Changing How Genes Respond to Stress: Meditation and Yoga Encourage the Relaxation Response
Research now suggests that mind-body techniques like yoga and meditation, which can put the body into a state of deep rest known as the relaxation response, are capable of changing how human genes behave in response to stress.
Many experts see the relaxation response, which is characterized by reduced oxygen intake, increased exhalation of nitric oxide and lowered psychological distress, as the counterpart to the flight-or-fight stress response. The authors say their study showed that the relaxation response further acted to change the expression of genes involved with inflammation, programmed cell death and the handling of free radicals. They noted that such deep relaxation practices have been used across cultures for millennia to help prevent and treat disease.
Dr. Jeffery Dusek, co-lead author of the study at the Benson-Henry Institute, and now with Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, remarks that, “The relaxation-response-associated changes were the opposite of stress-associated changes,” and were “much more pronounced” in long-term practitioners.
The researchers at Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Genomics Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center published their results in PLoS One.