Mind-Body Connection?

Researchers and yoga practitioners alike speak about the mind-body connection.  I often bring it up and spent time contemplating it’s meaning and existence.  What if it doesn’t literally exist, because there is not a separation that requires connection?  The separation itself is an illusion.  It is this illusion that we tackle through the practice of yoga.  “Candace Pert,  former chief brain biochemist for the National Institute of Mental Health, said, ‘In the end I find I can’t separate brain from body. Consciousness isn’t just in the head.  Nor is it a question of mind over body. If one takes into account the DNA directing the dance of peptides, [the] body is the outward manifestation of the mind.'”

When you contemplate the question of a mind-body connection what do you think?  How do you believe those thoughts might effect the body?  What are the origins of the messages we receive from our bodies once we become conscious of them? Isn’t the subconscious still a form of conscientiousness and therefore are thoughts able to evolve around mechanical actions of the body?  What does this all mean in regards to how we practice yoga asana, meditation, pranayama?  How does the mind-body effect our choices and actions?

Mechanism Behind Mind-Body Connection Discovered

Mind/Body Connection: How Your Emotions Affect Your Health

A Shift of Mind: Rethinking the way we live by Mel Schwartz, L.C.S.W.

Bookworm Yogini

I have recently made some updates to my recommended reading list.  Below you will find the most current version.  Remember you can always access this interactive book list from the tab labeled Bookworm Yogini (which is on the right hand side of this blog). Happy reading and don’t forget to use and support your local library.


Yoga and the Science of Living:

  1. The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter, & Miracles by Bruce H. Lipton
  2. The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force by Jeffrey Schwartz, Sharon Begley
  3. Body, Breath, and Consciousness: A Somatics Anthology by Ian Macnaughton and Peter Levine
  4. The Yoga of Breath: A Step-by-Step Guide to Pranayama by Richard Rosen
  5. Yoga as Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing by Yoga Journal and Timothy McCall
  6. Yoga for Anxiety: Meditations and Practices for Calming the Body and Mind by Mary and Rick Nurriestearns
  7. Yoga for Emotional Balance: Simple Practices to Help Relieve Anxiety and Depression by Bo Forbes
  8. Emotional Yoga: How the Body Can Heal the Mind by Bija Bennett
  9. The Art of Happiness (a Handbook for Living) by Dalai Lama

Fuel for the Body:

  1. Esalen Cookbook – by Charlie Cascio
  2. What to Eat When You Can’t Eat Anything: The Complete Allergy Cookbook – by Chupi and Luke Sweetman
  3. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan
  4. The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants

The ‘Way We Were’ and ‘Things to Come’:

  1. A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present by Howard Zinn
  2. The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs
  3. Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck

The Home as Sanctuary:

  1. The Wabi-Sabi House: The Japanese Art of Imperfect Beauty by Robyn Griggs Lawrence and Joe Coca
  2. Rescue from Domestic Perfection: The Not-So Secrets of Balancing Life and Style by Dan Ho
  3. The Tightwad gazette: Promoting thrift as a viable alternative lifestyle by Amy Dacyczyn

Covering and Decorating our Bodies:

  1. The Cheap Date Guide to Style by Kira Jolliffe and Bay Garnett
  2. Subversive Seamster: Transform Thrift Store Threads Into Street Couture
  3. Steampunk Style Jewelry: Victorian, Fantasy, and Mechanical Necklaces, Bracelets, and Earrings
  4. The Tattoo History Source Book by Steve Gilbert
Published in: on August 16, 2011 at 5:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Doggie Neurophysiology

I am currently reading a book called, Mapping the Mind, which explains the functional anatomy of the brain.  Wish it was as clear as the image below.

Published in: on June 13, 2011 at 4:31 pm  Comments (2)  
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Neurophysiological Effects of Meditation

Part 3 of 3 Post Series: Neurophysiological Effects of Meditation

Calm Stu

Studies uncovering neurophysiological evidence of the effects of meditation make use of neuroimaging technologies.  Neuroimaging technologies include positron emission tomography (PET), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG).  PET scans during a study of Yoga Nidra Meditation showed an increase in activity in the left frontal and limbic brain regions (Lou, 1999).  The left frontal cortex is associated with increased positive emotions, while the limbic brain regions are believed to be correlated with emotional regulation.  Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies showed changes in many brain regions including the amygdala, hypothalamus, and hippocampus, all of which are parts of the limbic system of the brain.  The amygdala is often referred to as the ‘fear center’, the hippocampus is the ‘memory center’ and the hypothalamus is considered the master regulator of emotions.  EEG studies backed up what was found in both PET and fMRI studies.  EEG studies found increased theta and alpha frequencies in the left frontal brain region.  This has been a common finding and has been suggested to reflect an enhanced ability to sustain attention and focus (Cahn and Polich, 2006).  According to other researchers this increased activity of low frequency theta and alpha waves is also positively correlated with increased feelings of happiness and joy (Rubia, 2009).   According to Psychology Today, “Neuroscientists have found that meditators shift their brain activity to different areas of the cortex. Brain waves in the stress-prone right frontal cortex move to the calmer left frontal cortex. This mental shift decreases the negative effects of stress, mild depression and anxiety. There is also less activity in the amygdala, where the brain processes fear.” (Barber, 2001)


