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Yoga for Your Genes

Yoga may be more than a breather from life's whirlwind. Science shows yoga and meditation promote youth, health, and immune strength by bettering our DNA.

Yoga and meditation has become trendy buzzwords that are growing more popular by the day. Many of us seek refuge from being constantly on the go, from our jam-packed schedules, from being bombarded by life’s surprises (that sometimes spin out of control). In our search for peace and center we turn to #yoga studios and #meditation retreats for a much needed time-out and re-charge. As a scientist, I have always been wondering how exactly do yoga and medication work? Today, to honor the #DNAday, let’s take a look how yoga and meditation change our genetic blueprint.

Yoga may be slowing down cellular aging by stabilizing telomeres. Science showed that asana [poses] and pranayama [breathing exercises] increase oxygen flow to the cells, while meditation reduces stress and inflammation.

Two major ways yoga can alter your genetic make-up is by influencing telomeres and #epigenetics. Telomeres are the ends of the chromosomes – structures where our DNA resides. Telomeres shorten with age, and affect our health and #wellbeing. Some of the initial studies investigating how yoga may impact out health discovered that yoga and meditation practice improve telomere stability. This means that yoga may be capable of slowing down cellular aging and keeping us vibrant and young for longer. A recent article proposed the possible mechanism: asana and pranayama in yoga increase the oxygen flow to the cells, while meditation promotes #StressReduction and lowers inflammation that damages the cells.

As for epigenetics, you may have heard this term before – it’s been popular recently as scientists try to unpack the whole nature-nurture quagmire. In a nutshell, it’s the body’s ability to turn the genes on and off. Environmental factors such as lifestyle, hormones, food, stress, and drugs trigger epigenetic mechanisms altering our genetic expression and, as a consequence, our health. Given this background, it is not surprising that yoga, with its proven ability to regulate hormones and stress level, is capable to influence epigenetics for the better.

For example, last year’s research showed that yoga practice can change epigenetics in the immune system. Earlier studies have shown that yoga can improve our immune system function by altering amount of various immune cells and proteins in the blood. Last year’s finding on yoga altering immunity epigenetics adds to this knowledge suggesting that such improvement is more permanent and profound than previously thought. For example, reduced pro-inflammatory and increased anti-inflammatory proteins found in yoga practitioners after class may last way after their yoga series is over. The true longevity of such effect has not been discovered yet.

Furthermore, another study showed changes in epigenetics of male reproductive system. This is important because by regulating on and off state of specific genes in sperm, epigenetics directs how successful couples are at becoming and staying pregnant. In addition to the possible might of yoga in fertility, the idea that you maybe attuning your kids’ genetic expression to good programming from the womb is a nice one to toy with.

Recently, another study concluded that symptom improvement seen in diabetic patients who did yoga and meditation was stemming at least in part from yoga induced epigenetic alterations. Scientists plowed through hundreds of research articles looking for possible mechanisms of how yoga helps with blood glucose control. Much of the blood glucose control is attributed to alterations in the immune system, which, as discussed above, yoga produces with epigenetic changes. Moreover, many of diabetes symptom improvements rely on improved brain function, which is heavily influenced by yoga and meditation.

As a yoga teacher, reading scientific reports highlighting improvement of the immune system with yoga gives me motivation and purpose. 2020 experience vividly demonstrated that supporting immune system is not something we should take lightly. Empowering people by introducing them to the tools that naturally support the immune system and thereby their mental and physical health is an honor and privilege.

As a woman and a mother, when I read studies suggesting that yoga may improve sperm genetics, I wonder if yoga may keep the eggs’ DNA fresh for longer. With reproductive age shifting into later years, it is essential to find natural ways to extend our reproductive youthfulness. Because of yoga’s popularity among women, there won't be a shortage of research participants.

As a neuroscientist, I am forever fascinated by the connection between the body and the mind. The changes occurring on the genetic level in the immune and reproductive systems will exert cascading effects on the brain, possibly leading to altered state of being and mindset, and another, healthier and happier way of being.

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