A new study from Norway is putting a deeper spin on yoga’s health benefits: It may go right to your genes.
The study, published online in PLOS ONE, concludes:
Here we have shown, to our knowledge for the first time, that there are rapid (within 2 hours of start of practice) and significant gene expression changes in PBMCs of practitioners during a comprehensive yoga program. These data suggest that previously reported effects of yoga practices have an integral physiological component at the molecular level which is initiated immediately during practice and may form the basis for the long term stable effects.
The fact that there were a larger number of genes (approximately 3-fold) which were affected by SK&P compared with the control regimen was consistent with our hypothesis that yoga has specific effects on gene expression in PBMCs.
OK, so what does that mean? Well, “PBMCs” are peripheral blood mononuclear cells, which are critical to our immune system’s ability to do its job. Basically the Hatha yoga and Kriya breathing techniques seem to have a near immediate effect on genes — they turn certain ones on, especially these involving our immune system.
The experiment focused on 10 participants in a week-long yoga retreat. (Four others couldn’t be used in the study for various reasons.) The program including two hours of asana and breathing practice plus meditation for two days. For a control period, the subjects took a nature walk and listened to soothing music during two other days. Before and after each session, they got their blood drawn.
And the researchers looked at that blood. (You can get all that detail at the link above.)
The result? Researchers found changes to 38 genes among those who were walking and listening to the music. For those doing yoga? The number jumps to 111. Both exercises affected 14 genes, suggesting “the two regimens, to some degree, affect similar biological processes.” But clearly, the researchers conclude, yoga’s impact was more widespread. And that means it “may have additional effects over exercise plus simple relaxation in inducing health benefits through differential changes at the molecular level.”
The sample size is, of course, small. And the researchers wonder about the lasting — longitudinal — effects, as well.
But they end their report with this intriguing statement:
This approach can now be used to more systematically interrogate these molecular changes, define the signals that are triggered by yogic exercises that eventually impact PBMCs, and provide a platform to conduct comparative studies between different yogic practices.
Let the Ashtanga vs. Bikram battle continue!
Posted by Steve