  1. Barbor, C. (May 01, 2001). The Science of Meditation.  Psychology Today (online periodical). Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200105/the-science-meditation
  2. Cahn, B.R., Polich, J. (2006). Meditation states and traits: EEG, ERP, and neuroimaging studies. Psychological Bulletin, 132 (2), 180–211.
  3. Lou, H.C., Kjaer, T.W., Friberg, L., Wildschiodtz, G., Holm, S., Nowak, M. (1999). A PET study of meditation and the resting state of normal consciousness. Human Brain Mapping, 7 (2), 98–105.
  4. Rubia, K. (2009). The neurobiology of meditation and its clinical effectiveness in psychiatric disorders. Biological Psychology, 82(1), 1-11.
Published in: on May 13, 2011 at 2:52 pm  Comments (2)  
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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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Subjective Effects of Meditation

My recent dive into the research of the effects of meditation uncovered a ton of information.  I will be posting my findings in a series of three posts.   To help with clarification I will divide my research findings into three categories (one category per post); subjective effects of meditation, physiological effects of meditation, and neurophysiological effects of meditation.

Part 1 of 3 Post Series: Subjective Effects of Meditation

Early studies of meditation focused on subjective evidence, but as technology has improved objective evidence has been uncovered that corroborates the subjective findings.  Subjective evidence was common among different studies and was often either determined through self-reports or peripheral findings during neuroimaging studies.  Meditation affected the body through deeper physical relaxation and significant stress relief.  Cognitive and psychological effects included; increased concentration, improved self-control and overall enhanced psycho-emotional balance.  Emotional effects included; increased positive mood, emotional stability and resilience to stress and negative life events. (Grimm, 2007; Saeed, 2010; Toneatto, 2007)  In general meditators where found to have “developed more mature defense and coping strategies characterized by greater maturity and tolerance of common stressors” (Chiesa-vm, 2010).

  1. Chisea, A. (2010). Vipassana meditation: systematic review of current evidence. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 16(1), 7-46.
  2. Grimm, K.G., Diebold, M.M. (2007). Complementary and alternative medicine and integrative medicine in practice. In Rakel R.E. (Ed.), Textbook of Family Medicine (7th ed.) (16).
  3. Saeed, S.A., Antonacci D.J., Bloch, R.M. (2010). Exercise, yoga, and meditation for depressive and anxiety disorders. American Family Physician, 81, 981 -986.
  4. Toneatto, T., Nguyen, L. (2007). Does mindfulness meditation improve anxiety and mood symptoms? A review of the controlled research. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 52, 260-266.
Published in: on May 9, 2011 at 4:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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What is Meditation?

Please, remember that I do not claim to be an expert.  I am only an ongoing student and reporting on my observations and interpretations of my literature reviews.  I look forward to any comments, ideas or recommendations you may have.

Meditation is defined differently by most people.  First let us look at what some of the renowned meditation masters have to say.    One eloquent definition of meditation by Pema Chodron states, “…by learning to peacefully abide in sitting meditation: (we are) creating the space for our garden to grow. Then we can cultivate qualities that will allow us to live our lives in full bloom.” (Mipham, 2003, p. 7)   To Patanjuli, an ancient yogic sage, meditation was simply the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.  A more modern take may be, Mary NurrieStearn’s (LCSW, RYT) definition, “…taking some time to sit; focus your attention on your breath, mantra or stillness; and witness your thoughts.” (NurrieStearns , 2010, p. 176)

My definition after reading uncountable definitions is:  meditation is the deliberate act of quieting the mind in order to access a state of consciousness that is serene and peaceful.  As we review the literature on meditation research, in following posts, it is important to keep in mind that due to the many ways of defining meditation and “the absence of a validated scientific model for practice”, performing statistically rigid research is difficult. (Chiesa-zm, 2010, p. 590)

Also adding to some of the ambivalence, is the fact that there are so many techniques for meditation.  Usually techniques revolve around finding a way to be physically comfortable, keeping a high quality of breathe, and finding as much mental stillness as possible. Some people never sit or find physical stillness during meditation, but it is commonly believed that the stiller the body the greater ease with which one will find mental stillness. Some of the more common meditation techniques include; moving mindfulness, rhythmic movement, sound vibrations, withdrawal of the senses, single mental focus and non-judgmental thought detachment.

