If you’ve never fully appreciated the power of yoga, that’s about to change.
Yoga isn’t just about whittling your waistline and achieving the backside of a marble goddess. Nor is it about really expensive leggings and designer mats. Yoga, at its humble core, is an incredible mind-body wellness practice that is potentially as powerful of an influencer on your health as a balanced diet and fitness. In fact, yoga actually works at a genetic level to make you younger, happier, healthier and profoundly less stressed.
Recent research has concluded that mind body interventions like yoga, meditation, breath regulation and tai chi actually alter and reverse the stress-induced inflammatory behavior of our genes. Scientists looked at 18 studies involving meditation, yoga and mindfulness practices, which encompassed 836 participants over the span of 11 years. Upon processing the data, they concluded that profound molecular changes occur when mind-body interventions are practiced, and these changes have a powerful effect over chronic stress and our physical and mental health.
In a stressful event, a person’s sympathetic nervous system is stimulated and produces a molecule (NF-kB) which regulates how our genes are expressed. In times of stress, this molecule increases the production of inflammatory proteins known as cytokines to give a quick boost to the immune system, among other things. While this is useful in a short term fight-or-flight situation—for example, being chased by a bull moose—it does a disservice in the modern world. Many, if not most, modern humans experience low levels of psychological stress consistently, and unfortunately these inflammatory proteins are much more harmful to the body when present in the long term.
This cellular inflammation, if persistent over time, leads to a higher risk of cancer, accelerated aging and an increase of mental disorders like depression. But, that’s where mindfulness intervention comes in. According to the research, mind-body interventions like yoga, tai chi and meditation actually reverse these gene expressions in the body and thereby improve our long-term wellbeing.
Ivana Buric, the head investigator at the Brain, Belief, and Behavior Lab at Coventry University said:
“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 realize is that these benefits begin at a molecular level and can change the way our genetic code goes about its business.”
By reducing the production of NF-kB, regularly practiced mindfulness activities leave a molecular signature on our cells which reduces inflammatory stress reactions and improves our overall wellbeing. Over time, simple practices that rebalance your mind and soothe your body actually can profoundly affect how your body processes stress.
So go take that yoga class you were thinking of skipping this week. Sit down for fifteen minutes of meditation. Take a few deep breaths. It’s not a waste of time when you should be doing other things. It’s an investment in your long-term health. And in the current climate of stress that is modern life, the healing power of mindfulness practices should not be underestimated.