It’s the second post in my “Yoga Can” Blog Series! This series is all about the stuff you never knew yoga could do. And this week we’re talking about your genetics. Yes, yoga can change your gene expression! I think it’s important to share this kind of information about yoga to really broaden your knowledge and empower you to change your health. You have no idea how much control you can have over your health and your family history and how it will impact you in the future. I often hear women say things like, “well momma and daddy had diabetes so I guess I am destined to have it too!” Absolutely not! You can control your risks for certain chronic diseases, your weight, and your overall mental health by incorporating better habits daily. Better habits, better health…Now let’s talk genes…
Let me say this again; yoga can change your gene expression.
Specifically, that means yoga can reverse the expression of genes involved in the inflammatory processes induced by stress.
In a recent article in the Frontiers in Immunology journal, researchers evaluated 18 studies describing the effects of various mind-body interventions including yoga, meditation, pranayama (breathwork), and other mindfulness practices.
Authors found that the mind-body interventions, including yoga, downregulated the nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB) pathway. NF-kB is a protein associated with DNA damage. NF-kB is produced when stress activates your sympathetic nervous system (SNS). Your SNS, or fight-or-flight nervous system, raises your heart rate, increases your breathing rate, promotes weight gain, releases cortisol (we talked about cortisol in last week’s post), and releases epinephrine and norepinephrine. Epinephrine and norepinephrine activate transcription factors, which later bind to and activate pro-inflammatory genes called cytokines. Cytokines further stimulate inflammation and can promote feelings of depression and fatigue.
Whoa…That was a lot…But wait there’s more…
So because yoga increases the downregulation of NF-kB, the opposite effects are true! Instead, the risk of inflammation-associated disease is reduced and a more relaxed, parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) dominant state can result. The PNS is also referred to as the rest and digest nervous system. When dominant, PNS produces an effect opposite that of the SNS, (i.e.) slower heartbeat, slower breathing rate, weight loss (specifically fat loss), and a calmer, happier state of mind.
You can create a PNS dominant state by cultivating a yoga practice that ultimately can change your gene expression.
Yoga is your opportunity to cultivate better habits for better health.
When you incorporate better habits into your daily life, you don’t have to worry about counting calories, spending long hours in the gym, or the next diet craze. Better habits allow you to cultivate health in an empowered way, not in a way that feels restrictive or forced.
Yoga is a daily habit that you can do at a local studio (my favorite), a gym, or even at home. Even a rigorous practice can produce relaxation, shifting away from SNS dominance to increased PNS activity. I invite you to start a daily practice and incorporate these principles so that you will experience what yoga can do for you!
Stay tuned for more on the benefits of yoga!