When science and mindfulness meet

How meditation can positively alter our gene expression

Scientists at Harvard University have discovered evidence which suggests that the way in which our genes operate can be positively altered by spending 15 minutes daily clearing our minds.

What are genes?

Genes are short sections of DNA that exist throughout the body. Inherited as a living organism from our parents, their primary role is to understand and decide the role for almost all living beings. Such an example is their use of instruction to determine hair and eye colour.

Gene expression is the process by which gene information is converted into instructions for making proteins. It is a tightly regulated process that allows cells to respond to their environment. Gene expression determines both protein volume and protein time, i.e. how much and when proteins are made.

The study

The study found that our relaxation response (RR), which occurs as our body moves toward a state of physiological relaxation, elicits specific gene expression changes in short-term and long-term practitioners. In fact, more than 172 gene expressions responsible for the regulation of inflammation, glucose metabolism and our circadian rhythms were altered, which in turn, is linked to a meaningful reduction in blood pressure.

Well-being and our relaxation response (RR)

Our fight-or-flight response is triggered during times of stress, and in today’s modern world, this trigger is close to being switched permanently “on” meaning our heart rate, blood pressure and physiological arousal, constantly remain on high alert. We therefore find ourselves in a prolonged state of fight-or-flight which risks damage to our nervous system and well-being.

Mind-body practises that help evoke our relaxation response have been used worldwide for centuries to help eliminate disease. Relaxation response can be characterised as an anti-stress way of being. It is the motion where blood pressure, heart rate, digestive functioning, and hormonal levels return to normal levels.

Mindful and meditative practises naturally aim to reduce stress, removing us from our high state of fight-or-flight thus helping our blood pressure, heart rate, and hormonal levels return to normal levels.

But we can’t get carried away

Although this evidence is a big step in supporting many benefits we know meditation and mindfulness exercises can offer, it’s worth noting that the study sample did not include non-meditators. This means that this study cannot guarantee absolute certainty, however it’s results are still positive for both the wellness industry and other scientific work being carried out within this field.