A recent study on the effects of meditation revealed that individuals who practiced regularly experienced a "specific genomic response."
Simply put, people who had never meditated before were able to—over the course of eight weeks—produce the exact opposite of what occurs during "fight or flight," according to the study.
The study was conducted by researchers at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. It was published in PLOS ONE, an open-access online journal.
In Chattanooga, meditation and mindfulness have gained in popularity.
"Breathing yoga" classes are offered at several yoga studios, which provide a more relaxed, meditative approach to the practice. In addition, the Center for Mindful Living offers frequent classes and "sittings" throughout the week.
An eight-week-long "mindfulness-based stress reduction" course will be taught at the center in September.
Yong Oh is an instructor at the Center for Mindful Living and a licensed acupuncturist. He has seen a growing interest in meditation/mindfulness in both Chattanooga and the scientific community.
"I think meditation seen as a potential remedy for health problems is already happening in a big way as we speak. It's entering the mainstream consciousness," he said. "It's being taught more and more in schools and universities. Doctors, hospitals and health care providers are more and more recognizing the benefits of these types of practices."
However, Oh would like to see more research done in the field.
"Although it can't be conclusively determined that it was the prescribed relaxation routine alone that led to these changes in the gene profile, it does demonstrate the promise of these mindfulness practices for one's overall health and well-being," he said.
In March and April of this year, the Center for Mindful Living worked with Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts over the course of five weeks. The study involved mindfulness-based practices that taught sixth- and seventh-graders to "pay attention with kindness," according to the website.
For the purpose of the study, practitioners focused on a form of relaxed meditation. Essentially, they were asked to sit and be aware of thoughts but to pay them no attention.
Alternatively, in mindfulness meditation, a person is intensely aware of rising thoughts and their surroundings. However, instead of blocking the thoughts, you are taught to be intensely aware, or "mindful," of everything.
Other forms of meditation include spiritual (a focus on "God"), movement, mantra and guided.
According to Oh, the practice is simply about "waking up."
"The word 'Buddha' simply means 'the awakened one,’" he said. "It's not simply about the health benefits or increasing school and work productivity, which can be wonderful things for sure, but it's equally about waking up to our lives, to the challenges of the world and our times, and learning to be more present, more conscious and more intentional."