other possible factors such as social dynamics, diet and the impact of the teacher.

"To our knowledge, our study is the first to examine a broad range of inflammatory markers in a healthy population before and after a yoga-meditation intervention. Our findings justify further studies of yoga and meditation retreats assessing for the replicability, specificity and long-term implications of these findings," said corresponding author Dr. Baruch Rael Cahn.

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