Harvard study dives into physiological proof of yoga’s benefits

The scientific study of yoga and its effects/benefits keeps pushing further and further.

The latest news, out of Harvard, builds on an earlier report we highlighted that suggested yoga causes changes at the genetic level.

John Denninger, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, is leading a five-year study on how the ancient practices affect genes and brain activity in the chronically stressed. His latest work follows a study he and others published earlier this year showing how so-called mind-body techniques can switch on and off some genes linked to stress and immune function.

While hundreds of studies have been conducted on the mental health benefits of yoga and meditation, they have tended to rely on blunt tools like participant questionnaires, as well as heart rate and blood pressure monitoring. Only recently have neuro-imaging and genomics technology used in Denninger’s latest studies allowed scientists to measure physiological changes in greater detail.

“There is a true biological effect,” said Denninger, director of research at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, one of Harvard Medical School’s teaching hospitals. “The kinds of things that happen when you meditate do have effects throughout the body, not just in the brain.”

Here’s a direct link to the study’s webpage. And more details from the news report:

His current study, to conclude in 2015 with about $3.3 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health, tracks 210 healthy subjects with high levels of reported chronic stress for six months. They are divided in three groups.

One group with 70 participants perform a form of yoga known as Kundalini, another 70 meditate and the rest listen to stress education audiobooks, all for 20 minutes a day at home. Kundalini is a form of yoga that incorporates meditation, breathing exercises and the singing of mantras in addition to postures. Denninger said it was chosen for the study because of its strong meditation component.

Participants come into the lab for weekly instruction for two months, followed by three sessions where they answer questionnaires, give blood samples used for genomic analysis and undergo neuro-imaging tests.

Unlike earlier studies, this one is the first to focus on participants with high levels of stress.

I’m amazed researchers can find people to study who don’t have high stress levels.

Posted by Steve


Surprised? Huge growth in number of scientific studies of yoga

The number of scientific studies focused on yoga, you might not be surprised to learn, is exploding.

According to the site Active Life DC, the number has increased by a factor of 10. Just last year, 41 more papers got published than during the 1990s. Yes, the entire decade.

Active Life DC bases this on a search of the site Pubmed, a free database of scientific abstracts managed by the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health. It houses 22 million citations from a variety of sources.

Our previous posts on science and yoga can be found here. Studying the effects of the Jois Foundation-backed yoga classes for kids in Encinitas is part of that effort, as well.

OK. Sort of a short post. So, let’s leave you with a link to a story about a University of California philosophy professor who has received a $5-million grant to study … immortality.

And with this:

Posted by Steve