Wow! Genetic evidence for yoga’s health benefits

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

Eddie Stern shares a ‘harrowing’ story and issues a call to action

Eddie Stern has a very serious, but very important, blog post up.

It is right here.

For those who don’t want to click through, I’m going to break a general rule about not re-posting entire blogs. I suspect Eddie would be OK with that in this case:

Yesterday morning my old friend and old AYNY student, Dan Loeb, alerted
me to a story about an Indian couple living in Norway whose two children,
aged one and four, were taken by the Norwegian child protective services, who
have claimed that the couple is unfit to raise and care for their children because
they have fed their children with their hands, and allowed their children to share
a family bed with them. The latest updates on the story can be seen here.

The protective services have stated that they will keep the children until they
are 18, and the parents are allowed to see them twice per year, for one hour
at each visit.

I spoke about this situation with Sheetal Shah, the Senior Director of the Hindu
American Foundation, and she quickly mobilized her organization. They have
hand delivered a letter to the Norwegian Ambassador in Washington, DC, and
just this afternoon put up a petition at change.org.

This story is harrowing. We have no reason to believe that the parents have
done anything harmful to their children. Eating with one’s hands and having a
family bed are not just cultural – they are norms for many countries – this is not
a crime. Norway, in fact, has previously been criticized for these excesses: in
2005 a UN report criticized them for taking 12,500 children into protective custody.
A big number for a small country.

The Indian Government is engaged in the situation with their embassy in Norway,
but please consider signing the petition that we have put up. Let’s put some pressure
on the Norwegian ambassador to return these two, young children to their parents
(before their visa expires in March) and end this nightmare of a story.

Thank you very much.

Yours,
Eddie

What doesn’t come through in Eddie’s post, but seems to be the case from the latest stories, is that this happened eight months ago.

Yes. Eight months.

I would guess — with next to no knowledge of the situation, obviously — that without many resources, the parents have had difficulty getting attention, and thus the time lag.

It seems like they have attention now.

I’d especially encourage you to click on the petition link and read people’s reasons for signing. And then sign yourself.

Posted by Steve