Did you meditate or do yoga today?
If you did, you not only benefited your mind-body by inducing a more relaxed state, but you also changed your genetic expression for the better!
It may sound strange, but it’s true.
Various lifestyle and integrative medicine practices have been shown to “turn on” genes that are health promoting and “turn down” molecular signals that are harmful. This means that if we find ourselves stuck in a loop of negative news, fear, and stress that harms our health, we literally have the power to place our “mind over genes.”
In The Epigenetics of Mind-Body Medicine: Part I, I began to focus on these positive ways that we can alter our mindset and shift our biochemistry and brain functioning through consciously using mind-body medicine and natural approaches to wellness. I provided an overview of several studies that showed how integrative medicine (IM) and mindful-based practices alter our genetic expression.
With all the doom and gloom in the world, I thought it was time to provide some happy evidence on how practices such as yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and even laughter, can modify gene function and optimize molecular signaling pathways.
In this post, let’s continue to aim for a more “Wonderful World” by further exploring how to tap into the power of mind-body medicine. In the next section, I’ll expand on the findings from part I. I will continue the discussion on epigenetics, the science of how we can purposely influence and alter our cellular functions at the DNA level through our everyday choices.
In Part III, I’ll bring it all together and even share how we don’t have to be so serious to profoundly impact our genetic destiny! (Hint… the research on this is no laughing matter. :))
More on Meditation, Mindfulness Practices, Yoga, and Your Genes
Previously, we learned that IM and mindful-based practices have a profound influence on the epigenome, the collection of all the epigenetic marks on the DNA in a single cell. This is through both direct and indirect effects on our cellular signaling processes.
A 2017 systematic review published in Frontiers in Immunology explored how meditation and mind-body interventions (MBI) specifically changed gene expression. The eighteen-study review included mindfulness, yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong, relaxation, and breath regulation. The authors reported that these practices downregulated pathways in the body associated with chronic stress and reduced inflammation.
If this interests you, I recommend scrolling down the full review of the research articles and genetic pathways modulated by these practices here. Some of the studies that caught my eye included:
- Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Training Reduces Loneliness and Pro-inflammatory Gene Expression in Older Adults: A Small Randomized Controlled Trial
- Yogic Meditation Reverses NF-KB and IRF-Related Transcriptome Dynamics in Leukocytes of Family Dementia Caregivers in a Randomized Controlled Trial (Note: NF-kB is related to inflammation and IRF is linked to immune function. Leukocytes are a type of white blood cells.)
- Yoga Reduces Inflammatory Signaling in Fatigued Breast Cancer Survivors: A Randomized Controlled Trial
The Mind-Body Stress Impacts & Nurturing Our Epigenome
In a 2020 mini review in Frontiers in Psychology the authors further validated the epigenetics of mindful-based practices. They also demonstrated that many of their beneficial effects are related to the reversal of the negative consequences of stress cascade. The abstract is broken down in bullet points below to summarize these concepts:
- Many studies have consistently demonstrated an epigenetic link between environmental stimuli and physiological as well as cognitive responses.
- Epigenetic mechanisms represent a way to regulate gene activity in real time without modifying the DNA sequence, thus allowing the genome to adapt its functions to changing environmental contexts.
- Factors such as lifestyle, behavior, and the practice of sitting and moving mindful activities have been shown to be important means of environmental enrichment.
- Such practices, which include mindfulness meditation, Vipassana, Yoga, Tai Chi, and Quadrato Motor Training, have been reported to positively impact well-being.
- In fact, they can be considered emotional and attentional regulatory activities, which, by inducing a state of greater inner silence, allow the development of increased self-awareness.
- Inner silence can therefore be considered a powerful tool to counteract the negative effects of overabundant environmental noise, thanks to its power to relieve stress-related symptoms.
- Since all these positive outcomes rely on physiological and biochemical activities, the molecular and epigenetic mechanisms influenced by different mindful practices have recently started to be investigated. Here, we review some of the findings that could allow us to uncover the mechanisms by which specific practices influence well-being.
In the body of their paper, the authors get to the nitty gritty of the details of how different forms of meditation impact cellular expression for the better and counter the detrimental impacts that occur with stress:
Growing evidence suggests that epigenetic changes are a key mechanism by which a stressful environment acts on the genome, causing stable changes in gene expression and in behavior that can mediate maladaptive responses.
On the other end, the voluntary practice of meditation can be considered a form of environmental enrichment, equivalent to positive external stimulation.
Hence, it appears fundamental to understand whether meditation can elicit epigenetic events able to prevent disease and promote health.
In fact, it is reported that meditation practices seem to act on the same gene targets as stress and encourage adaptive vs. harmful responses at the endocrine, neurological, and behavioral levels. Below are the mechanistic pathways for those who want to geek out and/or are interested:
Relevant examples of stress-related targets of epigenetic deregulation are genes involved in glucocorticoid signaling, serotonergic signaling, and neurotrophins. Surprisingly, meditation practices seem to act on the same gene targets, such as FKBP5, SLC6A4, and BDNF, and promote endocrinal, neuronal, and behavioral functions.
The authors conclude that the link between stress and meditation sharing opposing genetic pathways isn’t yet demonstrated to be causative (a cause-effect relationship), but they are linked (associated). The implications of this are very promising for transforming both physical and emotional health. (Bold emphasis mine):
This suggests that the achievement of a state of inner silence through the practice of meditation can prevent or reverse the detrimental effects of a stressful environment (see Table 1). However, it is unclear whether stress and meditation act antagonistically on shared epigenetic mechanisms and, because of the relative novelty of the field, molecular and epigenetic evidence of the effects of mindful activities is still not sufficient to demonstrate a cause–effect relationship.
It is conceivable that, by improving the immune system, metabolism, and stress–response pathways, and by promoting neuroplasticity, meditations of several kinds could affect mechanisms of energy saving, promote homeostasis, and potentiate the reciprocal mind and body’s relaxation abilities, with a positive impact on psychology.
Summary: Mind-Body Stress Relief
Most physical and emotional issues are either rooted in or are aggravated by stress.
If we can stop or reverse the negative cellular cascade signals of stress at the level of the mind, we can literally change our genetic destiny and rewire our brains and bodies to thrive verses survive.
Complementing our mind-body practices with essential oils, which instantly interrupt the perception of stress as they balance mood and bodily processes, can provide a powerful synergy for epigenetic modification.
We have now learned even more scientific reasons why practicing IM and mind-body medicine can make us healthier and optimize our wellness outcomes.
In the final part to this series, I will summarize how to take this serious topic with a bit more levity. I will also give some tips on how to make relaxation and IM more of a ritual in your life.
For now, I’d love to hear how you are planning on doing more mind-body practices.
Please share your thoughts in the comments and check out the resources below!
Click here to learn more about my approach to whole-person, mind-body care.
Free resources and more education are also available to you here.
Stay tuned for an upcoming opportunity that can support you in holistic mind-body-heart-soul healing. (Join my newsletter below to learn more.)
If you struggle with mental health, please reach out for professional mental health support.
You may also wish to consider implementing holistic resources and partnering with a naturopathic doctor.
For example, I offer mind-body support for general mood issues using a functional medicine and wellness-oriented approach.
Disclaimer: This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
Thanks Pixabay and Canva.