Herbert Benson's book "The Relaxation Response" which appeared about 25 years ago, has had great influence in shaping public awareness of the debilitating effects of stress and anxiety and measure that can be taken to counter it. His institute at the Mass General Hospital has generated an interesting study of changes in gene expression profiles observed in short and long term relaxation response (RR) practitioners. A bit of context is provided in the introduction:
Mind-body approaches that elicit the RR include: various forms of meditation, repetitive prayer, yoga, tai chi, breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, biofeedback, guided imagery and Qi Gong. One way that the RR can be elicited is when individuals repeat a word, sound, phrase, prayer or focus on their breathing with a disregard of intrusive everyday thoughts. The non-pharmacological benefit of the RR on stress reduction and other physiological as well as pathological parameters has attracted significant interest in recent years to decipher the physiological effects of the RR. In addition to decreased oxygen consumption, other consistent physiologic changes observed in long-term practitioners of RR techniques include decreased carbon dioxide elimination, reduced blood pressure, heart and respiration rate, prominent low frequency heart rate oscillations and alterations in cortical and subcortical brain regions.The authors observed changes in gene expression profiles regulating molecular and biochemical pathways involved in cellular metabolism, oxidative phosphorylation, generation of reactive oxygen species and response to oxidative stress. They suggest that these changes to some degree serve to ameliorate the negative impact of stress (which is known to increase oxidative stress and promote a pro-inflammatory milieu).