Meditation, gene expression, and the relaxation response
Regular meditation practice can alter a person’s gene expression in the exact opposite way that happens during a “flight or flight” stress response, according to a new study.
According to the study's findings, the specific genes turned on during meditation include those related to energy metabolism, insulin secretion, mitochondrial function and telomere maintenance; the genes related to inflammation are turned off during meditation. The results were more pronounced and consistent among long-term practitioners, supporting the notion that the effects of the “relaxation response” become stronger with practice (typically two times a day for 10-20 minutes.)
The study’s authors say that this suggests that meditation isn’t just about relaxation; rather, meditators experience a “specific genomic response” that can counteract the damage that stress can inflict on genes.
These findings add to a body of work that suggests that yoga, prayer, mantra recitation, and other meditative practices are related to decreased anxiety and depression as well as provide protection against hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and stress-exacerbated forms of cancer.