People always claim that yoga will change your life, or that if you meditate regularly, you will never be the same again. The funny part? In addition to the known physical and mental benefits of each practice, recent research also indicates that the change each practice imparts on your life is so real that it begins with the transformation of our DNA. Yes, really.
The technical name for spiritual practices in this context is Mind-Body Interventions (MBI), and a review of decade’s worth of of studies (1) on the subject indicate that the behavior of our genes is affected, changed and re-patterned from the practices of different MBIs.
It all has to do with the ‘stress response’ of the body. When someone experiences chronic stress or a traumatic experience, the molecule in the body that regulates how genes interact and express is activated. If this cellular reaction is persistent (from, say, heightened stress ), this can lead to accelerated aging, mental health disorders and even immune depletion, which can, in turn, lead to diseases of the heart and even cancer (2).
Researchers note (3) that in prehistoric times where the inflammatory response was needed for life-threatening hunting and living for humans, the molecular behavior of the stress response worked in our favor. Though nowadays, considering that we “gather” our food from supermarkets, our stress response is activated not from a dangerous tiger or snake, but rather traffic, crowds of people, or not being making it in time to catch the best sales.
Ok, so not all of our lives are stressful, though this response is often an unconscious tightening of the body, ranging from subtle discomfort to full blown anxiety. Our genetic structure is primed to expect and react to stress unconsciously. Most of the time we don’t even realize we are living in this place of stress: We live in fast-paced worlds with constant demands on our time and resources, and, more often than not, this translates to a persistent expression of stress in our bodies and minds.
It’s no wonder, then, that more people are seeking out these MBIs. Yoga is popping up literally everywhere, and meditation and mindfulness courses are being taught in major universities.
And with good reason: Research suggests that those who practice MBIs actually create the opposite reaction in their bodies, inhibiting the production of the aforementioned molecules, which impacts the stress response by reducing instances and risks of inflammation-related diseases and conditions that can build over time.
In other words: We are reversing the primed response of unconscious stress and tension expressed in our DNA, becoming more sensitive to the life-threatening instances that activate this response and less sensitive to the everyday experiences or tough situations that might otherwise trigger that same stress response.
One expert in this realm of research, Ivana Buric (Brain and Behaviour Lab, Coventry University) notes that “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.”
As this is a relatively new finding from this study evaluation, it has been proposed that more study will be undertaken in this area, as the growing interest in MBIs all over the world demonstrates the need for a collective lifestyle change for the better.
So, how can you implement MBI practices in your own life?
Here, a few examples of what MBIs can be.
- Meditation of any form (visualizations, guided, silence, single pointed, mindfulness)
- Sound healing therapies/classes
- Pranayama (breathing techniques)
- Tai Chi, Qi Gong and other such forms of meditation and movement
- Mindfulness practices infused into your every day
How can you incorporate one or more MBIs into your lifestyle? Tai Chi in the park? Yoga at your local studio? At-home meditation? Sometimes, you never know how much you can benefit until you feel into them yourself.
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