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The new field of epigenetics has taken the world of science by storm. Epigenetics is the study of changes in organisms. The changes are by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself. New research is showing that managing our stress with Yoga and meditation can even change our genes.

Our imagination is a powerful healing tool

This notion that we can change our genes is a breakthrough in our understanding of genetics. Until now most of us thought our genes were our fate and we couldn’t do anything about it, we were essentially stuck with them. But new research has shown that we can affect the expression of our genes. We can turn off the bad genes and turn on the good genes.

Lifestyle Choices Matter

Our lifestyle choices matter in this process, much more than we might have previously thought. Not only can they affect how we might feel in the moment by eating right, exercising, managing stress and connecting to others, but we can also pass this gene expression onto our children and grandchildren. (See Ornish Living article Why Your Lifestyle Choices May Leave Your Family a Legacy of Health)

Dr. Dean Ornish and his colleagues have been researching gene expression for several years. In their GEMINAL study of 273 men with prostate cancer the initial research on the effects of lifestyle changes, which include diet, exercise, stress management and connection and support have shown that “lifestyle changes may modulate gene expression in the prostate.”

A review of research published in the June 2016 issues of Frontiers of Immunology now shows that Mind Body Interventions (MBI’s) like yoga and meditation can affect gene expression. These 18 studies together conducted over 11 years show a pattern in changes to gene expression when practicing mind body techniques like yoga and meditation.

The study highlights the effects of stress on the nervous system. Stress triggers our fight-or flight response, which can lead to detrimental changes that can be found in our genes in the form of CTRA, or conserved transcriptional response to adversity.

The Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Prescription

These findings support the work of Ornish Lifestyle Medicine where we are using Mind Body Interventions to down regulate the sympathetic nervous system or fight-or-flight response and reverse heart disease without drugs or surgery. Participants in this program use a prescription that includes daily yoga or meditation to manage the stress response and make new choices for responding to stressful situations. The MBI’s in Ornish Lifestyle Medicine focus on five techniques:

Postures

These are slow gentle movements that bring you into the experience of you own body so you can connect to the information your body is offering you about your own health and well being. It’s a listening practice that allows you to take more responsibility for the conditions of your body and make subtle adjustments based on the feedback you are getting. The postures are also geared towards relaxing the nervous system and quieting the mind.

Breathing

Related Video playBreathing to Relax and Renew | Ornish Reversal Program

These practices help to smooth out unwanted pauses and noises in the breath rhythms bringing balance to both the nervous system and the mind.

Relaxation

This practice teaches us to systematically let go of tensions in the body and mind while staying awake and alert. Our bodies respond by up regulating the parasympathetic nervous system, which is also known as the relaxation response. In turn, stress management down regulates the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for your fight-or-flight response. This response will both improve sleep and lower blood pressure.

Meditation

Meditation focuses your attention, allowing your thoughts and feelings to arise and dissipate without labeling, judging or analyzing them. In time, your mind settles and in turn your whole body settles, while lowering your blood pressure, your heart rate and reducing inflammation throughout your body.

Imagery

Related Video playGuided Imagery | Ornish Reversal Program

Our imagination is a powerful healing tool. Imagery allows you to use your mind and senses to induce a healing response. These simple techniques can have a profound effect on your overall stress response.  One hour a day of a stress management practice has been shown to reverse heart disease when the practice is combined with nutrition, fitness and group support.

Now this new research shows that these techniques not only make us feel better, but they can change the expression of our genes for ourselves and for the generations to come. That’s the best inspiration there is to get started with Ornish Lifestyle Medicine right now!!

What changes have you noticed in the way you feel after starting a meditation or yoga practice?

Contributed by

Susi Amendola
Stress Management Specialist

What have you done to remind yourself of the things that have meaning for you?

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