Practicing meditation has helped me out greatly throughout my life. Ever since I discovered it at age 17, meditation has been a peaceful place to return to. When I practice regularly, it has huge benefits to my anxiety and my overall day-to-day stress levels. I highly recommend it.
Not only does meditation help to ease stress and anxiety, research has recently been finding that it has pretty huge amount of health benefits, as well. One of these that was recently studied is the connection between meditation and inflammation, a known precursor to many diseases. One new study has found that meditation may actually alter the way our DNA responds to stress in a highly positive way.
Meditation, DNA and inflammation
The study in question was performed by researchers at Coventry University and Radboud University and published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology. For this study, researchers analyzed 18 other studies spanning a timeframe of 11 years. These studies were centered around investigating the effects of meditation and other mind-body practices (including tai chi and yoga) on genes.
According to the study’s lead investigator, Ivana Buric of Coventry University:
“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 [mind-body interventions] cause the brain to steer our DNA processes along a path which improves our wellbeing.”
Specifically, this study revealed that regularly practicing meditation, yoga and/or tai chi could help to change the body’s inflammatory stress response. Put simply, according to the researchers, when someone experiences stress, inflammation usually occurs in the cells. However, the researchers found that people who meditated or performed other mind-body activities did not have an inflammatory DNA response to stress. Instead, they experienced reduced inflammation in their cells. That’s pretty huge.
On the study and its results, the authors wrote:
“Eighteen relevant studies were retrieved and analyzed. Overall, the studies indicate that these practices are associated with a downregulation of nuclear factor kappa B pathway; this is the opposite of the effects of chronic stress on gene expression and suggests that MBI practices may lead to a reduced risk of inflammation-related diseases.”
The researchers emphasized that more research needs to be done, but these results are pretty exciting. They are, perhaps, not too surprising to those of you who regularly meditate. It makes sense. Meditation allows you to enter present awareness. If you are able to observe your stress without letting it shake you, your body doesn’t have to react violently if your mind isn’t reacting violently. The discovery that this “letting go of stress” happens in our DNA thanks to meditation is a significant one.
Other benefits of meditation
Oh, there’s more. Research has found that meditating regularly may help to:
- Increase your spontaneity, improve your relationships and rejuvenate your mind
- Make you more productive
- Encourage you to make better food choices
- Promote a better quality sleep and potentially treat insomnia
- Improve memory, introspection and overall cognitive function
- Give you more energy and improve your mood
- Combat anxiety and depression
How to get started
If you’re new to meditation, it can be very helpful to look around your community for guided sessions in your area. That’s how I got started. I went to open guided meditation sessions at a forest monastery in Michigan, and I also attended guided meditation sessions in the Theravada tradition in Ottawa, Ontario. Going to these guided sessions helped me to learn how to relax my body and open my mind. Plus, the environment of a room filled with others learning how to meditate was encouraging and supportive. Today, I take what I’ve learned from these sessions and practice at home.
Different types of meditation sessions work best for different people. Check out this guide for a basic rundown, and see what your area has to offer. I am not a Buddhist, yet I found meditation in the Theravada Buddhist tradition to be perfect for me. Many places do not require you to be a member of their organization to attend meditation. If you’re unsure, all you need to do is ask.
Of course, you can always meditate at home. All you need are a (preferably) quiet space to sit and yourself. There are many instructional videos in beginner meditation online, you just have to find one that works for you — YouTube is a treasured friend. You can also find audio of chants and mantras if those improve your experience. It’s all about breath, awareness and the ever-moving present.
— Tanya Mead