Few people would argue that traditional yoga, meditation and other conscious relaxation practices reduce stress and enhance feelings of wellbeing. Yet most people will not take the time from their hectic lives to perform such activities. You are losing out on a major health building opportunity that is worth so much more than the time out of your day.
Let’s throw you a molecular-level reality check. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center published in the journal PLOS ONE a report that the relaxation response, a state of deep rest attained through breathing, meditation, yoga and other practices, triggers changes in gene expression. These changes can affect the body’s immune function, energy metabolism and insulin secretion.
Herbert Benson, a senior author of the new study first described the “relaxation response” what he calls the physiological opposite of flight-or-fight nearly 40 years ago. Non-Westerners have been practicing and benefiting from these relaxation techniques for thousands of years. Benson’s research gives scientific credibility to these mind-body approaches.
The study clearly links the relaxation response to rapid changes in gene expression according to Benson’s collaborator, Towia Libermann, PhD. “There is a relatively small subset of biological pathways affected by the relaxation response.” For example, a pathway involved in immune disturbances and inflammation was repressed after the relaxation technique while another set of pathways involved in mitochondrial function and energy production were enhanced”.
The study involved two groups. One group were long time practitioners of relaxation and the other had never done it but were trained. The changes occurred in both groups, but were more pronounced among the long time relaxers.
Both Benson and Libermann are investigating whether the relaxation response triggers molecular level changes in people with hypertension, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and other diseases.
Zen Frog and I both agree that this study is relevant and should be receiving significant media coverage.
A significant portion of the American population is in a chronic state of fight-or-flight.
- Working 10+ hours a day
- Eating out more than eating in
- Consuming foods of convenience instead of making meals from scratch
- Eating food not right for your genetically based nutritional needs
- Self medicating with caffeine, sugar and chocolate
- Drinking alcohol and beer to relax
- Zoning out in front of the TV for a few hours every night
- Getting less than 8 hours of sleep a night
- Exercising beyond your body’s ability to recover
- Not exercising
- Stressing about friends, family, finances and those things beyond your control, etc.
Chronic stress is at the root of practically all health complaints and diagnoses. As for Benson and Libermann’s current investigations, they will find the answer is yes. Relaxation and stress reduction will have a positive influence on all dis-ease states, not just the ones they are studying.
Stress Reduction including relaxation techniques is one of the foundational steps in the DRESS for Health Success® Program that I use with clients. Additional steps include consuming the foods right for your Metabolic Type®, optimizing sleep, performing appropriate exercise, investigating hidden internal stressors (FDN®) and using intelligent supplementation to support, assist and stimulate optimal body function.
The most simple, at least in theory, form of relaxation is to find a quiet place to sit or lie down, close your eyes, and focus on your breath, breathing in and out being aware of the gap between the two. Do this for 10 to 20 minutes once or twice a day. I guarantee you will feel a difference. The more difficulty you have performing this exercise, the more your body-mind needs it. Don’t give up!
Do as Zen Frog, kick back, relax and breathe. Enjoy the present moment and the gifts surrounding you. Your body will love you for it.