A Harvard University study published in 2008 found the first compelling evidence that the Relaxation Response (RR) – the physiological response to meditation, yoga, tai chi, Qi Gong or repetitive prayer – affects our genes.
Nineteen adults were long-term daily practitioners of various RR techniques, 20 were trained in RR eliciting techniques (breathing, mantra and mindfulness meditation) for 8 weeks, and 19 served as controls.
By analysis of blood samples, the study found that 2209 genes were differently expressed (switched on or off) between the long-term meditators and control group. Specifically, 1275 were up-regulated (their activity was increased) and 934 were down-regulated (their activity was reduced). It also found that 1561 genes were expressed differently between the group who did the 8 weeks meditation training, who were considered novice meditators, and the control group. Specifically, 874 were up-regulated and 687 were down-regulated.
In other words, meditation – short or long term – causes hundreds of genes to turn on or off.
Many of the genes were involved in cellular metabolism and in the body’s response to ‘oxidative stress’. Oxidative stress is one of the biological products of mental and emotional stress. It produces free radicals and is known to be involved in a host of disease processes, including atherosclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. It also accelerates aging at the cellular level. Ideally, we want a good response to oxidative stress so that we can prevent the negative effects.
In the study, blood analysis found significant changes in cellular metabolism and response to oxidative stress in the two meditation groups relative to the control group.
The scientists proposed that the Relaxation Response – whether it is induced through meditation, yoga or prayer – may counteract cellular damage due to chronic psychological stress.
People have meditated for years and enjoyed better health (and a slower aging process) but many others have been skeptical as to its benefits. Now, we have solid scientific proof of the positive genetic effects of meditation in that it affects genes that positively influence cell metabolism and the response to oxidative stress.
Here’s the link to the article. You can download the PDF free: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0002576