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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Meditation changes go deep

Blood samples of people who meditated regularly -- both longtime meditators and those trained in an eight-week class -- revealed changes in gene expression following meditation, according to researchers at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

They trained a group of 26 people in meditation techniques in an eight-week program with deep breathing, mantras, and cooncentration (letting go fo distractions), with recorded meditations after that. They also recruited 25 longtime meditators, and took blood samples before and after meditation sessions.They found:

The changes were the exact opposite of what occurs during flight or fight: genes associated with energy metabolism, mitochondrial function, insulin secretion, and telomere maintenance were turned on, while those involved in inflammation were turned off. These effects were more pronounced and consistent for long-term practitioners.

It's only gene expression that is altered, not the genes themselves, the researchers said. But these results also showed that the effects of the relaxation response become stronger with practice, typically twice a day for 10 to 20 minutes.

People who practice simple meditation aren't "just relaxing," explained the study's senior author, Dr. Herbert Benson (he of the aforementioned institute). Instead, they're experiencing "a specific genomic response that counteracts the harmful genomic effects of stress."

While this study only looked at one way of reaching this state, people have been figuring this out for themselves for thousands of years, through yoga, prayer, and other forms of meditation. Yet this is the first time researchers have been able to use basic science to show that these practices actually have an observable, biological effect.

Info from the Atlantic