Let us briefly look at these techniques.  Walking, hiking, yoga asana (physical postures) and other deep awareness movement can be categorized as moving mindfulness. Rhythmic movement refers to swaying of the body, tapping of the fingers or muscle tension and release.  The incorporation of sound vibrations into meditation happens during chanting, mantra repetition, kirtan, singing or the use of recorded sound.  Withdrawal of the senses is any technique that includes closing of the eyes, plugging of the ears or inhibition of any of the senses.  A single mental focus most often incorporates focus on a scent, candle flame, the breath, or a mantra. A mantra can refer to a single word, sound or series of words or sounds that have significant meaning to an individual.  Lastly, thought detachment, can refer to non-judgmental thought labeling and non-identification with thought or emotions.  All of the above techniques can be used alone or in conjunction with each other.

Various schools of meditation practice make use of a number of techniques and often provide guidelines for use of particular techniques to provide for specific outcomes. These specific outcomes could be used prescriptively for different pathologies or illnesses.  “Meditation techniques with emphasis on concentrative practices, for example, may be more suitable for pathologies with attention problems, while meditation techniques that emphasize emotional stress reduction may be more efficient in affective pathologies.” (Rubia, 2009, p. 9)


  1. Chiesa A., Serretti, A. (2010). A systematic review of neurobiological and clinical features of mindfulness meditations. Psychological Medicine, 40, 1239-1252.
  2. Mipham, S. (2003). Turning the Mind Into an Ally. New York, New York: Riverhead Books.
  3. NurrieStearns, M., NurrieStearns, R. (2010). Yoga for Anxiety. Oakland, California: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
  4. Rubia, K. (2009). The neurobiology of meditation and its clinical effectiveness in psychiatric disorders. Biological Psychology, 82(1), 1-11.
Published in: on May 2, 2011 at 5:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Finding my Current Obsession

I have been working with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) now for almost one year. In that year I have worked on developing an educational program, a seven week workshop series that includes physical postures, breathing exercises, guided meditation and mindfulness exercises. The focus of the workshop is on building skills and accessing tools that encourage a healthy lifestyle and lead to better management of mental health.

The first series took place fall of 2010. I have been using this spring to evaluate how the first series went and what changes we might want to make to the program. One very evident change that needs to be made is to dedicate more time to meditation. Meditation was one of the smaller sections of the 2010 series, but after getting participant feedback, it was obvious that it was one of the most powerful tools taught.  One NAMI-consumer and 2010 NAMI~Yoga graduate said, “I was amazed at how helpful just learning to breath deeper and slower could be.  Over the course I began to recognize my physical reactions to stress before I felt the emotions.  All the lessons we learned gave me a feeling of control.”

Exit surveys filled out by students had one common thread. Everyone wanted to know more about meditation and understand why it had such a powerful effect on their level of happiness.  Even for a yoga teacher and mediator, I felt unable to answer my students’ questions.  I decided to revamp the NAMI-Yoga workshop curriculum to include more meditation and dig into the research to try and find the answers to my students’ questions.  These questions led me to my current obsession, the science of meditation.  I wanted to address the question: can meditation significantly improve mental health for those with a diagnosed mental illness?

Over the next month I will be sharing snip-its of what I have been learning.  In the meantime I would love to hear more about what you know?

What is neuroplasticity?

Most people understand that they can change their fitness regime and change their physical muscle structure.  Not as well understood is the ability to structurally change the brain.  Yes I said, “change the brain”.  Whether trying to change or not our entire physical selves, including our brain, are constantly undergoing change.

“The brain’s ability to act and react in ever-changing ways is known, in the scientific community, as “neuroplasticity.” This special characteristic allows the brain’s estimated 100 billion nerve cells… to constantly lay down new pathways for neural communication and to rearrange existing ones throughout life, thereby aiding the processes of learning, memory, and adaptation through experience.” (memoryzine)


I wanted to introduce the idea of neuroplasticity as we begin to explore meditation. I plan to cover multiple topics related to meditation over the rest of April.  If there are specific questions you have please don’t hesitate to ask and I will do my best to find you some helpful information.

Published in: on April 18, 2011 at 7:13 pm  Comments (2)  
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Just Breathe

Just Breathe: Body Has A Built-In Stress Reliever : NPR


Deep breathing is not just relaxing; it’s also been scientifically proven to affect the heart, the brain, digestion, the immune system. Research has shown that breathing exercises can have immediate effects by altering the pH of the blood, or changing blood pressure. Read NPR’s whole article or view a video at the link below.
Published in: on December 15, 2010 at 5:53 pm  Leave a Comment  
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