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Meditation and Yoga May Change How Stress Affects Our DNA, Study Finds

Mind-body practices can change the way our genes react to stress.

Mindfulness has become a trendy buzzword among the wellness community. Yoga studios and meditation centers continue to pop up as people seek refuge from being constantly on the go (and feeling the draining effects).

But it turns out these practices are doing more than simply providing us a much-needed time out from our jam-packed schedules. In fact, according to a new study, they may actually be changing how our DNA responds to stress.

New research published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology looked at over a decade of studies, analyzing how our genes are affected by different mind-body interventions including mindfulness, yoga, meditation and Tai Chi. What they found is that these activities don’t simply relax us — they may actually have the ability to reverse molecular reactions to stress in our DNA that can lead to poor health and depression.

When we encounter a stressful situation (or prolonged periods of stress) our sympathetic nervous system is triggered. In reaction, our genes produce proteins called cytokines that cause inflammation at a cellular level — which, over time, increases our risk of health issues like cancer, accelerated aging and psychiatric disorders like depression.

But there is some good news for those of us who find ourselves wrapped up in the chronic cycle of stress and anxiety: Researchers found that people who engage in mind-body interventions actually exhibit the opposite effect. That means that doing yoga or meditating may lead to a decrease in cyctokine production, and a reversal of the inflammatory gene, which ultimately lowers the risk of inflammation-related diseases and conditions.

"Millions of people around the world already enjoy the health benefits of mind-body interventions like yoga or meditation, but what they perhaps don't realize is that these benefits begin at a molecular level and can change the way our genetic code goes about its business,” says Ivana Buric, Lead investigator from the Brain, Belief and Behaviour Lab in Coventry University's Centre for Psychology, Behaviour and Achievement. “These activities are leaving what we call a molecular signature in our cells, which reverses the effect that stress or anxiety would have on the body by changing how our genes are expressed. Put simply, mind-body interventions cause the brain to steer our DNA processes along a path which improves our wellbeing.”

Finally convinced you need to drop onto the mat? Here are three yoga moves to help combat those sky-high stress levels: Upward-Facing Dog in Yoga, Downward Facing Dog, Pigeon Pose.