How adventures in online dating regulated my energy metabolism
I thought it was amazing that meditation thickens the body of the corpus callosum, the bridge between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. This was the fun fact I used to describe myself in my 250 characters on my profile.
While the dates that I got with that particular profile were colossal disasters, which is a highly entertaining story for another time and place, my fascination with the effects of meditation on the brain and body have never wavered.
I remember the first time that I practiced meditation. I was in 4th grade, so I was maybe 8 or 9 years old, and my Girl Scout troop was out to get some merit badge or another. We were studying with a practitioner of Buddhism for the afternoon. I remember that he had us all lie down in the middle of this dark room, and I remember that through my breath, I lost all sensations in my body beyond the blood in my veins and my beating heart. I was hooked.
All through middle school and high school, while there were long stretches of time where I lost my practice, I always came back to it. Even more so in my late twenties when I started actively pursuing a deeper sense of spirituality. Recently it’s even been shown that science is proving the benefits on meditation beyond just a general feeling of calm and relaxation.
Today, I try to practice meditation every day. But why should I when it feels like scheduling 20 minutes of straight-up highly likely discomfort? Even though I have been meditating off and on for the past 20 years, I still experience some level of resistance almost every time I come to the cushion (the little pillow we sit on). This is especially interesting considering the benefits, demonstrated by science, that meditation has on the brain and the body.
So what exactly have these studies been saying and how does meditation benefit our health? There still hasn’t been a ton of definitive research on this topic, but inferences can be made based on the studies that have been undertaken. Let’s start with some of the areas of the brain that meditation directly affects, and then we will move into one of my favorite topics: gene expression.
Meditation affects many areas of the brain, but the ones that most directly relate to nutrition-related issues are the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the hippocampus. In easier to understand terminology, the ACC is associated with self-regulation. An example of this would be with food. It’s the feeling of going to the refrigerator when you know you just ate lunch and are totally 100 percent not even close to hungry, but oh my god the ice cream sounds so good right now!
According to studies on the effects of meditation on the ACC, those who practice meditation regularly show greater activity in this area of the brain than those who don’t.
This allows those who practice meditation to exhibit superior self-regulation, less impulsivity, and greater ability to learn and adapt from past experiences.
The other significant area of the brain that has shown increase in activity as a result of meditation practice is the hippocampus. This is the part of the brain associated with emotions and memory. It is also covered with receptors for cortisol, the hormone release during stress. Stress can actually damage this part of the brain, so the less stress you have, the fewer metabolic effects of stress wreak havoc on your body.
It’s interesting that the limbic system, which is where the hippocampus resides, is responsible for emotions, and stress can cause it to deteriorate. Combine wonky emotions and poor impulse control from the ACC, and it is easy to see how important it is to do whatever we can to strengthen these areas of the brain.
In addition to its effects on the brain, one of the most fascinating results of meditation is that it can actually change your DNA, just like certain foods can. In fact, daily meditation practice has been associated with an increase in gene expression for mitochondria, the energy powerhouse of the cell. Metabolism and insulin production take place in the mitochondria and it increases to allow your body to maximize its intake of glucose.
It has also been associated with the down-regulation of inflammatory cytokines like NF-kB, which has a clinically significant association with inflammation, cancer, and addiction. Therefore, meditating long-term has been shown to effectively change the DNA of the practitioner in a way that promotes energy metabolism efficiency and discourages systemic inflammation. And that is pretty darn cool for something that involves doing nothing for twenty minutes a day!
How to get started, though, am I right? For those of you who don’t already have a meditation practice, I encourage you to try a wide variety of different avenues. There are apps, online resources, zen centers, and Youtube videos. My boyfriend (who I did not
find online) connected me with a resource that I love. It focuses solely on the feeling of breath in the body (you can find it here
). Once you find the way that works for you, stick with it! It’s a practice, that takes practice.
It helps me to have a time that I set aside every day, the same time, and to make it just as non-negotiable as working out or going to work or brushing my teeth. Start with something small and manageable, maybe 2 minutes, maybe 10. Find someone who you can check in with as an accountability partner. Message us! And remember as you go, you are changing yourself from the inside out. The 10 minutes you spend today can lead to a lifetime of benefits. Your corpus callosum will thank you later, trust me.
This blog brought to you by our lovely Lauren Badell, RB teacher with a degree in dietetics from UT Austin.