DNA and measuring stress at the molecular level

The DNA that you inherited during conception is the DNA that you will have for the duration of this life as a human being. DNA contains the material that codes for specific traits, and it will determine the characteristics of a host of activities in your life through a process called genetic expression, in which genes in your chromosomes affect bodily processes, with specific genes being selectively activated or silenced in a predetermined automatic fashion. However, your DNA will also be expressed in various ways depending on external and internal influences. The stages of development, for instance, are a well-orchestrated array of gene expression and silencing to the beat of environmental cues. What you may not know is that genes can be selectively and specifically activated or silenced by your own behaviour, and that it is possible to measure gene expression and determine the degree of gene expression involved in specific biological processes within your body.

Using measures of gene expression in the research of contemplative practices including yoga offers an additional measure of the physiological and psychological impacts of practicing these interventions, and one that is objective rather than subjective. For example, it may not be enough to sell to a scientist a self-report from yoga practitioners who claim increased awareness from practicing yoga and meditation. However, evidence of documented changes in gene expression that relate to the production of specific proteins responsible for brain and body growth and functioning offers a more concrete determination of the potential of these practices.

The first study of this kind was conducted by researchers in the laboratory of noted meditation researcher Herbert Benson at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine (BHI) at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School; see: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2432467/pdf/pone.0002576.pdf. They found that in long-term practitioners of meditation or yoga techniques (like the ones used in the Panacea Project), and in novices who had practiced for just 8 weeks, that there were “significant alterations in cellular metabolism, oxidative phosphorylation, generation of reactive oxygen species and response to oxidative stress…that may counteract cellular damage related to chronic psychological stress.” This is unbiased, objective evidence that these practices can affect physiological processes related to stress at the molecular level.

Reprinted from the KRI website. By Jan Sev Singh & Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, Ph.D. Special thanks to them and the Kundalini Research Institute