Is “Deep Rest” the Key to Recharging You?


Please login to view this content , or sign up for an account

The modern era, characterized by unparalleled levels of chronic low grade stress (allostatic load), necessitates exploring effective stress mitigation strategies. Among the various strategies explored, contemplative practices have gained attention for their practicality and potential to significantly enhance mental and physical health.

Alexandra D. Crosswell and colleagues from Elissa Epel’s research group at the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of California, San Francisco, published a comprehensive research which explores how these practices facilitate a state of “deep rest,” crucial for diminishing stress and bolstering the body’s own restorative mechanisms. As defined by the authors, “Contemplative practices are mind–body exercises that are intentionally practiced to work toward inner well-being, psychological flourishing, and deep connection with self, the world, or a higher power. These practices take on many forms, including prayer, visualization, chanting, and meditation, as well as movement centered practices such as yoga, Tai Chi, and Qigong. What unites the various types of contemplative practices is that they alter habitual cognitive processes (e.g., reduced attention to negative stimuli, decreased perseverative cognition) and emotional processes (e.g., increased positive emotions) in ways that enhance well-being.”

“Practices such as meditation, yoga, and mindfulness exercises are pivotal in promoting psychological well-being.”

Central to the study is the concept that contemplative practices communicate a state of safety to the body, enabling a transition from stress-induced energy utilization to deep rest. This transition is hallmarked by energy conservation and the optimization of cellular functions, laying the foundation for better health outcomes. As the study further explains, practices such as meditation, yoga, and mindfulness exercises are pivotal in promoting psychological well-being. They do so by reducing stress perception and enhancing interoceptive awareness—enabling individuals to become more attuned to their body’s subtle cues like heartbeat and breathing rhythms, muscle tension, and improving attention control and emotion regulation. This heightened awareness and control facilitate a more effective response to stress and promote a sense of internal safety. This ability to direct attention reduces the mental clutter that often leads to stress. Furthermore, contemplative practices enhance emotional regulation by providing tools to manage negative emotions and stress responses.

“Contemplative practices like meditation, yoga, and Tai Chi create a state of ‘deep rest’ which enable a shift towards cellular optimization.”

The study’s comprehensive analysis reveals that contemplative practices like meditation, yoga, and Tai Chi create a state of “deep rest” characterized by cardiovagal (parasympathetic) nervous system dominance and enable a shift towards cellular optimization, moving away from stress-induced physiological conditions. This transition is maintained by safety signaling mechanisms, where the body perceives a state of safety, reducing energy use on stress responses and fostering energy conservation and cellular repair. Physiologically, these practices contribute to lowering blood pressure, reducing systemic inflammation, and enhancing metabolic efficiency. In addition, they have the potential to improving aging-related biomarkers like telomere length and insulin-like growth factor-1, indicative of better cellular health and aging processes. This underscores the critical role of “deep rest” in psychological and physical restoration.

The statistical analysis presented in the paper, supported by randomized controlled trials and meta-analyses, highlights the broad-spectrum benefits of contemplative practices on mental and physical health. Regular engagement in these practices is linked to improved stress levels, emotional well-being, and health markers. The study emphasizes the pivotal role of mitochondria in health on a cellular level, showing that contemplative practices can alleviate stress-induced cellular damage, thereby enhancing mitochondrial health and overall cellular function. This indicates that these practices optimize cellular energy consumption and boost mitochondrial efficiency, which is essential for cellular energy production and effective stress management.

The findings suggest that contemplative practices should be integrated into standard stress management and health promotion protocols. Adopting these practices as proactive healthcare measures has the potential to significantly reduce the prevalence of stress-related illnesses and improve quality of life. The research also opens new avenues for investigation, such as the long-term effects of sustained contemplative practice on health and the mechanisms behind individual responses to these practices, pointing towards more personalized and effective stress management strategies.

“I find meditation profoundly beneficial in managing my inflammatory bowel disease.”

From a personal perspective, I find meditation profoundly beneficial in managing my inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and navigating a demanding schedule. This practice helps maintain a state of rest, aligning with the research findings and emphasizing the practical application of these scientific insights.

Richard Tirado a recent graduate from UCLA, where he majored in Biology and minored in Anthropology.

This article was reviewed and approved by Emeran Mayer, MD