In recent years, meditation has become a social trend. While the body appears calm on the surface when meditating, the genes in the body change dramatically.
Meditation is typically a seated affair, but there are moving meditations also, like tai qi and qigong.
From the late 1970s to the 1990s, a variety of Chinese qigong masters came out to teach qigong practices, and many Chinese people developed the habit of going to the park in the morning to practice, a trend that came to be called “qigong fever.”
Later, qigong spread from China to the West, such as the widespread practice called Falun Gong (also known as Falun Dafa). Most of these qigong and yoga practices originated from the Buddha school. In the past, yogis emphasized spirituality and spiritual enhancement. Nevertheless, after yoga came to the West, its spiritual aspect was excluded, and only the physical adjustment part was left, which is the most popular form of yoga that we see today. The yoga practices with more depth also emphasize the use of meditation to train people’s consciousness, not just to improve the balance of the body.
Meditation is becoming increasingly popular in the West, with even some executives practicing meditation during their lunch breaks to improve their work efficiency.
Meditation has become a very important social phenomenon. Why did this occur, and what are its benefits to people?
Improved Heart and Cranial Nerve Health
During the COVID-19 pandemic, there were some studies that tried to use meditation to help patients alleviate their COVID-19 sequelae or vaccine side effects.
As early as 2020, professors at the University of California–San Francisco recognized that the impact of COVID-19 was so severe that it could damage multiple human organs at the same time. Two doctors, Juliet Morgan and Meghan Jobson, found that meditation could help patients recover from their symptoms.
Even beyond holistic health communities, there seems to be a degree of international consensus that meditation is helpful for people recovering from the side effects of COVID-19 vaccines and the lingering effects of the disease itself.
The Western medical community has been doing research on meditation for two to three decades, and meditation has been found to have the following benefits:
- activating specific brain regions;
- increasing heart rate variability;
- suppressing inflammation; and
- increasing telomerase expression, which affects the body’s aging mechanism.
In addition, meditation has been shown to be beneficial for both myocardial damage and neurological side effects caused by the COVID-19 vaccines.
Researchers have observed changes in brain activity during meditation through brain imaging techniques and brain wave tests, and they found that the insula and premotor cortex were effectively activated during meditation.
A 2013 study published in The Journal of Social Psychology showed that even five minutes of meditation improved heart rate variability, a parameter used in Western medicine to reflect the elasticity of the interval between each heartbeat. A high heart rate variability indicates strong cardiac regulation.
Moreover, there are different stages of meditation, and the meditation experience of the study subjects varied. For instance, the effects experienced by long-term meditators and occasional practitioners were discovered to be different.
Immune Genes Significantly Upregulated
When meditating, the body may appear to be still, but there are dramatic changes taking place at the microscopic level.
A large-scale genomic study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) showed that meditation activates the body’s immune system.
In this study, the subjects used a meditation method that emphasized stimulating inner thoughts and potential, rather than just focusing on physical movement and the muscle and bone balance.
Three hundred and 88 subjects participated in an eight-day meditation practice, and their blood samples were collected for comparison at four different points in time: two time points before the session, the last day of the eight-day session, and three months after the session.
It was discovered that after eight days of meditation, many genes in the human body were significantly upregulated, and the range of their upregulation was two to four times.
Three months after meditation, the regulation of some genes returned to levels close to those before meditation, but there were still some genes whose upregulation remained. This means that the effects of meditation are long-lasting. And the finding that an eight-day meditation practice still has positive effects after three months is delightfully surprising.
Meditation Activates Powerful Self-Healing Genes
The researchers classified the genes according to their effects and found that many of the genes that were most substantially regulated after meditation were antiviral and related to immunity enhancement.
A total of 220 immune genes were upregulated, and 68 of which were related to interferon and belong to the innate immune mechanism. The eight days of meditation had a very significant strengthening effect on the overall immunity of the body.
This study was conducted on peripheral blood and showed that meditation had an effect on the entire body’s immunity, not just on one organ.
The study also observed that meditation not only enhances the interferon and immune activation responses, but it also improves the body’s ability to break down and metabolize RNA so that if there is an invasion of viral RNA, the body can degrade it relatively quickly.
The Healing Effect of Meditation on Long COVID and Vaccine Side Effects
Is meditation effective for patients with long COVID symptoms or vaccine side effects? The answer to this question pertains to each patient’s own physical qualities, immune potential, and the severity of the disease.
However, it’s clear that meditation can regulate a number of genes that are important for the regulation of the immune system, including TRIM22, STAT1, and STAT2.
STAP2 is closely related to interferon and can bind to STAT1, and it can combine with the interferon regulatory factors to affect innate immunity. TRIM22 also affects the expression of gamma-interferon.
Meditation has a positive effect on these key genes. Therefore, overall, effective meditation will definitely help with recovery from COVID-19 symptoms and vaccine side effects.
The study also compared meditators with patients with mild and severe COVID-19 symptoms. The researchers used red dots to represent upregulated genes related to natural immune and antiviral mechanisms, and blue dots to represent downregulated genes. The genes in meditators were essentially red, compared to many genes expressed in blue (indicating severe impairment) in people with mild and severe COVID-19 symptoms.
Many genes related to virus resistance are significantly upregulated, so in addition to helping with recovery, meditation is also very effective in preventing infections and severe COVID symptoms.
Qigong and Tai Chi Also Cause Changes in Gene Expression
In addition to meditation, studies have found that yoga, tai chi, and qigong can all improve our health at different levels.
A study published in Frontiers in Psychology comprehensively analyzed the effects of yoga, tai chi, and qigong on the human body at different levels, including changes in gene expression, biomolecules, and neurotrophins. And it found that yoga, tai chi, and qigong can have multifaceted effects on antioxidant, anti-aging, and anti-inflammatory aspects, as well as on cancer prevention and immune system enhancement.
Researchers used microRNAs to test and compare the expression of multiple genes in both yoga practitioners and walkers who listened to relaxing music in a natural setting.
The conclusion is that during the short period after yoga practice, 97 genes in the yoga practitioners’ bodies were regulated, with increased expression.
In the reference group of walkers, there were 24 genes with increased expression. That is, 73 extra genes were regulated as a result of yoga practice.
This was not a large-scale study, and only a small number of genes were analyzed. Nowadays, as genetic sequencing technology is becoming increasingly advanced, we hope to see larger analyses of the effects of these traditional health practices on gene expression.
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