A recent paper (freely available at PLOS one) is reporting how relaxation response (RR) (a form of meditation) changed whole blood gene expression.
In the introduction they report previous research that found that meditation decreases oxygen consumption, reduced blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration. The current paper wanted to look at more the underlying molecular changes that bring about the above physiological responses and the many other positive benefits reported with meditation. Now it would have been nice to examine genes that changed in the brain but that is not possible in live humans (for multiple genes) so they instead look at changes in the blood. There were three groups: control, short term practitioners of RR (8 weeks), and long term practitioners.
2,209 differentially expressed genes were reported when comparing long term RR subjects and controls. Even the short term RR subjects displayed 1,561 differentially expressed genes compared to controls. Additionally, of the 2,2209 and 1,561 gene changes in the meditation groups 433 were common between the two groups.
When they tried to bunch these gene changes into common pathway groups they observed alteration in cellular metabolism, oxidative phosphorylation, generation of free oxygen species, and response to oxidative stress.
We hypothesize that RR elicitation is associated with systemic gene
expression changes in molecular and biochemical pathways
involved in cellular metabolism, oxidative phosphorylation/
generation of reactive oxygen species and response to oxidative
stress and that these changes to some degree serve to ameliorate
the negative impact of stress.
Now of course like most other studies they are not really answering mechanistic questions with this study but it does offer further support that meditation is not just changing ‘feelings’ but is doing something at the molecular level.
Overall, similar genomic pattern changes occurred in practitioners
of a specific mind body technique (Qi Gong) as well as in
our long-term practitioners who utilized different RR practices
including Vipassna, mantra, mindfulness or transcendental
meditation, breath focus, Kripalu or Kundalini Yoga, and
repetitive prayer. This indicates there is a common RR state
regardless of the techniques used to elicit it.
What I found most interesting about the study is that 8 weeks of practice of this meditative technique resulted in similar gene changes (at least in the same direction) as the long term practitioners. This makes it more assessable to the masses, you do not have to be a long term practitioner to get results (you don’t have to go up in the mountains and learn from a guru for several years).
One reader had commented that researchers should test more Chinese/alternative medicine so here is one example. I have two friends that have recently taken up meditation and find it effective in everything from general reduction of stress to sports performance. I have many more friends that have started the practice of yoga, and in the discussion session of the paper the authors specifically mentionÂ Kripalu or Kundalini Yoga. Now I know there are many different types of yoga and I am curious about the two forms they specifically mentioned. I have not done meditation since I was 12 years old it may be time I start again.
Say you don’t for whatever reason enjoy traditional exercise programs which I am always promoting then try meditation. It offers many of the same benefits but also maybe some additional ones. Or even better do both traditional exercises and a meditation technique.