How Yoga And Meditation Can Supercharge Your Health

01/13/2014 09:55 am ET | Updated Jan 25, 2014
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With the benefits of holistic health and mindfulness practices finally starting to be recognized by mainstream medical institutions across the country, it's only fitting that the first major symposium on yoga and medicine is taking place this weekend in the nation's capital.

In conjunction with the Smithsonian's Yoga: The Art Of Transformation exhibition, the museum is hosting a Medical Yoga Symposium on Saturday, inviting experts in the fields of health and medicine, mindfulness and yoga therapy to discuss the transformational potential of yoga and integrative medicine.

At the Symposium, keynote speaker and HuffPost Medical Editor Dr. Dean Ornish, author, president and founder of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute and creator of the Ornish Diet, will be presenting an overview of 36 years' worth of research on the extraordinary health benefits of yoga and other types of holistic healing.

"We tend to think of advances in medicine as something very new and high-tech and expensive, but what we've been able to show with over three decades of research is that ... lifestyle changes, which is including yoga and meditation, can not only prevent but reverse chronic diseases," Ornish tells The Huffington Post.

Yoga's many possible health benefits -- from improved cognitive function to a lower risk of diabetes -- are well-documented. Recent studies have even suggested that yoga and meditation could influence gene expression, maybe even limiting the expression of genes associated with inflammation. This year, research also showed that lifestyle changes including improved diet, moderate exercise and less stress might actually reverse the aging process at a cellular level.

As the research suggests, practices to reduce stress and calm the mind -- in conjunction with intimacy, community and social support -- may be as important as diet and exercising when it comes to maintaining good health, Ornish explains.

And with more and more hospitals and conventional medicine practitioners turning on to the benefits of integrative and preventative medicine, we're at a tipping point where these practices are finally being acknowledged on a large scale -- one that could have a profound impact on our health care system. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease, a holistic program which includes yoga, is now being covered by Medicaid and Medicare and is being offered at Beth Israel Medical Center, he says.

"Most people tend to think of my work as mainly diet, diet is really just one part of it," Ornish says. "What's really transformative is when people can really quiet down their minds and bodies and experience an inner sense of peace and joy and well-being, and then find ways of connecting with other people in much healthier ways."

Ornish also opened up about his personal experience of healing through yoga, which he says helped him through a bout of severe depression as a college undergraduate.

"Yoga really saved my life," he says. "I don't think I would be here doing this work if it weren't for yoga."

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