New research shows that activities like meditation or prayer that produce a relaxation response in the body actually change the function of our genes.
Herbert Benson and his team looked at long-term practitioners of deep breathing, meditation and prayer, and compared the patterns of gene expression among the individuals. Next, the control group spent eight weeks in one of the practices, and then the researchers compared the before and after gene expression.
Science now knows that genes are not static. Their activity can be suppressed or enhanced, and they can be "turned on" or "turned off" by other physiological states, as well as events external to the body.
The relaxation response was named by Benson, a Harvard prof who founded the Mind Body Medical Institute. He defines it thusly: "The relaxation response is a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress... and the opposite of the fight or flight response."
Kerstin Uvnas Moberg, the Swedish researcher who first identified oxytocin's calming effects, calls it the "calm and connection" response. Although Benson doesn't mention oxytocin, I believe that oxytocin is the ruling hormone and neurotransmitter in the relaxation response. If this research had looked at oxytocin receptors and oxytocin-producing neurons, I bet they would have seen "up-regulation," that is, increased functioning.
From the article in Science Daily:
To my mind, this is further proof that we can build or heal the oxytocin response naturally, without snorting anything.