Managing stress with relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, or biofeedback are things we sometimes ignore when facing a chronic illness. After all, how much can these relaxation techniques really help? I know that question goes through my mind at times. Even though practicing relaxation techniques can feel like a waste of time, practicing them can actually turn genes on and off.
Relaxation techniques change your gene expression
Dr. Herbert Benson did a study comparing 16 people who have regularly evoked “the relaxation response” for an average of 9 years to 19 people that didn’t use these techniques.
The human body has about 30,000 genes. Dr. Benson’s experiment found that roughly 2,000 genes differed in expression between groups. Many genes that triggered inflammation and cell death were turned off in the group that regularly practiced relaxation techniques. However, this deactivation doesn’t appear to be permanent. The daily practice of relaxation techniques such as meditation is necessary to sustain benefits.
When controls were taught techniques to evoke the relaxation response, about 1,500 genes changed their expression within 8 weeks. These were many of the same genes seen in the group that have been practicing these relaxation techniques for years.
Are relaxation techniques really going to fix anything?
When dealing with physical illness it’s easy to hold on to the belief that relaxation techniques are not going to fix the physical problems you are experiencing. But even if stress reduction techniques aren’t the answer to all of your problems, they might help some of them. And don’t forget, there are people that have went in to remission from various chronic illnesses by practicing various relaxation and emotional release techniques.
Using relaxation techniques to boost glutathione
It’s also important to note that people that are chronically ill often have low glutathione. While many things may contribute to low glutathione, a state of chronic stress depletes your glutathione.
According to this study, meditation diminishes oxidative stress and therefore raises glutathione. The same results are seen in this yoga study. While the studies I referenced are about meditation and yoga, other techniques such as controlled breathing and biofeedback can reduce oxidative stress and increase glutathione.
How to start meditation or yoga if you have never practiced it
It’s easy to mention meditation, yoga, and breathing techniques as forms of relieving stress, but without a good instructor, you may wonder how to start. For yoga and meditation, you can look into DVDs. For yoga, the Yoga for Beginners Boxed Set comes highly recommended. For meditation, The DVD Meditation for Beginners is very good. You can also find meditation and yoga videos on services such as Amazon Instant Video and Netflix.
Using biofeedback and breathing techniques
You may be able to find a biofeedback practitioner, but after doing both, I personally recommend HeartMath emWave2® (I own one) for biofeedback. The advantage of this device over a practitioner is that you can use it anywhere and as often as you want. It’s a rather simple device. It takes your pulse through your thumb or earlobe, and it measures your heart rate variability to determine how relaxed you are. There is an LED light to show you how relaxed or how “coherent” you are. There are also chimes you can turn on or off. As your coherence changes, the LED light changes and you get a chime sound if the sound is turned on. There are also several difficulty levels to choose from. As you get better, you can increase the difficulty.
The device saves your sessions so you can view them on the computer with a USB cable. The software works great on a Mac or PC. You can also watch the graph of your heart rate variability live when you have the device connected to a computer.
I personally like biofeedback devices because you can see and track results. As you get better, you can see your sessions improve on your computer.
To practice your breathing, you can enter Do As One’s Universal Breathing room for free. There are also many free iPhone and Android apps to help you with breathing techniques.