How Yoga and Meditation Can Reverse DNA Damage.
For centuries, yogis have preached the benefits of mind-body exercise in relieving pain and improving overall health.
Recent scientific evidence reveals that they were right all along. Yoga and meditation don’t just provide temporary relaxation and stress relief, they can actually promote beneficial health improvements in the expression of our very genes.
As someone with several chronic pain problems, I can testify firsthand on the benefits of yoga in alleviating pain and promoting an overall sense of well-being. Now, medical science supports what I’ve long believed in a way I never could have imagined.
How DNA Becomes Damaged
Multiple factors lead to changes in human DNA. The most common way DNA incurs damage is through long-term exposure to UV radiation. Other factors, such as exposure to environmental toxins can likewise damage the human genetic code.
Oftentimes, damage to DNA impacts the way genes express themselves. Certain experiences, from surviving an automobile accident to losing a job, increase the level of cortisol in the body. This hormone, released in times of physical or psychological stress, impacts just about every organ system in the body.
When an overproduction of cortisol occurs due to long-term stress or anxiety, levels of a protein known as NF-kB likewise rise. This protein governs the transcription of our DNA to affect how the cells of our body react. Mind-body exercises such as meditative yoga help return cortisol levels and NF-kB levels back into balance.
I found yoga extremely beneficial in dealing with my chronic back pain. The stretching helped me identify muscle knots and release them naturally. And it appears as though the meditation aspect helped return my cortisol levels, elevated due to my anxiety, back to normal, which has given me the feeling of strength I needed to continue to power through busy days as best I can.
The Mind-Body Connection
Just as continual exposure to stress can damage DNA, taking the time to meditate and practice reflective exercises improves gene expression. This partially explains why yoga, tai chi and meditation work so well — these exercises serve as a counterbalance to neutralize the negative genetic effects of hectic modern life.
Practices such as yoga improve mindfulness or awareness of being in the present moment free of rehashing past events and fears about the future. Mindfulness helps alleviate a number of ailments, from anxiety to neck and back pain. By concentrating on what is instead of what was or what will be, stress levels decrease, bringing hormones back into balance.
I can again attest to the benefits of yoga for pain relief. As some of my trigger points are in my mid-back, I started a morning and evening yoga routine which focused on improving lumbar flexibility. While not a cure, yoga makes a perfect complementary therapy in keeping the disease under control.
Yoga for Molecular Healing
The human body contains both a sympathetic nervous system and a parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system governs the fight-or-flight response when an individual experiences a period of crisis. Conversely, the parasympathetic nervous system tells our bodies to relax and heal.
The modern world bombards us with constant exposure to stress, which leaves many in a permanent state of fight-or-flight. Yoga, conversely, activates the parasympathetic nervous system. This explains why so many people, myself included, feel much more relaxed after a good Bikram session.
I know many others like me who have overcome the inevitable nerves that follow injury or illness (Will I ever get well? What if it happens again?) through practice. For me, yoga acts as a mental tonic for my brain, bringing all my wild-horse neurotransmitters back safely to pasture.
Meditation and Life Outlook
A 2011 study evaluating the impact of meditation on physiology indicated that those who participate in regular practice increase production of telomerase, an enzyme that helps preserve the tips of chromosomes. This helps prevent further DNA damage by protecting the genes the chromosomes carry.
Additionally, when people experience undue stress, certain parts of the brain become highly active. When in a calm, peaceful state, these areas of increased activity quiet down. The left prefrontal cortex, conversely, becomes activated when sitting in meditation, leading to feelings of elation and joy.
Meditation also alleviates symptoms of depression, which often occur when the body is under too much stress. Sitting in meditation allows individuals to combat negative thoughts which activate genes governing neurotransmitter production, leading to feelings of overwhelm and despair.
I have suffered from depression my whole life, and meditation helped me greatly in restoring the proper balance of neurotransmitters, resulting in the alleviation of my symptoms. As I grew and expanded the mindfulness aspect of my daily practice, I found I could almost control my depression through meditation alone.
For me, mindfulness serves as a preventative measure to avoid more frequent relapses of mental illness.
Improving Your Life the Natural, Ancient Way
Mind-body practices such as yoga, tai chi and meditation truly change the body from the inside out. As medical science advances, we learn more about how our thoughts influence our health, allowing us to naturally return all the systems of our bodies to their proper balance.
The time spent in meditative practice can make coping with the stresses of everyday life easier, and coaches our genes into elevating us to becoming our highest selves.