Meditating or holding a yoga pose for a few minutes can change a person's gene expressions and counteract the harmful effects of stress, according to a study in PLoS One.
Over an eight-week period:
- Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center taught 26 adults with no prior experience how to meditate.
- The study participants' blood was tested immediately before and 15 minutes after listening to a meditation CD.
- Meanwhile, blood samples of 25 adults who had long-term experience meditating were also tested before and after listening to the CD.
Following meditation, the blood samples uniformly revealed that the participants' gene expressions had transformed into "relaxation" mode, or the exact opposite of the gene expressions present during the stress-induced "fight or flight" mode. Genes associated with metabolism, mitochondrial function, insulin secretion, and telomere maintenance were active, while stress-related, inflamed genes were not. The effects were more pronounced in the experienced meditators.
Herbert Benson, founder of MGH's Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine and the study's lead author, practicing meditation allows people to experience "a specific genomic response that counteracts the harmful genomic effects of stress."
"Do it for years, and then these effects are quite powerful in how they change your gene activity," Benson says (Abrams, The Atlantic, 5/2).