The Challenge: It’s common knowledge that meditation is good for us. Ever wonder why?
The Science: New research sheds light on its impact on gene expression and other aspects of health.
The Solution: Meditate more to reap its benefits.
Most people who meditate do it because it feels good, or perhaps because they’ve heard it’s good for their health. And many people, myself included, have intentions to meditate regularly but often find that life gets in the way. But what if we knew that meditation could actually change our DNA, in a good way? Would that motivate us to set aside time for it more often?
Our Genetic Inheritance
We’re all born with certain genes. Our parents pass down our genetic material. You can often tell what genes you have just by looking in the mirror. Like your blue eyes or brown hair. But not every gene you carry will be “expressed.” Certain genes can turn on and off like a light switch. Who’s switching the bulb on and off? Well, there are a multitude of factors that determine it.
The Outward Expression of Genes
Even though we are born with certain a set of genes, how they manifest themselves is up to us. Epigenetics is the study of the outside factors that influence gene expression. In other words, the way our DNA shows up in our bodies. Scientists are still learning about all the things that affect DNA. The expression of our genes could be altered by just about anything like exposure to toxins, diet, exercise, and even, you guessed it, by meditation.
Control Your Genes
Studies show that genetic changes occurred following a day of mindfulness meditation. The changes included reduced levels of inflammatory genes. That’s a biological signal for an enhanced ability to recover from physical stress. Given these findings, researchers recommend you swap your typical anti-inflammatory drugs like advil or aspirin for a quick meditation session. Meditation can also make you less stressed: the findings of the same study showed that cortisol levels rapidly declined with meditation. What is mindfulness meditation? It is a simple way of to bring awareness to the present moment without judgement. One does so by using his or her breath or a short phrase as way to focus.
Stretch Your Genes
Meditation has a more lasting impact on your body too. Research has shown that breast cancer patients who practiced mindfulness meditation had longer telomeres. These are the parts of DNA that protect chromosomes. Telomeres normally shorten with age. Their deterioration leaves chromosomes vulnerable. People with chronic disease or under high stress tend to have shorter ones. Young, healthy people have longer ones. What’s the take-away? Long telomeres are a good thing, and meditation can preserve them.
The Big Ideas
So meditation can prevent you from getting a disease if you carry the gene for it, right? Not exactly. Meditation is another habit on the list of epigenetic factors that we can control in our lives like diet and exercise. Persistent practice has the potential to reduce your risk to disease and decrease your dependence on pharmaceuticals. The next time you want a quick fix for your stress or need to sharpen your focus, remember what Gandhi said:
“I have so much to accomplish today that I must meditate for two hours instead of one.”
This article first appeared on mindbodygreen.com as How Your Meditation Routine is Altering Your DNA.