Physiological Effects of Meditation

Part 2 of 3 Post Series: Physiological Effects of Meditation

Although meditation is usually thought of in relationship to the mind it affects the physiology of the body in many ways. Meditation enhances the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for releasing chemicals that reduce stress (Takahashi, 2005).  This enhanced activity can be seen in the reduction in cortisol levels and release of beta endorphins. It is believed that stress reduction is what leads to the lowered blood pressure found in experienced meditators (Newberg, 2003).  Meditation has also been found to be associated with increases in immune functioning and a reduction in the risk of coronary heart disease (Hoppes, 2003).   “Two controlled studies investigated the effects of six months of Zen meditation practice, and two months of Zen meditation plus progressive muscle relaxation, respectively, versus blood pressure checks in patients suffering from hypertension… The results of the metaanalysis (reviewing the studies) indicated a significant increase in diastolic blood pressure and a non-significant decrease in systolic blood pressure in meditators. (Chiesa-zm, 2010, p. 590)  Another study found that experienced Zen meditators  had significantly higher levels of serum nitrate and nitrite concentration and a significant reduced level of serum malondialdehyde than a control group. Serum nitric oxide is the predominant anti-atherosclerotic principle in the vascular wall. The researchers “reported that, in accord with previous studies that found that oxidative stress could contribute to the pathophysiology of atherosclerosis and chronic heart disease, their results suggested that Zen meditation, by reducing stress, could prevent stress-related disease such as heart attacks…” (Chiesa-zm, 2010, p. 587)


  1. Chiesa A., Serretti, A. (2010). A systematic review of neurobiological and clinical features of mindfulness meditations. Psychological Medicine, 40, 1239-1252.
  2. Hoppes, K. (2006).The Application of mindfulness-based cognitive interventions in the treatment of co-occurring addictive and mood disorders. CNS Spectrums. 11, 829-841, & 846-851.
  3. Newberg, A.B., Iversen, J. (2003) The neural basis of the complex mental task of meditation: Neurotransmitter and neurochemical considerations. Medical Hypotheses, 61, 282–291.
  4. Takahashi, T., Murata, T., Hamada, T. (2005) Changes in EEG and autonomic nervous activity during meditation and their association with personality traits. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 55, 199–207.
Published in: on May 12, 2011 at 2:19 am  Leave a Comment  
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