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Yoga Connected with Immediate Gene Expression, Immune Health, Study Says

in Thanks for the tip, YD News
Yoga Jeans

YD pal Pam doing her yoga genes expression demo.

Move over jeggings, we’re talking yoga genes.

So here’s something interesting. Scientists are peering into the benefits of yoga with a finer lens these days and what they’re finding is really some fascinating and nerdy stuff you might just want to know about. For instance, science says yoga can immediately affect you on a genetic and molecular level. Apparently, your OMG I feel soooooo AWEsommme after you practice isn’t scientific evidence enough for these sticklers.

In the emerging field of psychosocial genomics (say that three times fast) we’re already learning about neuroplasticity and how psychological, social, and cultural components can impact our genes. What? Yeah, crazy. So a reseacrh team in Oslo, Norway decided to test the calming effects of yoga, known to help switch on the Relaxation Response, to see what genetic changes, if any, occurred. And they did.

Their study involved 10 candidates who attended a week-long yoga retreat in Germany. During the first two days they spent two hours practicing a comprehensive yoga program including yogic postures (asanas), yogic breathing exercises* and meditation. For the next two days, they spent that same time period going on an hour-long walk in nature and then listening to either jazz or classical music. Before and after these activities they tested the victims’ er candidates’ blood, specifically PBMCs (peripheral blood lymphocytes) which play a key role in immune health.

What they found and recently published in the journal PLOS ONE was that a comprehensive yoga practice can have an instantaneous positive effect on your genes and immune cells.

Here we have shown, to our knowledge for the first time, that there are rapid (within 2 hours of start of practice) and significant gene expression changes in PBMCs of practitioners during a comprehensive yoga program. These data suggest that previously reported effects of yoga practices have an integral physiological component at the molecular level which is initiated immediately during practice and may form the basis for the long term stable effects.

The yoga session saw 111 genes change expression (we imagine from sad face to happy face), whereas the control group with a walk and all that jazz had a number of 38 which indicates yoga practice “may have additional effects over exercise plus simple relaxation in inducing health benefits through differential changes at the molecular level.” Interestingly, 14 genes were commonly affected by both yoga and control. So you know what that means, it’s jazzeryogawalkacise for you, kiddies. Don’t you want to be healthy?!

* in particular Sudarshan Kriya which is under Art of Living, which is seen by some as culty in their philosophies, but in this case we believe was used purely for the exercises for scientific purposes.

[image via]

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10 comments… add one

  • I’d be interested to see the study, and to know what measures of validity and reliability were taken. There are a variety of yoga studies out there and many of them feature serious flaws.

  • I see the link to the research! I’m going through it with the help of my friend who is a genetics expert; I will report back soon.

  • I have combed the research, and consulted with my colleague who is a phD in genetics and bioinformatics. Our conclusion is that the research cannot be trusted; it is highly speculative and flawed. If anyone is interested in the page long explanation of why, just reply to this thread. As for yogadork and other websites that constantly use phoney science to try and prove yoga: get a scientist on your team! I am a doctoral student in an exercise science program and this is my specialization.

  • YD

    Hey Lance,
    Your expertise is very welcome here! Thank you.
    We don’t pretend to be scientists in any way, and don’t plan on hiring one, unless of course you’re available ;) . We’re not trying to *prove* anything per se, just sharing what’s reported as findings not just on yoga sites, but places like huffpo etc.
    Science itself is flawed, which makes it science. It’s great to keep the convo going and at the very least it’s neat that studies like this are even happening.

    Doing due diligence, where are you a doctoral student and do you study yoga?

    Please continue to chime in on any of the science-related posts, your voice is very valuable and much appreciated.

    Cheers!

  • Thanks, I appreciate that! I am studying at the University of Central Florida, in Orlando Fl; I am an RYT-200, and the emphasis of my personal program is yoga for athletes. You’ll have to forgive my abrasiveness, the problem is there is an absolute surplus of flawed research on the benefits of yoga. Given that most people aren’t trained to understand those types of papers, it’s usually accepted as some type of proof or breakthrough. The process of obtaining validity and reliability in scientific research is rigorous, as it should be; even though yoga is my passion and my life, I therefore hold no bars, so to speak, in the search for the truth :D If you ever have any questions or you need help in this area, I’d be happy to do whatever I can.

  • dan

    i am interested, unless it is just about the sample size and location

  • Thanks, I appreciate that! I am studying at the University of Central Florida, in Orlando Fl; I am an RYT-200, and the emphasis of my personal program is yoga for athletes. You’ll have to forgive my abrasiveness, the problem is there is an absolute surplus of flawed research on the benefits of yoga. Given that most people aren’t trained to understand those types of papers, it’s usually accepted as some type of proof or breakthrough. The process of obtaining validity and reliability in scientific research is rigorous, as it should be; even though yoga is my passion and my life, I therefore hold no bars, so to speak, in the search for the truth :D If you ever have any questions or you need help in this area, I’d be happy to do whatever I can.

  • 10 subjects? I’m all for proof of genes expressing freely with yogic assistance, but one study, ten subjects is flimsy evidence. Eagerly anticipating replications on a grand scale.

  • Karen

    The mere fact that it got done at all may mean that someone actually gets funding to see whether a more rigorous study can be done to replicate or debunk it. And that is pretty valuable in itself.

  • I checked with my handy local scientist (Dr. Bradford Gibson, Buck Institute of Age Research) to see what he had to say about this:

    “So, what they are suggesting is that the observed changes in the gene expression profiles in blood immune cells (PBMCs) in Yoga practioners is correlated with an improved immune function. However the second bit is pure speculation. They see a change, but its anybody’s guess if this represents a better or healthy immune system. They provide some guesses, but….”

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