According to the 2019 Global Emotions Report as published in USA Today, about 1/3 of the world is stressed out. Many people live in war-torn areas with food insecurity on a daily basis. The daily stress they face is unimaginable. Those living in these and similar situations reported experiencing a great deal of worry, pain, fear and sadness throughout 2018. However, in countries with stable economies and multiple opportunities, stress continues to present itself as a daily burden. In 2018, 55% of Americans reported feeling stressed for the majority of the day.
What can we do to lessen our burdens?
Mind-body interventions such as Qigong, meditation and yoga are proven to improve mental and physical health. But the how of it all is poorly understood. One theory is that these practices reverse the stress-induced changes in our cells linked to poor health and depression.
A recent analysis suggests these practices quiet the activity of genes that promote inflammation, the body’s response against injuries and infection.
Taken together, 18 published studies involving 846 participants over 11 years reveal that people who experienced stress but regularly engaged in mind-body practices had fewer biological signs of inflammation. This reversed the effects of chronic stress and reduced the harm to both physical and mental health.
The very first study of mind-body therapies that explored the activity of genes provides early evidence that Qigong may regulate immunity, energy use and cell longevity. More important, it may do so when cellular communication begins to orchestrate gene activity. A cell monitors itself and its environment, receiving and analyzing information then deciding how to respond.
The mind and body perceive stress as a threat or a challenge. They respond by using genes that share the same pathway and have the same function for either a fight or flight response. The simultaneous boost to the immune system was essential during early human history when wounds occurred more often. A short-lived response increases the body’s ability to heal injuries and fight infections.
In today’s society, stress keeps the body stuck in a seemingly endless loop of physical, mental, and emotional pain. Disease, grief, trauma and poverty can trigger the immune system through the emotions of fear, anger, anxiety, despair, guilt, shame, and loneliness, to name a few.
Environmental stressors also can prompt the brain to send out harmful molecules that travel back to it and initiate symptoms of depression. Food too can contribute to or reduce inflammation. Stress that is severe or ongoing threatens health. Inflammation persists. Cells change. The risk increases for diseases as well as emotional and physical conditions.
Mind-body practices produce opposite effects, restoring balance and harmony. Some biologists conclude new approaches are needed to study how genes are regulated by consciousness, cognition and spirituality. They resonate with the lessons many physicists have drawn from their discoveries where the associations between modern physics and Eastern thought are now commonplace.
“Millions of people around the world already enjoy the health benefits of mind-body interventions like yoga or meditation, but what they perhaps don’t realize is that these benefits begin at a molecular level and can change the way our genetic code goes about its business,” said Ivana Buric, Coventry University, London, who led a team of investigators from five research centers in three countries.
Trillions of cells in the human body provide its structure, take in nutrients, convert nutrients to energy and have specialized functions. Cells contain all the hereditary information necessary for regulating functions and transmitting information to the next generation of cells.
Mind–body practices help us connect to and talk with our cells through inborn, invisible pathways. These practices offer many benefits to our well-being.
Join us for Part 2 tomorrow to explore body–mind–spirit connections through Qigong to maintain and harmonize pathways for healing.