I'll bet that's a surprise, huh? I admit, when I first saw those headlines, I was skeptical. Even though I see firsthand every day how much Yoga helps our physical health, I didn’t understand the "why." Now that it makes so much sense, I wonder why someone hadn’t discovered this information long ago.
For years we‘ve known that practices like Yoga, meditation, and Tai Chi make us feel better, breathe better, remove stress, and even sleep well. “New science” has shown us that these mind/body practices leave, what science calls, a “molecular signature” in our cells; they actually cause our body to either raise or lower the protein production of our genes. Cool!
One recent study examined the effects of mindfulness practices on the immune system, with a specific focus on five outcomes: (1) circulating and stimulated inflammatory proteins, (2) cellular transcription factors and gene expression, (3) immune cell count, (4) immune cell aging, (5) antibody response. Their conclusion is that there is enough evidence to support a link between these mindfulness practices and gene expression to warrant further studies. YES! Let’s get more scientific evidence on board so that more docs will recommend Yoga, meditation, etc.
Another review seemed to point to what most of us already know – the majority of improvements and health benefits that people enjoy from these mindfulness practices are related to stress hormones and inflammation. While previous studies have focused on how these practices affect our brains (losing less of our grey matter as we age), this study also looked specifically at how our genes are affected. Certain genes are either upregulated or downregulated in our body throughout our day, based on many different circumstances. All of the studies measured what they call “gene expression,” (the way that genes activate to produce proteins which influence the biological make-up of the body, the brain, and the immune system.) They used blood samples to identify this gene expression both before and after each different mindfulness practice. Some studies were all about Yoga, some Tai Chi, others studied different forms of meditation, etc. In all the studies, the gene expressions of genes that control inflammation and stress were changed after the session.
The results of 18 studies that used gene expression analysis in research on mindfulness practices have, overall, found a significant downregulation of NF-κB (a key transcription factor that controls the expression of inflammation-related genes), which can reverse the molecular effects of chronic stress. I’ll take that!
Even though the study designs, the population, and the types of mindfulness practices used in the studies included in this review vary, it indicates that some of the psychological and physical benefits result from biological changes in NF-κB genes. More studies are currently being done to understand better how Yoga and other mindfulness practices affect our genes.
Another study, which was a follow up to a previous study done at UCLA, found that the Yogic meditation practice called Kirtan Kriya, reversed the pattern of increased NF-κB-related transcription of pro-inflammatory cytokines and decreased IRF1-related transcription of innate antiviral response genes previously observed in healthy individuals confronting a significant life stressor. Translation: This meditation practice reversed the inflammatory process in stressed out caregivers! This particular study was done on caregivers who live with the daily stress of caring for family members with dementia or Alzheimer’s.
When that first UCLA study came out, I wrote an article about it and offered training in this particular meditation practice. I am offering a special on Kirtan Kriya meditation training again today. You can find out more, and sign up HERE.
Dr. Helen Lavretsky, senior author of this study and a professor of psychiatry at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, and her colleagues, found, in their work with 45 family dementia caregivers, that 68 of their genes responded differently after Kirtan Kriya Meditation (KKM), resulting in reduced inflammation. “The goal of the study was to determine if meditation might alter the activity of inflammatory and antiviral proteins that shape immune cell gene expression," said Lavretsky. "Our analysis showed a reduced activity of those proteins linked directly to increased inflammation. This is encouraging news. Caregivers often don’t have the time, energy, or contacts that could bring them a little relief from the stress of taking care of a loved one with dementia, so practicing a brief form of yogic meditation, which is easy to learn, is a useful tool."
Notice she used the word “brief”. This meditation takes only twelve minutes a day! Can you spare twelve minutes a day to alter your genes for reduced inflammation as well as increase your grey matter? Sign up now and learn this easy meditation practice!
Best of Health,