There is growing evidence to show that your mind and body are intricately connected, and that your mind has a direct impact on your physical health. Brain imaging technology suggests meditation alters your brain in a number of beneficial ways, and studies show meditative practices even alter your genetic expression.1,2,3

Indeed, thousands of genes have been identified that appear to be directly influenced by your subjective mental state. Examples of genetic effects resulting from meditative practices include the down-regulation of genes associated with the pathway responsible for protein breakdown and cellular stress response genes. Expression of certain heat shock proteins is increased, and immune function is amped up through a variety of genetic changes.

One study4 investigating genetic changes triggered by the relaxation response determined that meditative or mindfulness practices affect no less than 2,209 different genes, and it didn’t really matter which relaxation response technique was used. Findings such as these prove you cannot separate your health from your emotional well-being, and if you want to prevent chronic illness, you’d be wise to incorporate this knowledge.

Meditation Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

For example, a number of studies have demonstrated that a persistent negative state of mind is a risk factor for heart disease. Conversely, happiness, optimism, life satisfaction and other positive psychological states are associated with a lower risk of heart disease.5 While some people seem born with a sunnier disposition than others, meditation has been shown to improve mood regulation and boost optimism. Meditative practices have also been shown to lower your:

• Heart rate

• Blood pressure

• Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol level

• Cortisol level

Such findings are consistent with a down-regulation of your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathetic nervous system, both of which are over-activated by stress. Stress is also a well-known risk factor for heart disease, making meditation all the more important.

Meditation Guidelines Issued as Adjunctive Intervention for Heart Disease

While the mind-body connection has long been overlooked by conventional medicine, the American Heart Association recently issued its first guidelines on seated meditation,6 suggesting it can be a valuable adjunctive intervention in combination with other recommended lifestyle and medical treatments.7

Dr. James Stahl, a researcher at the Geisel Medical School at Dartmouth College and at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire, told Reuters that “[s]ome patients may even be able to try meditation along with diet and lifestyle changes before they move on to drugs.” Common forms of seated meditation suggested in the guidelines include:

Shamatha (focused attention technique)

Vipassana (insight meditation; an “open monitoring” technique that encourages a broader awareness of your environment or train of thought, allowing feelings you might normally suppress to rise to the surface)

Mindful meditation

Zazen (Zen meditation)

Raja yoga

Metta (loving-kindness meditation)

Transcendental meditation

Relaxation response practice