There are dozens of different reasons for a person to want to achieve mental and physical wellness. Wellness in your body and mind can lead to a better quality of life, longevity, and reduce the chances of diseases. While there are many different ways for a person to achieve wellness, one of the most popular is through physical activity like exercise.
Exercise isn't just about losing weight or building muscle— it's also about keeping healthy, and that can mean keeping healthy down to the genetic level. Previously on the blog, we've talked about the 'Effects of Exercise on Your Genes'. Optimizing your exercise according to your genetic makeup is one way to maximize the endeavour in order to reach your fitness goals. However, while physical activity is important, a high-intensity workout may not be for everyone. That's where yoga comes in.
Mind Body Interventions
The practice of yoga stands out from traditional exercise because it's what we call a mind-body intervention (MBI). MBIs include yoga, Tai Chi, and Qi Gong. Rather than focusing purely on the physical aspect of the exercise, MBIs as a practice include the mind through mindfulness and meditation. This approach to wellness in both the mind and body has several benefits, many of which are only now beginning to be discovered.
'The Spiritual Benefits of Yoga' on Daydreaming in Paradise puts a spotlight on yoga's intangible advantages. Yoga's benefits go beyond the physical, and experts have proven time and again that the practice is able to alleviate depression, anxiety, and even insomnia. Most practitioners of yoga approach it and other MBIs as a lifestyle rather than a single, discrete activity, and recent research has proven that the benefits of this holistic approach are evident even on the genetic level. You can read about how mediation changes gene expression in this blog post.
Yoga and Your Genes
Ask any yoga practitioner and they'll sing the praises of how the practice has improved their lives. But beyond outward lifestyle changes, the benefits of yoga are able to manifest even in our very cells. Research by Ivana Buric, a doctoral student at Coventry University in the United Kingdom, and others, took a systematic review of studies that used gene expression analysis in MBIs. The researchers found that overall, the practice of MBIs led to a downregulation of nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB). NF-kB is the first step in gene expression and is responsible for translating stress into inflammation, which when left unchecked may lead to depression or diseases like obesity when combined with other lifestyle factors.
Continuous exposure to stress can result in chronic inflammation. Your body’s inflammatory response can eventually start damaging healthy cells, tissues, and organs. Over time, this can lead to DNA damage, tissue death, and internal scarring. MBIs may help in the reversal of the "molecular signature" of chronic stress, leading to better overall wellness.
Buric isn't the only researcher looking at the effects of MBIs on your gene expression. Researchers at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Subjects trained 26 adults who had no prior experience with MBIs in this type of meditation for eight weeks.
They found that the participants' responses were the exact opposite of the flight or fight reaction that usually occurs during stress, including a reduction in inflammation. John Denninger of Harvard Medical School is also conducting a five-year study on the effects of yoga and meditation on 210 participants who experience chronic stress, as a follow-up to his work that found that MBIs actually "switch on" and "switch off" genes related to immunity and stress.
While many of the studies of yoga's effects on the genetic level are still only beginning, it's clear that the practice has a positive effect on people experiencing stress. All the more reason for you to take that yoga mat out and do a little meditation of your own.
Your inherited genes aren’t static and their expression can be changed via lifestyle changes. Embracing techniques like yoga and meditation combined with healthy eating can reverse the pro-inflammatory gene expression pattern and a reduce the risk of inflammation-related diseases.
Guest post by Alexis Riley.