Anyone who practices yoga knows that it is good for you - and may even constantly tell their friends so. However, its benefits may go beyond stress reduction and improved flexibility. A recent study performed by researchers from the University of Oslo in Norway found that yoga has the ability to change your genes. Those gene changes are able to rapidly improve the immune system in a way that other exercises and stress reducers are unable to match.
According to Pacific Standard, 10 participants attended a week-long yoga retreat in Germany. For the first two days, the participants performed a comprehensive yoga practices, which included meditation, yoga breathing exercises and different postures called asanas. For the following two days, the participants listened to jazz or classical music, or went on nature walks, both of which activities spanned the same amount of time as their yoga practices.
Before and after all of these activities, the researchers took blood samples from all of the participants. They looked specifically at peripheral blood mononuclear cells, which are integral to the body's immune system function. While the nature walk and music produced 38 changes to the cell's gene expression, yoga was able to produce 111 changes. While 14 of the genes affected were the same ones, meaning that the activities are able to impact similar bodily processes, yoga was able to produce significantly more, which means that the activity is even more effective than traditional exercise at changing which genes are turned on.
The Huffington Post adds that yoga has been found to alleviate depression, and back pain, lower the risk of heart disease and improve bone health. It also is widely stated that yoga aids with relaxation and reduces stress. A recent study found that the exercise is able to do so by reducing the biological triggers that lead to inflammation. Of course, stress leads to bodily inflammation.
"These data suggest that previously reported (therapeutic) effects of yoga practices have an integral physiological component at the molecular level, which is initiated immediately during practice," the researchers write.
The study was published in the journal PLOS One.