07/10/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

How Meditation Affects Your Body

It turns out peaceful thoughts really can influence our bodies, right down to the instructions we receive from our DNA, according to a new study.

Researchers for the study, published in the Public Library of Science, took blood samples from a group of 19 people who habitually meditated or prayed for years, and 19 others who never meditated.

The researchers ran genomic analyses of the blood and found that the meditating group suppressed more than twice the number of stress-related genes -- about 1,000 of them -- than the nonmeditating group.

The more these stress-related genes are expressed, the more the body will have a stress response like high blood pressure or inflammation. Over long periods of time, these stress responses can worsen high blood pressure, pain syndromes and other conditions.

The nonmeditating group then spent 10 minutes a day for eight weeks training in relaxation techniques that involved repeating a prayer, thought, sound, phrase or movement.

"What this does is to break the train of everyday thought -- you no longer have stressful thoughts and because of that the body is able to return to a healthy state," said Dr. Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute Mind/Body Medicine and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

By the end of the training, the novice meditating group was also suppressing stress-related genes, although at lower levels than those of the long-term meditating people.

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