COVENTRY, England — Yoga is not only good for your muscles, joints, and ligaments, it’s also good for you at the genetic level. A recent study found that yoga and other mindful practices like meditation can actually reverse the reactions in our DNA that cause stress, depression, or similar mental health conditions.
For the study, the researchers pored over a decade of analysis involving 846 participants in the United Kingdom across 18 studies. They found that mind-body interventions (MBIs) were having an effect on the molecular changes occurring to participants bodies.
What geneticists call “gene expression” describes how the body’s genes activate and produce proteins that form all the tissues and organs of the body. The genes that control how the brain and nervous system are constructed were positively affected by MBIs.
In stressful situations, people who practiced yoga and meditation saw a clear decrease in the genetic molecule produced by the sympathetic nervous system, which regulates the “fight or flight” response in our brains when faced with a threat. Too much of that molecule increases one’s risk of suffering from anxiety or depression, ages the body and brain faster, and can even lead to cancer.
But when participants practiced various MBIs, production of that molecule decreases, and so does a person’s risk for the brain-crippling conditions.
“Millions of people around the world already enjoy the health benefits of mind-body interventions like yoga or meditation, but what they perhaps don’t realise is that these benefits begin at a molecular level and can change the way our genetic code goes about its business,” says lead investigator Ivana Buric in a university news release. “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.
Buric says that more research needs to be done to compare MBIs to other healthy activities like aerobic workouts and dieting.
“This is an important foundation to build on to help future researchers explore the benefits of increasingly popular mind-body activities,” she says. “Put simply, MBIs cause the brain to steer our DNA processes along a path which improves our wellbeing.”
The full study was published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology.