Yoga And Meditation Reverse Stress-Related Disease
Anyone who practices yoga and meditation knows that they do more than just help you feel relaxed in the moment. But now, a new scientific review suggests that these and other mindfulness exercises can actually reverse stress-related disease and changes in genes linked to poor health of our mind and body.
Finally New Science Agrees With Ancient Knowledge
In a new paper, published in Frontiers in Immunology, British researchers analysed the findings from 18 previously published studies—involving a total of 846 people—on the biological effects of energy work including meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, Qi gong and Tai Chi. Together, the authors say, the studies show that these mind-body exercises appear to suppress the expression of genes and genetic pathways that promote inflammation.
Inflammation can temporarily boost the immune system, and can be protective against infection and injury, the authors write in their paper. But in today’s society, in which stress is primarily psychological, the body’s inflammatory response can become chronic and can impair both physical and mental health.
Researchers found that people who practiced these activities regularly had fewer signs of inflammation, including a decrease in their production of inflammatory proteins. This signals “the reversal of the molecular signature of the effects of chronic stress,” they wrote, which may translate to a reduced risk of inflammation-related diseases and conditions.
Environment and lifestyle can both affect which genes are turned on and off, and that can have real effects on disease risk, longevity and even which traits get passed on to future generations. Stressful events, for example, can activate the fight-or-flight response and trigger a chain reaction of stress-related changes in the body—including activating specific genes involved in making proteins that produce inflammation.
Lead author Ivana Buric, a PhD student in Coventry University’s Brain, Belief and Behaviour Lab, says her team was surprised to see that different types of mind-body techniques had such similar effects at the genetic level. “Sitting meditation is quite different than yoga or Tai Chi,” she said “yet all of these activities—when practiced regularly—seem to decrease the activity of genes involved in inflammation.”
Existing studies suggest that mind-body interventions cause the brain to steer our DNA processes along a path which improves our well being. Inherited genes are not static and DNA activity can depend on things people can control. By choosing healthy habits every day, we can create a gene activity pattern that is more beneficial for our health.
This is not news to those of us who have used yoga and mindfulness to reverse stress-related disease, but is great to know that science is finally catching up with what the teachers of these ancient practices have always known.
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