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Closing your eyes with intention can be transformative. The sound of your breath amplifies in your nose and throat; your senses sharpen to taste, touch, and scent. The external world melts away for a moment as you withdraw into yourself. Your stream of consciousness, now unveiled, reveals the magnitude of thoughts, emotions, and memories you might normally push aside or attempt to silence. Feelings of deep relaxation take hold, and you may even drift into a few minutes of sleep. Whatever your meditative experience involves, the longer you allow yourself to stay in this altered state of consciousness, the more profound the physiological response in your body: from lowered blood pressure to a strengthened immune system and altered gene expression, pain relief and increased energy, reduced performance anxiety and improved creativity. Most impressive is meditation’s ability to target and release stress, a positive shift that directly affects your gut health and the trillions of microorganisms that make up your microbiome.…

The stress experienced during competitive social situations negatively affects the gut microbiome. The experiment was performed in Syrian hamsters, animals that compete to establish hierarchies of dominant and subordinate groups. The study analyzed gut bacteria before the hamsters met and after they had competed for hierarchical placement, then compared these samples to a control group of hamsters that lived in an already established group. In the study, even a single exposure to social stress altered the gut microbiota, significantly decreasing gut bacteria diversity and composition. Repeated exposure to stress resulted in greater negative impacts on the microbiome. There was no significant difference in alterations between winners and losers; social stress in both groups led to similar changes, although the specific bacteria impacted were different between the two groups. Interestingly, higher levels of some bacteria predicted whether an animal would become a winner or loser. Behavioral Brain Research →Takeaway: Researchers say that this supports…

Relax! It may be just what the doctor ordered. While studies find that mind-body practices (yoga, meditation, etc.) that induce the relaxation response (RR) reduce blood pressure, the molecular pathways that lead to this association remain unknown. A recent study analyzed RR’s effects on gene pathways over an 8-week RR-based intervention in 58 patients diagnosed with hypertension. The intervention consisted of 20 minutes per day of diaphragmatic breathing, mantra repetition, and mindfulness meditation. Blood samples were taken for RNA analysis and results found that RR regulates 1771 genes in the following categories: immune regulatory pathways and metabolism, glucose metabolism, cardiovascular system development, and circadian rhythm. This is the first study to uncover the molecular mechanisms that support mind-body practices as an effective treatment for hypertension. The Journal of Alternative & Complimentary Medicine Society →Takeaway: While the science behind integrative treatment methods (nutrition, meditation, exercise, etc.) is oftentimes lacking, this study illustrates the profound…