One thing that draws me to yoga, apart from other pure meditative practices, is that it places an emphasis on the body and mind, and not just the mind alone. By paying attention to one’s diet, working diligently on postures and breathing, etc., there comes a transformation (still many years away for me) of both the body and the mind. The concept of Kundalini seems to capture this – wherein a kind of psychic energy is awoken and driven slowly up through the spinal column and into the brain – releasing all sorts of desirable cognitive and physical benefits.
Transform the body and the mind will follow?
Today I was reminded of this when I saw a research article entitled, “A novel pathway regulates memory and plasticity via SIRT1 and miR-134” that was published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature. In this article, the researchers examined a gene called SIRT1 which encodes a small protein that regulates the structure of chromosomes in response to the overall energy state of cells. Most famously, it has been shown that SIRT1 mediates the longevity, cardiovascular and anti-inflammatory health benefits that occur when individuals observe a diet that is calorie restricted.
In his book on Ayurvedic medicine and Kundalini yoga, Sri Swami Sivananda remarks, not on SIRT1 (obviously), but on the importance of a calorie-restricted diet as a part of the long-standing commitment to certain virtuous observances or Niyama:
A glutton cannot at the very outset have diet regulations and observe Mitahara. He must gradually practise this. First let him take less quantity twice as usual. Then instead of the usual heavy night meals, let him take fruits and milk alone for some days. In due course of time he can completely avoid the night meals and try to take fruits and milk in the daytime. Those who do intense Sadhana must take milk alone. It is a perfect food by itself. If necessary they can take some easily digestible fruits.
Indeed, a restricted diet (but not a fasting state) is a part of the yoga practice. This observance has long been known to confer tremendous bodily health benefits – that, it turns out, are mediated by SIRT1! Indeed, if ever there were a “longevity gene” SIRT1 would be it. When it is over-expressed (in mice) the mice show many of the same health benefits as seen in mice that are on calorie-restricted diets (even though the mice can eat as much as they want). Conversely, when the gene is inactivated, the mice die early and are in poor health.
In any case, today’s research article takes the SIRT1 story from the body and pushes it upwards (like the awakening kundalini) to the mind. The article demonstrates that overexpression of SIRT1 improves cognitive function while inactivation of SIRT1 in the brain lessens cognitive function.
So it seems that body and mind are ever more unified and that – even on the molecular level – what is good for one has benefits for the other.