A Harvard psychiatrist is working on getting to the bottom of this meditation thing with a new study on the effects it, and yoga, have on our actual genes, brain activity and overall health. So, we don’t need a scientist to tell us how good we feel after practicing yoga or taking time out to meditate, though many have set out to tell us anyway, but this study is particularly interesting because it goes deeper on a biomechanical and molecular level using neuro-imaging and genomics technology to measure physiological changes in our body and minds during the Relaxation Response. (RR, a concept developed by another Harvard alum, Herbert Benson.)
The official study title: Quantification of Outcome Measures For Mind Body Interventions. Well ok then. We can definitely see yoga and meditation as interventions now that we think about it. And what the study found is that mind-body techniques help to ward off stress and disease by intervening and switching on and off some genes connected to stress and immune function.
Leading the study is John Denninger, director of research at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, one of Harvard Medical School’s teaching hospitals. “There is a true biological effect,” said Denninger. “The kinds of things that happen when you meditate do have effects throughout the body, not just in the brain.”
With all the discussions about yoga hurting you (which are also welcome and necessary to a degree), it’s nice to hear about studies that may counteract threats to the yogaphobic. When research is done in this type of setting with this much advanced technology, it tends to be taken a bit more seriously, too…more than say, recording your average student’s post-class yoga high and sense of calm. The bliss-o-meter is not exactly the most scientific instrument.
The “public health relevance” section of the study says it all:
This study aims to provide novel information on the relative precision, reliability and validity of psychological self-report, biochemical and genomic outcome measures for mind body interventions, and on the strength of correlations between them. This information will be important for the determination of the most reliable, accurate and cost-effective outcome measures and the optimum method of their administration in future mind body medicine research protocols. This will therefore serve to strengthen the quality and validity of future research studies of mind body interventions, which are both efficacious and cost-effective, for both prevention and treatment of medical and psychological conditions.
When stress costs U.S. companies $300 billion a year through people calling out of work, quitting/getting fired and meager productivity when they’re actually at work, as reported by the World Health Organization, you better believe people will pay attention to these results.
Officially they read: “Relaxation response induces temporal transcriptome changes in energy metabolism, insulin secretion and inflammatory pathways.”
Thems a lot of big words for yoga and meditation make you feel good and keep you healthy.
image via http://malynne.net