Meditation as a science has been widely documented in improving concentration and combating stress. But what if someone told you that meditating could change your genes? Read on to find out more.
In a recent study at Harvard Medical School, scientists discovered that, those who had been practicing meditation and yoga for a while, had significantly higher levels of active disease-fighting genes, compared to those who practiced no form of relaxation. What was also interesting was the way genes are so responsive to our environment, switching on and off depending on our individual lifestyles! How cool is that?!
They found genes that protect from disorders such as pain, infertility, high blood pressure and even rheumatoid arthritis were switched on. They attributed these changes to the “relaxation effect” of meditation, a phenomenon they felt could be as powerful as conventional medicine only without the side-effects.
From immunity and fertility to heart disease and cancer, the “relaxation effect” of meditation seemed to work for all. Under stress, the levels of cortisol and adrenalin in the body increase, causing an increase in heart rate and blood pressure and lowering immunity, digestion capacity as well as fertility. The state of relaxation on the other hand, releases a range of feel-good chemicals in the body like serotonin and growth hormone, which repairs cells and tissues. These hormones aid the body’s repair mechanisms allowing for physical renewal. The heart can slow down, the body’s tissues are amply fed with a relaxed blood flow and digestion is carried out effectively.
This sort of relaxation however, cannot be achieved by just lounging on the sofa or sipping on tea, the researchers warn. What they are talking about is a form of deep relaxation, a form of thoughtless awareness that needs to be practiced which trains the mind to focus on the ‘here and now’ rather than on the past or future.
To begin with, meditation can be performed like Pranayama in yoga, by focusing on the breath. Count till 8 while breathing in, hold the breath for another 8 counts and then exhale slowly and completely. By counting and focusing on the breath, our minds get diverted from conscious thought thereby getting relaxed. As this technique is regularly practiced, it’ll become steadily easier to free the mind and achieve this state of relaxation. Researchers recommend starting with 15 minutes a day.