A recent study suggests that yoga and meditation can actually change your DNA! Mind-body interventions (MBIs) such as yoga, meditation, and tai chi have a profoundly positive influence on the way our genes express themselves. Let’s dig into the research.
Gene Expression and How to Influence It
Genes produce proteins that influence the biological composition of our bodies, brains, and immune systems…for better or for worse.
For instance, when a stressful situation occurs, such as a confrontation with a colleague or a car accident, your sympathetic nervous system (SNS) switches on the fight-or-flight response. Levels of a molecule called Kappa B (NF-kB) shoot up, and genes start reacting to the increase by producing proteins called cytokines. Cytokines provoke inflammation at the cellular level.
This whole cycle of cytokine production is beneficial when it occurs short-term in response to acute stressors, but when stress becomes constant and cytokine production stays high, your risk for cancer, accelerated aging, and mental health conditions such as depression increase exponentially.
According to the latest research, MBIs like yoga and meditation may be able to reverse these types of DNA reactions.
How Yoga and Meditation Affect Gene Expression
Researchers from the universities of Coventry and Radboud reviewed 18 studies made up of 846 participants over 11 years to see how yoga and meditation might influence gene expression and enhance our physical and mental health and wellness.
They discovered that people who practice meditation, yoga, and other MBIs showed decreased production of NF-kB and inflammatory cytokines! Looks like yoga and meditation may help reverse pro-inflammatory gene expression, thereby lowering the risk for inflammation-related diseases.
Lead investigator Ivana Buric from the Brain, Belief and Behaviour Lab in Coventry University’s Centre for Psychology, Behaviour and Achievement explained:
“Millions of people around the world already enjoy the health benefits of mind-body interventions like yoga or meditation, but what they perhaps don’t realise is that these benefits begin at a molecular level and can change the way our genetic code goes about its business.
“These activities are leaving what we call a molecular signature in our cells, which reverses the effect that stress or anxiety would have on the body by changing how our genes are expressed. Put simply, MBIs cause the brain to steer our DNA processes along a path which improves our wellbeing.
“More needs to be done to understand these effects in greater depth, for example how they compare with other healthy interventions like exercise or nutrition. But this is an important foundation to build on to help future researchers explore the benefits of increasingly popular mind-body activities.”
New to Yoga and Meditation?
Get started with a visit to Yoga Journal. They have an extensive yoga pose library with several yoga meditation poses to get you started.
Are you a meditation newbie? Keep browsing the Yoga Journal website for meditation types. Here’s a handy article on different styles of yoga to choose from depending on where you are at in your life journey.