Mindfulness meditation has been around for centuries. You’ve probably already heard it’s an effective tool for staying calm and relaxed. Now, a recent study shows it could actually have an affect on your genes. It may even help to reverse some of the stress-related damage to your health.
Here’s a look at how this form of meditation might play a bigger role in wellness than first thought:
What is Mindfulness Meditation?
Mindfulness meditation has been around for more than 2,000 years. It’s a way to focus the mind so that you concentrate on the current moment, rather than thinking of the past or the future. Beginners usually practice this type of meditation for about 20 minutes per session. More advanced practitioners may meditate for up to an hour.1 Many people believe mindfulness meditation is great for the soul. Some also believe it can help heal both the body and mind.
Everyone has the quality of mindfulness, but not everyone realizes its value … or that it should be actively cultivated.
Advocates believe practicing mindfulness meditation can lead to a fuller, more enriched life.
How? Because practicing this type of meditation can help you live in the moment. Instead of putting your mind on “auto pilot” and going through the motions day-to-day, you’re appreciating your life as it unfolds… moment to moment.
There are several other types of meditation as well. Here are some of the most popular:
· Spiritual meditation
This is somewhat like prayer, in that you are trying to establish a deeper connection with your God. It’s used not only in Taoism, Hinduism, and other religions of the East, but in the Christian faith as well. Many people use certain essential oils to enhance their experience, such as cedar, frankincense, and myrrh. You can practice spiritual meditation either at home, or at your house of worship.
· Movement meditation
Most people associate movement meditation with yoga. But, you can incorporate it with any form of gentle motion. This includes working in your garden or taking a walk through the woods near your home.2
· Mantra meditation
Have you ever seen someone sitting in the “lotus” (cross-legged) position on a mat repeating a phrase such as “Om”? More than likely, they were practicing mantra meditation. It involves the use of a repetitive word or phrase to help clear the mind. It’s supposed to help you become more in tune with the environment that surrounds you.
· Transcendental meditation
“TM” is the most popular type of meditation worldwide. Over 5 million people practice transcendental meditation.3 It’s good for people who are serious about meditation but are just starting out. Practitioners usually have two 20-minute sessions each day.
Common Reasons People Practice Meditation
There are several reasons people turn to meditation. They may practice it because it helps them manage anxiety or stress. They might meditate to help increase their focus, so they can be more productive in their jobs. Some people use it to help eliminate unhealthy habits, such as overeating or smoking. Still others meditate to get past some sort of difficult life event. People may meditate to gain a better understanding of their purpose in life.
Meditation and the Genes
Researchers analyzed 18 studies that involved nearly 850 participants. They wanted to see what kind of effects different forms of relaxation can have on the body. These included meditation as well as Tai Chi, breathing exercises, yoga and Qi gong. They came to the conclusion that these methods of connecting the mind with the body help to suppress gene expression. They do so in a way that can inhibit certain processes that can be harmful to our health.
For example, the researchers focused on the effect meditation can have on inflammation. This is an important process that lets us know when we’re sick or we’ve been injured in some way. But inflammation can also hurt us both mentally and physically. They believe meditation can reverse some of this damage because it inhibits the expression of certain genes.
What is Gene Expression?
Gene expression is where DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) gets the information it needs. It then takes this information and makes proteins. It not only controls when a protein is made, but also the amount that is made.
When a gene is turned off, it’s considered dormant. When it is activated, gene expression occurs. The epigenetic process involves mechanisms that basically act as an on/off switch for genes. Some of the most important epigenetic mechanisms are what make us different from other people. For example, epigenetic mechanisms control the color of our skin and hair, and why some of us love okra while others can’t stand it.4
Factors such as lifestyle and environment can have a major effect on whether different genes are expressed. These genes, in turn, can play a large role in determining several important things. These include how long we will live and whether we’ll be at risk of developing certain diseases. Mindfulness-based stress reduction can help reduce stress-related changes. These changes signal genes to produce proteins associated with inflammation.
According to the study, people who practice meditation on a regular basis experience a reverse in some of the effects of stress. This is because of a decrease in activity of genes that are involved in the inflammatory process.5 As a result, they were at a lower risk of illnesses caused by inflammation.
Research into the physiological effects of meditation is still in its earl stages. This study supports the idea that meditation can be beneficial. They may improve not only your mood, but your health as well.
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