Want to Seriously Alter Your Molecules? Meditate.
A study of some 50 adults suggests that meditation and other practices evoking the “relaxation response” can counteract the “harmful genomic effects of stress.” That is, doing yoga, praying and meditating may actually have an “observable, biological effect” on us by altering gene expression.
Meditation isn’t just about taking it easy. It’s good for you all the way down to the cellular level.
In the study, 26 adults who had no previous experience with meditation were trained by researchers (from Massachusetts General Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center) in such practices as deep breathing, repeating mantras and training their minds to ignore intrusive thoughts. These techniques are ways to stoke the relaxation response, a physiological as well as a psychological state that is precisely the opposite of what happens when we’re stressed and have a “flight or fight response,” in which the body steps up the activity of the nervous system dramatically.
For eight weeks, the researchers tested the participants’ blood just before and then 15 minutes after they listened to a 20-minute health education CD. After the training, the researchers did the blood tests before and after the participants listened to a CD that guided them in their meditation. They also tested twenty-five other people who had long-term experience with meditation.
Analysis of the participants’ blood samples showed that, after meditation, all experienced changes in gene expression that were “the exact opposite” of what happens in the flight or fight response.” Specifically, genes “associated with energy metabolism, mitochondrial function, insulin secretion, and telomere maintenance were turned on,” but those involved in inflammation were turned off. Long-term practitioners of meditation showed all these effects to a greater degree.
More Than “Just Relaxing”
As the study’s senior author, Dr. Herbert Benson says, simple meditation is not “just relaxing” but actually puts the body into a state in which “specific genomic response that counteracts the harmful genomic effects of stress” can occur. Small wonder that people have been practicing yoga, meditation and such mind-body practices for thousands of years, the Atlantic comments.
Earlier research studies indicate that various mind-body interventions can help to reduce chronic stress and also enhance wellness, all through inducing the relaxation response. Even more, additional studies have also suggested that evoking the relaxation response via meditation and other practices can be an ”effective therapeutic intervention to counteract the adverse clinical effects of stress in disorders” including hypertension, anxiety, insomnia, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as in aging.
On top of these health benefits, meditation has been found to make people become more open to ideas that are more politically liberal. If the practice of closing your eyes and inhaling can help conservatives lean left, small wonder, perhaps, that it can influence our bodies at the molecular level. Breathe.
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Photo via Joe Shlabotnik/Flickr