Yoga has immediate effects on gene expression of immune cells

April 27, 2013

A study just published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE ( has found that a comprehensive yoga program rapidly produces effects at the genetic level. Conducted by the University of Oslo scientists led by Prof. Fahri Saatcioglu, these results may help explain at the molecular level the beneficial health effects of yogic practices that have previously been documented.

In the study, the researchers analyzed 10 people who either practiced a yoga program, or went for a nature walk and listened to relaxing music as a control regimen. The subjects participated in each regimen twice. The yoga program included postures (asanas), breathing exercises (including Sudarshan Kriya), and meditation. Before and after each yoga session and the control regimen (which took about 2 hours, on different days, same time of the day), researchers took blood, isolated immune cells in the circulation, and compared possible changes in gene expression - how the genetic program in DNA of these cells is activated or repressed.

It was found that there were 97 unique genes which were regulated by the yoga program compared with only 24 genes by the control regimen; only 14 genes were affected by both the yoga and control regimens. The affected genes are known to have variety of functions from previous studies, but in many cases their exact function in immune cells are yet not known.

“This is the first time that rapid (within 2 hours of start of practice) and significant gene expression changes in the immune cells of practitioners during a yoga program has been documented. These data suggest that previously reported effects of yoga practices have an integral physiological component at the molecular level which is initiated immediately during practice and may form the basis for the long term stable effects”, explains Prof. Saatcioglu.

Comparison studies between yoga and exercise previously suggested that yoga may be as effective as, or better than, exercise at improving a variety of health-related outcome measures. “Our data are consistent with these earlier findings and suggest that a yoga program may have additional effects over exercise plus simple relaxation in inducing health benefits through differential effects at the molecular level” points out, Prof. Saatcioglu.

The study opens up a number of new avenues for future research and is expected to be useful in comparing the efficacy of different yoga styles, among others.