The relaxation response is the physiologic opposite to the ‘fight or flight’ stress response. Scientists have discovered that the long-term practice of regular relaxation activities can also change the expression of genes involved with the body's response to stress. As well as increasing overall ‘wellness’, this can counteract the adverse clinical effects of stress in conditions such as hypertension, anxiety, diabetes and ageing.
A 2013 study from the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital has taken the research one step further by actually identifying how this works in practice.1 It examined the expression of more than 22,000 genes in 51 healthy adults, both before and after doing relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga. Analysis revealed that the pathways involved with energy metabolism, particularly the function of mitochondria (the engines that make energy in every cell), were up-regulated during the relaxation response. Pathways controlled by the activation of a protein called NF-κB – known to have a prominent role in inflammation, stress, trauma and cancer – were suppressed after the relaxation response. The expression of genes involved in insulin pathways was also significantly altered.
As well as bringing about biochemical changes that provide long-term health benefits, relaxation activities can also improve your mood. Meditating for just half an hour a day, for example, can reduce anxiety, depression, stress and pain as well as improving quality of life, according to a 2014 review published in JAMA Internal Medicine.2
How to choose relaxation that’s right for you
It’s clear that incorporating regular relaxation into your daily routine not only increases your immediate sense of wellbeing, it’s also important for your long-term health. There are no shortage of classes and techniques offering relaxation as a benefit. The challenge is finding something that works for you – and then doing it regularly. When working with clients, we tend to suggest approaches based on their dominate mind state. For example if you feel:
- Wired, agitated or angry, you are more likely to find calming techniques such as meditation, deep breathing or guided imagery most helpful.
- Depressed, introverted or spaced out, activities that energise your nervous system such as yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong or Psychocals helpful.
Use your breath to activate relaxation<......
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