This Is How Yoga Relaxes You, According To Science
The health benefits of yoga abound, from increased flexibility to better sleep at night. And we know that this meditative practice helps us reduce stress, but researchers are shedding new light on exactly how yoga accomplishes this relaxation reaction.
Yoga, along with meditation and Tai Chai, is considered a form of mind-body intervention, meaning that quieting the mind leads to a calmer body. Decades of research explore how our genes could be affected by these MBIs, and a new study from Coventry University and Radboud University found a pattern among this data that suggests practices like yoga and meditation actually lead to molecular changes in the body that benefit both mental and physical health. Their analysis included 18 studies encompassing 846 participants over a span of 11 years.
Typically, when we’re stressed out and our sympathetic nervous systems kick into high gear, our bodies produce more molecules (called nuclear factor kappa) that, in turn, activate our genes to produce cytokines. Cytokines are proteins that cause inflammation in our cells, and when they’re present for long periods of time, we end up with higher risks of developing cancer and depression, and we age faster. (Stress really is toxic, guys.)
However, people who consistently practice mind-body interventions like yoga and meditation exhibited the opposite genetic effect. Their bodies produce less nuclear factor kappa and fewer cytokines, avoiding cellular inflammation and the negative health effects that come with them.
“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,” lead researcher Ivana Buric said in a statement. “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.”
So there you have it. Yoga and meditation alter our DNA — and in a great way. Since our world is already the pinnacle of stressful, we should probably keep up our MBI practices to renew our sense of inner peace daily. So… class tonight, anyone?