Mind-Body Therapies: An In-Depth Review

The science known to most people today suggests that healing a physical problem requires physical intervention.

Mind-Body Therapies: An In-Depth Review
Mind-Body Therapies: An In-Depth Review
Badri Rickhi
June 25, 2024
Research and Insights

Mind-Body Therapies: An In-Depth Review

The science known to most people today suggests that healing a physical problem requires physical intervention. For example, a wounded person will need cleaning and stitching to close the wound and prevent infection.

However, several studies suggest that mind-body therapies or MBTs also can positively affect your physical status by elevating your mental status through various exercises. Such behavioral therapy exercises include mindfulness meditation, controlled breathing…etc.

While the aforementioned exercises won’t heal an open wound or do something supernatural like cure cancer, they are to improve one's quality of life.

Let’s begin by understanding MBTs’ physiological correlations.

Physiological Correlates of Mind-Body Therapies

When it comes to treating diseases and keeping our bodies healthy, preventing the problem before it happens is always a better choice. This is known as a preventative treatment.

You may have heard or seen some movies talking about how connecting the mind to the body can help you reach the perfect balance.

While the final result isn’t as exaggerated as it’s in movies, several studies and clinical trials have actually found solid results that prove the validity of mind-body therapies. Here are a couple of them:

Cacioppo and Cacioppo, 2014

This study concluded that the lack of positive social influence can increase the risk of mortality.

In other words, while loneliness can motivate someone to go out there and seek that positive influence, it can also tamper with basic physical functions like sleep and overall mental/physical well-being.

Loucks et al., 2015

This study found that mental mindfulness has an effect on physical markers of cardiovascular health. Increased mindfulness improved physical activity and body mass index, and reduced smoking.

Higher fasting glucose was also noticed in individuals with elevated mental states.

Stress and Gene Expression

Some correlations were found between stress and the expression of genes:

Social Stress and Inflammation

A 2014 study found that social stress can actually increase inflammation instances both in humans and animals.

Psychological stress causes adrenergic stimulation, which controls the genes expressed during inflammation.

Further studies also concluded that psychological stress can reduce the amount of circulating leukocytes (white blood cells) through the bloodstream, increasing instances of infection and inflammation.

Stress, Positive Psychological States, and Gene Expression

Negative mental conditions like stress and bereavement can also affect gene expression and reduce the overall count of leukocytes in the bloodstream.

Alternatively, positive psychological states, like being informed of good news, can have the opposite effect.

Functional Genomic Correlates of Mind-Body Therapies

Various studies reported multiple positive psychological responses to MBTs. Such therapies don’t only reduce stress, but they also improve gene expression, resulting in an increased number of circulating immune cells.

Examples of those MBTs are yoga, breathing exercises, guided imagery, Tai Chi Chuan, and progressive muscle relaxation.

However, further studies are required to prove the validity of those claims.  

Stress, Mind-Body Therapies, and Cellular Aging

Some studies, like Zhang et al., 2014 found a relationship between psychological conditions and cellular aging.

The study concluded that increased stress over a long period can reduce the telomere length; a marker used to measure the biological cell’s age at the chromosomal level.

In other words, cells will age faster and die quicker if their telomere length is reduced. Alternatively, MBTs, which reduce stress and promote a better mental state, can slow down cellular aging, improving overall health over one’s lifespan.

Neurological Correlates of Mind-Body Therapies

Most studies have focused on the effect of MBTs on gene expression, cellular quantity, and inflammatory response. However, recently, research has started to focus more on the neurological level in hopes of a richer understanding of the matter.

The methods used were electroencephalography and neuroimaging.


Electroencephalography or EEG is essentially a recording of the brain’s neural activity. Various studies have linked the emotional state with specific EEG maps.

In other words, scientists have started creating EEG profiles that they can use to tell the emotional mindset of a person based on the current EEG profile they have.


Neuroimaging techniques like PET and fMRI scans have given an even clearer view into the brain’s condition during certain mental states.

These scans can track the blood flow into the brain, allowing scientists to detect which areas of the brain are more active during various emotional states.

Eventually, this lead to dividing the brain cells into “centers.” For example, elevated mental conditions have consistently increased the blood flow into a particular center of the brain.

MRI Neuroimaging in Diverse Styles of Meditation; Experts vs. Novices

Mindfulness Meditation has various styles, like FAM (focused-attention meditation) and LKM (loving-kindness meditation.)

Both types of meditation can be attempted by novices or experts. fMRI scans showed differences in the brain-activated centers between FAM and LKM.

The scans also found differences in the activated brain centers of two practitioners of different levels of the same meditation style.

MBT Practices, Default Mode Activity, and Brain Morphology

Since the scans of novices and experts practicing the same meditation style were different, it was suggested that constant learning can affect the areas stimulated in the brain.

When a person does something for the first time(s), their brain is in the default mode activity or default mode network (DMN). Once the same person consistently becomes better in what they do, various alterations gradually get implemented into the default mode activity.


Mind-body therapies are becoming more and more popular because of how they improve the quality of life and reduce chronic pain conditions.

Whether they utilize minimum movement like mindfulness meditation or focus on a series of controlled movements like Tai Chi, one thing remains the same; they reflect positive physical effects.

Various studies were performed throughout the last two decades, linking the mental state with gene expression, cellular aging, leukocyte count, and brain function stimulation.

Most of these studies suggest that the negative mental state of constantly distressed individuals will have adverse effects on their bodies. Accordingly, MBTs can help alleviate those side effects, and hopefully put the mind and body back to a productive state.

If you want an in-depth, fully referenced version of this blog post, please refer to this Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Review PDF.

Mind-Body Therapies: An In-Depth Review

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