Recently I’ve noticed several articles about a scientific study that appears to show how meditation and yoga work on the molecular level of human biology.
The authors of the study suggest that what they call mind-body interventions actually change DNA in ways that can prevent cancer and depression, and counteract the aging process.
I wasn’t sure what a mind-body intervention (MBI) was, so I looked it up. MBIs are practices that “employ a variety of techniques designed to facilitate the mind’s capacity to affect bodily function and symptoms,” according to the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
Okay. It’s a fancy phase to encompass yoga and meditation, as well as Reiki, Qigong, Tai Chi, and the like.
For many us involved with what we usually call energy healing, MBIs have long been associated with relaxation, increased tolerance for stress, general good health, and often seemingly miraculous healing. No proof is needed to validate direct experience.
Still, I was drawn to this particular study. It was a simple but elegant linkage of science and spirit, even if the authors might not see it that way. They linked the practice of MBIs to changes observed at the molecular level. Specifically, they examined how MBIs act relative to genes that express inflammation as a result of stress.
It’s clear to me as a Reiki practitioner that Reiki reduces harmful stress—pure and simple. That stress is related to inflammation is no big surprise. I was curious where they would take this.
Here are the basics: The sympathetic nervous system initiates the fight-or-flight response when triggered by a real or a perceived threat (stress). This sets off an increase in the production of a molecule called nuclear factor kappa B, which in turn activates genes to produce proteins called cytokines. Cytokines cause inflammation in cells. If this stress-inflammation thing persists, several undesirable conditions and diseases can arise.
People practicing MBIs reduce the production of nuclear factor kappa B and cytokines, thus they inhibit or eliminate harmful inflammation. For our cells, MBIs have the opposite effect than that of chronic stress.
The implications for preventing and treating inflammation-based disease is palpable. If inflammation can be reduced by gentle noninvasive low-tech means, the opportunities for improved health are, well, endless.
The authors suggest additional research before “widely integrating MBIs in healthcare.”
For those of us who experience the benefits of MBIs (my new favorite acronym) daily, it’s affirming that conventional medical research is catching on. For those who could heal more swiftly and effectively by bringing MBIs into their healthcare, making these services widely available is medically compassionate at the very least.
Buric I, Farias M, Jong J, Mee C and Brazil IA (2017) What Is the Molecular Signature of Mind–Body Interventions? A Systematic Review of Gene Expression Changes Induced by Meditation and Related Practices. Front. Immunol. 8:670. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2017.00670
Author: Peter Huhtala
Image: Flickr/Christopher Soghoian
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Danielle Beutell
Social Editor: Lieselle Davidson