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Research from the UK has established a scientific explanation for how practitioners of yoga and mind body practices achieve feelings of reduced stress.

A study led by Ivana Buric of the Centre for Psychology at Coventry University found that mind body practices (MBIs) ‘reverse’ changes in DNA that cause stress.

Many studies, as well as anecdotal evidence, have highlighted the stress-reducing effects of yoga and meditation, but most have not established a molecular explanation.

Studying data from almost 850 individuals involved in 18 different studies, the researchers looked at whether mind body practices, including yoga, Tai Chi, and mindfulness, affect ‘gene expression’ – how genes create proteins and other molecules that influence cellular function.

Buric’s team found that mind body practitioners produce less nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB), a molecule which regulates gene expression.

Stressful events lead to the production of the NF-kB molecule, which in turn leads to cellular inflammation. If persistent, this molecular reaction can lead to health problems including depression and cancer.

By lowering the production of this molecule, practice of mind body disciplines reduces not only stress, but also the risk of the associated mental and physical health problems.

Buric 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 realise is that these benefits begin at a molecular level and can change the way our genetic code goes about its business.’

‘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. Put simply, MBIs cause the brain to steer our DNA processes along a path which improves our well-being.’

Source: Frontiers in Immunology

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