Scientists have achieved a breakthrough in understanding how relaxation techniques like yoga, meditation, and prayer improve health.
Research collaborators from the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Genomics Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center say that such relaxation techniques work by changing patterns of gene activity that affect how the body responds to stress.
Dr Herbert Benson of the institute says, "It's not all in your head. What we've found is that when you evoke the relaxation response, the very genes that are turned on or off by stress are turned the other way. The mind can actively turn on and turn off genes."
During the study, Benson and his colleagues compared gene-expression patterns in 19 long-term practitioners,19 healthy controls, and 20 newcomers who underwent eight weeks of relaxation-response training. The researchers observed that over 2,200 genes were activated differently in the long-time practitioners relative to the controls, and 1,561 genes in the short-timers compared to the long-time practitioners.
The researchers also saw changes in cellular metabolism, response to oxidative stress and other processes in both short and long-term practitioners.
February 7, 2011