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Originally published June 16 2013

Your body on meditation - the benefits are undeniable and endless

by Ethan A. Huff, staff writer

(NaturalNews) More than just a modern cultural fad, mindfulness meditation is increasingly proving to be a powerful healer both emotionally and physically. As evidenced by an accumulation of scientific research on the subject, mindfulness meditation has been shown to help repair damaged neurons in the brain and form healthy, new neural connections; improve mood and alleviate depression symptoms; alter physical brain shape and size; and even stave off physical illnesses like high blood pressure and heart disease.

Many common triggers of psychological illness, which include things like stress, anxiety, and depression, respond quite effectively to mindfulness meditation. As explained by Meredith Melnick at Huffington Post, the practice not only helps reform cellular and neuronal connections in the brain, but it also helps change, over time, the way we perceive the world around us. Part of the way it does this is by physically changing the structure of the brain, which in turn rewires it to function on a whole new plane.

"The cells and neurons in the brain are constantly making new connections and disrupting old ones based on response to stimuli, a quality that researchers call experience-based neuroplasticity," writes Melnick. "This affects the neural circuits of the brain, which in turn affects how we respond to situations. It also affects the actual structure of our brains - thickening some areas and making others less dense."

Your brain on mindfulness meditation

To help illustrate how mindfulness meditation affects the human body, Huffington Post has created a helpful infographic that shows how each region of the brain and body is affected by the practice. Specifically with regards to the brain, mindfulness meditation can help improve the way we respond to bad situations in life by reducing the size of the amygdala, an almond shaped mass in the brain's temporal lobe that typically grows larger in response to stress.

Mindfulness meditation also helps prevent cognitive decline by hampering the thinning of the brain's prefrontal cortex, and improves creativity and the ability to self-reflect by boosting gray matter density in the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC). Other brain benefits include increases in the gray matter size of the hippocampus, another region of the brain associated with stress and memory formation, as well as increases in the gray matter density of the temporoparietal junction (TPJ), which helps improve one's empathic abilities.

You can view the full Huffington Post infographic on mindfulness meditation here:

"It did to my mind what going to the gym did to my body - it made it both stronger and more flexible," says Dr. Hedy Kober, a neuroscientist from Yale University who has been both studying and practicing mindfulness medication for at least the past decade.

Protect your physical health with mindfulness meditation

But the benefits of mindfulness meditation do not stop here. According to copious research, engaging in mindfulness meditation can also help protect against heart disease by decreasing levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of heart disease. The practice is also associated with boosting immunity by lowering the expression of genes associated with inflammation, as well as increasing production of nitric oxide, a gas that expands blood vessels and thus lowers blood pressure.

"[T]here [are] five key ways that mindfulness training increase[s] physical and mental health," explains a research paper published by Northern Arizona University (NAU). "It strengthen[s] immune system and physiological responses to stress and negative emotions; improve[s] social relationships with family and strangers; reduce[s] stress, depression, and anxiety and increase[s] well-being and happiness; increase[s] openness to experience, conscientiousness, and agreeableness and reduce[s] negative associations with neuroticism; and [leads] to greater psychological mindfulness, which include[s] awareness that is clear, nonconceptual, and flexible."

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