Everyone’s heard that you are what you eat, but did you know that you are also what you think? A new study shows that meditation can reduce physical inflammation.
The study investigated the effects of a day of intensive mindfulness practice in a group of experienced meditators, compared to a group of untrained control subjects who engaged in quiet non-meditative activities. After eight hours of mindfulness practice, the meditators showed a range of genetic and molecular differences, including altered levels of gene-regulating machinery and reduced levels of pro-inflammatory genes, which in turn correlated with faster physical recovery from a stressful situation.
“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first paper that shows rapid alterations in gene expression within subjects associated with mindfulness meditation practice,” says study author Richard J. Davidson. (Link to news article – link to original journal article.)
We have this understanding of the mind-body connection in Chinese medicine. As one of my teachers puts it, the yi leads the qi, the qi leads the blood, and where the blood goes, the body follows. Yi 意 is a word that can be translated as thought or intention. Qi 气 is a huge concept that encompasses all movement and transformation in the universe, but in the human body it can be thought of as a general term for physical and energetic processes that produce and consume energy – digestion, hormone regulation via the endocrine system, circulation, nerve function, etc. So, following the chain backwards, we can see that intention or the direction of your thought can directly influence your physical body. Where will you lead your body with your thoughts today? Where will you lead it in 2014?
(The title of this post is the title of a book called “As a Man Thinketh” by James Allen – a great book and a quick read. It was written a few decades ago, so you’ll just have to imagine there are more gender-neutral pronouns in use, everything in there applies to both men and women.)
(Both meditation and positive thinking are useful, but it can be helpful to understand them as two different things. As I understand it, meditation is a type of non-thinking, of creating or realizing emptiness within yourself. Connecting with the quiet and emptiness within yourself can be incredibly refreshing, like going back to the source.)