By Arthur Lederer
A research from the US shows that practices such as Yoga and Meditation can alter the way our genes are activated.
The research took place in Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the Genomics Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC).
The researchers showed that practices of Mind-Body such as various forms of yoga, meditation and prayer induce in the body a state called ‘the relaxation response’. This state is characterized by reduction in oxygen intake, increase in exhalation of nitric oxide, and lower psychological distress. Many scientists believe that the relaxation response is the opposite counterpart of the ‘flight or fight’ stress response, a basic impulse that human beings have in reaction to perceived danger. The ‘flight or fight’ response has already been shown by a number of studies to have a distinct pattern of physiological and gene expression changes – determining some genes with specific attributes to go into action. The researchers raised the hypothesis that in a similar way to the ‘flight or fight’ response, so the relaxation response would determine changes in the activation of some genes.
To test their hypothesis, the researchers assembled three groups of test subjects. In the first group there were 19 long term practitioners of mind-body techniques (which included vipassana, mantra, transcendental meditation, breath focus, Kripalu or Kundalini Yoga, and repetitive prayer), who had been practicing various ways of producing the relaxation response every day for a long time. In the second group were another 19 people which did not practice such techniques, as a test group. The third group included 20 people who have not previously practiced such techniques but as part of the experiment have completed 8 weeks of relaxation response training.
Blood tests were taken from all test subjects, mapping out which genes were activated in each person. The results showed that the expressions of a total of 2,209 genes were significantly different between the daily practitioner group and the test group, and a total of 1,561 genes were similarly significantly different between the group of those who completed 8 weeks of training and the test group.
More importantly, however, was the fact that 433 of the genes were common to both the long term daily practitioners and those who completed 8 weeks of training. This means that even a short period of training of methods such as yoga is enough to determine changes in the expression of 433 genes.
The authors said their study showed that the relaxation response changed the expression of genes involved with inflammation, programmed cell death and the handling of free radicals. Free radicals are normal byproducts of metabolism that the body neutralizes in order to stop damage to cells and tissues.
Co-lead author of the study Dr Jeffery Dusek formerly of the Benson-Henry Institute and now with the Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis said:
"Changes in the activation of these same genes have previously been seen in conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder; but the relaxation-response-associated changes were the opposite of stress-associated changes and were much more pronounced in the long-term practitioners."
These changes of the activation of the genes, determining physiological changes, help maintain the health of the body.
Dr Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute and co-senior author of the study said:
"Now we've found how changing the activity of the mind can alter the way basic genetic instructions are implemented," said Benson.
READ THE RESEARCH PAPER HERE