Ever heard someone say that yoga saved his or her life? Sounds a bit grandiose, right? It turns out they may have not been over exaggerating. Sure, lots of people experience both physical and mental benefits as a result of practicing yoga, but how can we really know if the poses we’re practicing are actually making a measurable difference in our health? Luckily, scientists have gone deep down into our very DNA and discovered just how practicing yoga could help us prevent some of the most daunting diseases of our time, and potentially add years to our lives. The secret, you ask? In a word: telomeres.
What are telomeres and what role do they play in our lives? Scientists Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epel published a scientific article in 2012 called Telomeres and Adversity: Too toxic to ignore, in which they draw the clever comparison of telomeres to “the plastic tips at the end of shoelaces.” They explain that, “without the coating, shoelaces become frayed until they can no longer do their job, just as without telomeres, DNA strands become damaged and our cells can’t do their job.” Simply put, if we run out of the plastic ends on our shoelaces, our whole bodies start to fall apart like a fraying end of string. If our DNA strands come to an end, so does this life on earth.
So what is the telomere’s job, exactly? In the American Journal of Human Biology, an article on the evolutionary review of human telomere biology explains that “our cells replenish by copying themselves. This happens constantly throughout our lives. Telomeres get shorter each time a cell copies itself…[and that] eventually, telomeres get too short to do their job, causing our cells to age and stop functioning properly. Therefore, telomeres act as the aging clock in every cell” of our bodies. Furthermore the article explains that, “telomeres are shortened as we age, but telomeres can also be shortened by stress, smoking, obesity, lack of exercise and a poor diet.” In a nutshell, the harder we are on our bodies, the shorter our telomeres (and lives) will last.
The good news is that recent studies have found that practicing yoga can actually preserve and even lengthen our DNA telomeres, meaning that rolling out your mat can increase your cells’ longevity and your time on earth! A 2015 study published in the journal Cancer found that yoga and meditation maintained telomere length in breast cancer patients, showing that cancer patients who practiced yoga maintained their telomere length when other groups using talk therapy and stress management seminars had shortened telomeres.
As if maintaining our health through yoga weren’t exciting enough, additional studies have shown that studying mediation (often likened to and/or practiced with yoga) can actually lengthen our telomeres as well! That’s right, a study published in Brain, Behavior and Immunity reports loving-kindness meditators have longer telomeres than non-meditators. Researchers at Harvard Medical School took chromosomal blood samples from 15 meditators and 22 non-meditators, and the results showed that people who practice meditation have longer telomeres than those who do not.
If the longer our telomeres, the longer we live, then these studies prove that practicing yoga can help us live longer, healthier lives. Practicing yoga and mindful meditation adds length to those crucial little plastic tips at the end of the proverbial shoelaces of life.
Mind-body health and integrative medicine pioneer Deepak Chopra, M.D., supports this theory by stating, “In short, we have an incredible power to prevent and even reverse disease through the lifestyle we create.” Just think, for each hour you spend on your mat, you could actually be turning back the hands of time and adding years to your life! So lace up your shoes (or more appropriately, put on your slippers), head to class, and roll out your yoga mat today for a healthier, longer life!
Ashley currently teaches all formats at CorePower Yoga. She began practicing SUP Yoga in 2015 and now leads weekly classes out on the water as well. Ashley enjoys exploring the island and is particularly enamored by the sea. She spends most of her free time snorkeling, free diving and/or scuba diving.