To say that yoga and meditation can relax the mind and body is an understatement. A new study has found that these mind-body interventions (MBIs) can reverse the reactions in our DNA that cause stress-related health conditions and depression.
Stress in the Body
The Coventry University study looked at MBIs, including meditation, yoga and Tai Chi, and how these affect the chemical reactions in the body to improve physical and mental health. According to the study, when we're stressed, our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is triggered. This is the system that ignites our "fight or flight" response. As a result, we produce a molecule called nuclear factor B (NF-kB), which plays a part in gene expression.
When we're stressed, NF-kB turns on genes to make proteins (cytokines) that spark inflammation in our cells. This is great for getting us to react to a stressful situation (fight or flight). However, if the NF-kB never switches off, it raises the risk of cancer, speeds up ageing, and causes depression.
Yoga and Meditation
Yoga and meditation are two wellness practices that have a profound effect on our overall health. Yoga is a low-impact exercise that promotes strength and flexibility, reduces stress, improves blood circulation and boosts immunity, to name just a few of its many benefits. Meditation trains the mind to experience the present moment so that it can stay calm, relaxed, focused and stress-free.
Notice that the common denominator of yoga and meditation is their ability to thwart stress. When performed together, these MBIs stimulate the brain to release endorphins and serotonin, which are mood-enhancing hormones that combat stress and several health disorders that are linked to it.
MBIs and Stress
Relaxation is the byproduct of quieting your mind, connecting with your higher self and absorbing the vital energy of the universe. People who practise MBIs know this for a fact. The interesting part is that the movements and breathing techniques which they carry out during yoga and meditation lower the NF-kB production and reverse the gene expression that causes inflammation, hence reducing the risk of stress-related conditions.
Study author Ivana Buric explained: "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 realise is that these benefits begin at a molecular level and can change the way our genetic code goes about its business.
"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, MBIs cause the brain to steer our DNA processes along a path which improves our wellbeing."
10 Ways to De-Stress With Yoga and Meditation
Now that it's clear to us what yoga and meditation can do to keep stress at bay, let's try a quick yoga and meditation combo for kicks and wellness. These 10 steps show you how to relax your sympathetic nervous system and keep your stress hormones untroubled.
- Sit upright on your yoga mat with your legs crossed, put your hands on your knees and then close your eyes.
- Inhale slowly through your nose, pushing the air down into your diaphragm, and then exhale through the nose. Do this breathing cycle five times and while you're at it, empty your mind of any thoughts. If it wanders, focus it back on your breathing.
- Get on your hands and knees, keeping your knees directly under your hips. Then extend your arms out in front of you as far as you can to stretch your spine. This extended puppy pose releases tension and improves blood circulation.
- Bring your hands and knees back onto the floor and tuck your toes under. Then stretch your legs and lift your hips to form the downward-facing dog pose. Hold this position for 30 seconds to release any muscle tension.
- Sit on the mat with your legs stretched out in front of you then lean forward from your waist and try to reach your toes. Once you have reached your stretching limit, hold your position for 30 seconds. The seated forward bend posture helps relieve headache and fatigue.
- Lie on your back and bend your knees so that they're facing the ceiling. Lift your hips until your body forms a slope. Keep this position for 30 seconds. Called bridge, this pose improves circulation, digestion and strengthens the lungs.
- Get into a kneeling position then sit on the heels of your feet. Extend your arms out in front of you and then lower your forehead down to the mat. Hold it like this for 30 seconds. The child pose can be done at any time of the day as it helps calm the mind and the body.
- Sit up straight on the mat, bend your knees and then bring the soles of your feet together. Let your hands rest on your thighs or your knees while you hold this butterfly pose for 30 seconds to relieve stress mentally and physically.
- Lie flat on your stomach then bend your knees so that the soles of your feet are facing the ceiling. Then reach back for your ankles and hold it for 30 seconds. In addition to improving your posture, the bow pose aids the digestive system and strengthens the abdomen.
- Get into a sitting position, cross your legs and slowly inhale and exhale through the nose. Repeat five times and smile while you're doing it, for a simple smile increases the levels of serotonin, dopamine, endorphins and other stress-busting hormones in the body.