Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 7th 2013 Contents "The relaxation response is best under-
stood as the opposite of stress or the fight-
or-flight response," said Benson, "There
are two steps generally used in evoking it.
One is repetition. The repetition can be of
a word, sound, prayer, phrase or movement.
The other is that when other thoughts come
to mind, you disregard them and go back
to the repetition."
Benson recommends practising the tech-
nique for ten to 20 minutes, at least once
body & soul
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Tuesday, May 7, 2013
While it might seem that your body and brain
aren t doing much when you re on break, relaxing
triggers a flurry of genetic activity that is respon-
sible for some important health benefits.
When you really relax---using any type of meditative
technique such as deep breathing, yoga or prayer---
the genes in your body switch to a different mode.
Genes that counteract the chemical effects of stress
kick in, while those responsible for driving more
anxious and alert states take a back seat. And a new
study shows that long-term practise of relaxation
techniques can significantly enhance these genetic
Dr Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Ben-
son-Henry Institute and an associate professor of
medicine at Harvard Medical School, first defined the
relaxation response in the early 1970s and led the
latest genetic investigation published in the journal
"We have within us an innate, inborn capacity that
counters the harmful effects of stress," said Benson.
"And this study has shown its genomic basis: namely
that specific hubs of genes are changed when people
evoke this relaxation response."
"It s fantastic," says Dr Mladen Golubic, medical
director of the Center for Lifestyle Medicine at the
Cleveland Clinic, who was not associated with the
While other studies have linked the relaxation
response to lower stress levels and reduced blood
pressure, the current trail details the physiological
pathways responsible for producing these benefits.
In the current study, Benson and his colleagues
studied 52 people, half of whom had meditated for
four to 20 years using relaxation techniques and half
of whom were novices. Both groups had their blood
taken and analysed before and after a 20-minute
relaxation session in which they used a CD for guid-
The new meditaters agreed to participate in two
relaxation sessions; in the first, they listened to a CD
that provided general health information unrelated to
stress, which served as a control. That way, the
researchers could compare any molecular changes
captured in their blood after they learned deep breath-
ing, mindfulness and mantra practice, which involved
focusing their mind on a single repeated word while
After these sessions, the scientists identified four
sets of changes in the way genes were expressed;
these alterations only occurred after the participants
used relaxation techniques.
The first involved genes related to mitochondria,
the batteries that power the cell. "These changes lead
to (mitochondria) being more stable and more con-
trolled," Benson said.
That made sense, said Golubic, since "we know
that people engaged in meditation report better moods,
more energy and that they sleep better."
Genes linked to insulin production were also affected,
with the relaxation response boosting levels of the
hormone that is also involved in energy metabolism.
Meditation also affected genes related to telomeres,
which cap off the ends of chromosomes to protect
and extend the lives of cells. "The shorter the telomere,
the more the aging process is manifest," Benson said.
The researchers also saw less activity in genes related
to inflammation; in other studies, these genes were
over-expressed in patients with hypertension, heart
disease and cancer. The data suggest that meditation,
or regular relaxation, can downplay the activity of
these genes and potentially counteract some of the
physiologic processes that drive them.
All of these changes were seen to a much greater
extent in the experienced meditaters than in the
novices. But those new to the practice also showed
differences after only two months of training.
Study: Regular relaxation
beneficial to your genes
When you really relax---using any type of
meditative technique such as deep breathing,
yoga or prayer---the genes in your body switch
to a different mode. PHOTO COURTESY
YOUR DAILY HEALTH
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