Yoga: It’s in Your Genes

A recent scientific study has revealed the influence of relaxation techniques, such as those used in yoga, on the body’s response to stress at the genetic level. …


The research team from the Genomics Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine found that the ‘relaxation response’, a bodily state characterized by decreased oxygen consumption, increased exhaled nitric oxide, and reduced psychological distress, can influence the expression of genes that are known to be related to stress.

The study compared gene expression patterns in nineteen long-term ‘mind/body’ practitioners (which included vipassana, mantra, transcendental meditation, breath focus, Kripalu or Kundalini Yoga, and repetitive prayer), along with nineteen healthy controls and twenty individuals who underwent eight weeks of training in guided relaxation techniques.

It was observed that over 2,200 DNA genes activated differently in the long-term practitioners compared to the controlled group. Perhaps even more surprisingly, 1,561 genes were also activated differently in the short-term practitioners relative to the controls.

It was observed that some of these gene changes seemed to cluster in genes linked to blood formation as well as genes linked to stress, oxidative metabolism, and primary metabolism, which the researchers suggest are “kind of a reversal of the genetic and cellular stress responses.”

In their abstract, the authors suggest that

“this study provides the first compelling evidence that the relaxation response elicits specific gene expression changes in short-term and long-term practitioners.”

For decades now, clinical studies have been revealing the positive health effects of relaxation producing activities such as yoga, mediation, Qi Gong and Tai Chi. Dr. Herbert Benson of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine explains that the team is continuing to explore ways that

“changing the activity of the mind can alter the way basic genetic instructions are implemented.”


Jeffery A. Dusek, Hasan H. Otu, Ann L. Wohlhueter, Manoj Bhasin, Luiz F. Zerbini, Marie G. Joseph, Herbert Benson, and Towia A. Libermann. 2008. Genomic Counter-Stress Changes Induced by the Relaxation Response.

Back to The Yoga News

Back to homepage from Genes