Yoga and meditation (also called mind-body interventions, or MBIs) are not only great for relaxation. They actually change how our bodies respond to stress. A study published by Coventry and Radboud University on June 15, 2017, concluded that yoga and meditation change the chemistry in human DNA. Such changes can alter the course of various diseases.
The journal Frontiers in Immunology, which published the study, reviews 11 years of research that analyzed how our genes respond to stress. The scientists concluded that health of the 846 participants revealed a pattern in how their bodies reacted to MBIs. They also agreed that the changes they saw gave benefit to mental and physical health.
Science-backed: MBIs change your mind and body
Some of the researchers delved into how the body expresses genes over time. The way that they become active parts of the body and produce different proteins influences the body, mind, and the immune system.
In the face of a stressful event, the biological response of the body is centered in the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). This system produces the well-known ‘fight or flight’ response in the body. This is followed with the release of a molecule named nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB). This molecule has a lot to do with how the genes in the body express.
When the body is under stress, the NF-kB molecule activates proteins that cause inflammation. This natural response to a stressful situation is helpful during the short fight-or-flight response. But if it persists for a longer period of time, it can cause chronic conditions such as cancer, psychiatric conditions, and premature aging.
How do the MBIs prevent stress?
The scientists speculated about the inflammatory effect of the fight-or-flight response. During pre-historic times, the response might have been beneficial for fighting off infection from wounds.
The response could cause problems in today’s society, however. This is because the stress modern humans face persists on a daily basis. When you’re driving to work, running errands, watching the kids. These are all stressful situations that actually promote the release of NF-kB. Because there is so much of this molecule being released, long-term medical and psychiatric problems often arise.
This is where the practice of MBIs like yoga and meditation come in. People who practiced the MBIs produced less NF-kB. As s result, less inflammatory proteins were let loose in the body. This reduced the overall risk of illnesses like cancer and depression.
So many people from around the globe are already enjoying the benefits that meditation and yoga have to offer. But many of them don’t realize that the changes that are happening to them begin at such a small level. Yoga and meditation change the very structure of our bodies from the atomic level. Put simply, the MBIs leave their own signature behind in our cells. This changes the way our bodies react to stress and anxiety. They also reverse any negative effects caused by stressful situations.
This is a great start on the path to understanding the way yoga and meditation can change the body and mind for the better. This study makes a decent foundation for further research into the way that MBIs affect human DNA.