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Meditation boosts endorphins

Tags: stress, antiaging

Endorphins (short for “endogenous morphine”) are neurotransmitters secreted by the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus as an internal pain killer.

The “runner’s high” occurs when the body senses pain from prolonged exertion and releases these natural opiate-like substances to prevent nerve cells from sending more pain signals. They are the reason we are sometimes able to persist with an athletic event after we’ve been injured.

Endorphins are produced during orgasm, exercise, excitement, pain and when we eat spicy or hot food. They regulate the production of growth and sex hormones. They control cravings and feelings of frustration and stress.

Endorphins are also responsible for the all-over happiness we get when we’re in love.

Endurance athletes love reaching the point at which their body crosses the threshold and the “endorphin high” gives them their “second wind.” The athlete’s attitude changes dramatically. Before the endorphins kick in, the pain and exertion of the activity may have made it difficult to overcome mentally.

When everything hurts and you are “at your limit” it’s hard to stay motivated. Ah, but then there is that magical moment when the endorphins enter the system like so many fans and cheerleaders. Pain disappears, you suddenly “find your legs” and perceived physical limits disappear.

Meditation can elicit these same feelings of joy. A 2003 study by Goteborg University in Sweden reported that endorphins are also triggered by the extreme relaxation of a float tank - similar to the profound relaxation experienced during meditation.

Another study by the School of Behavioral Sciences at the James Cook University of North Queensland, Australia, compared elite runners and trained meditators. Although running and meditation are obviously different metabolic activities, the researchers predicted that mood changes after running or meditating would be similar. Indeed, that is what they found.

Compared to pre-test moods (and those of a control group), both running and meditating elicited a positive mood change.

Meditation stimulates the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus, thus releasing endorphins. Meditation also increases production of serotonin, dopamine and melatonin, all related to positive moods, happiness and relaxation.

Meditators are generally happier, more centered and less prone to anger and frustration than non-meditators.

You can achieve the euphoric “runner’s high” from meditating, without ever leaving the comfort of your own mind!