Recent research conducted by Harvard Medical School Professor and Body Mind Medical Institute founder Herbert Benson, M.D., has identified that the body’s relaxation state found in yoga alters the physical and emotional response to stress, resulting in a more powerful immune system. Benson has coined this “relaxation response”, which can be induced by regular yoga practice, breathing exercises, and meditation.
“Many studies have shown that mind/body interventions like the relaxation response can reduce stress and enhance wellness in healthy individuals and counteract the adverse clinical effects of stress in conditions like hypertension, anxiety, diabetes, and aging,” said Benson. “Now for the first time we have identified the key physiological hubs through which these benefits might be induced,” he said.
This has always been a theory, but alas it is now measurable. In this new study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers are able to measure bodily changes induces by the relaxation response by examining changes in gene expression.
The study conducted included 26 adults who had claimed to have never practiced anything regularly that would trigger the relaxation response. Study participants willingly had their blood tested before and after a controlled session where they listened to a health information CD for twenty minutes. The researchers then had the participants embark on an eight week relaxation response training course. After the course was conducted, the original blood sample study was conducted again.
Researchers found differences in gene expression in blood samples taken before and after the relaxation response training course. Specific gene changes included change in energy metabolism, insulin, and stress related pathways. “People have been engaging in these relaxation practices for thousands of years, and our finding of this unity of function on a basic-science, genomic level gives greater credibility to what many have called ‘new age medicine’” said Benson in his statement.
Towia Libermann, PhD, director of the BIDMC Genomics Center and the report’s co-senior author, adds, “This is the first comprehensive study of how the mind can affect gene expression, linking what has been looked on as a ‘soft’ science with the ‘hard’ science of genomics. It is also important because of its focus on gene expression in healthy individuals, rather than in disease states.”
Science proved that mind over matter is a real thing. So relax. If you think that yoga is too much, simply try slow, controlled breathing to regulate the heart rate and lower blood pressure. Regular yoga practice can lead to a more controlled temper, resulting in less stress, leading to a healthier body. For breathing techniques, search for Kundalini Yoga classes in your area, and for a more movable practice, try Hatha or Vinyasa. You have nothing to lose except for your genes.