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Intersect science and technology to understand chronic stress impact on DNA.
CEO & Co-Founder of bLife Inc, Director of Business Development at Microsoft
Meditation, breathing exercises, and emotion regulation impact our DNA.
Telomeres protect the end of our DNA strand, unless frayed by chronic stress.
Zimbardo’s time orientation is balancing the present moment with our past and future selves.
Lesson: Stress Resilience with Paul Campbell
Step #2 Science: Intersect science and technology to understand chronic stress impact on DNA
We're operating on concepts that are 5,000+ years old, and throughout time we've talked about the connection between the mind and the body and how one impacts and relates to the other. But we now have the technology from a neurological standpoint. So things from functional MRIs where we're able to see the blood flow and what is lighting up in the brain when we're engaged in certain types of exercises that are designed to calm, center, focus the mind.
So we can know now that based on blood flow, or EEG, which is looking at the electrical activity of what's happening in the brain, we can see what's working and what's not working. So we're understanding the correlations.
The next wave that we've entered into now which is particularly fascinating is we can see now also the connection between these practices and our biology, all the way down to how it impacts our DNA. So what does meditation or breathing exercises or emotion regulation, what impact does it have on our genetic expression? And so this is the new frontier that's been opened up literally over the last 10 years.
Think about the plastic tip of a shoelace that protects the shoelace from fraying. That's what the telomere is. It doesn't have any of our sort of genetic code in it, but it protects our chromosome, our structure.
There's some groundbreaking research that culminated in Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn winning the Nobel Prize for medicine. She and her lab are at the University of California San Francisco, and the discovery of telomeres and our how our bodies when we're under chronic stress, our telomeres shorten and the shortening of our telomeres relates to our biological or cellular aging. So the big idea here is that we're able to prove how things like chronic stress impact our DNA. The belief is that that leads to a cascade of other types of chronic conditions of where something, a psychological incident, is manifesting within our body.
It's a paradox if you think about it because in many respects people think that technology is contributing to stress. We're always on. There's always something coming in. There's more information created every day, you know, all of those statistics. But by the same token the technology is not going away, so how can we use the technology to be a vehicle for this incredible science and understanding and knowledge about how to train our minds to impact our bodies for health and quality of life or happiness?
So we're working, for example, with Dr. Josh Smyth who is the head of Biobehavioral Health at Penn State University, and he's looking at stress from the standpoint of, within the moment, how can we better identify and deliver and exercise or, what in academic circles are called interventions, when you need it.
Dr. Zimbardo is an incredible academic and really a giant in the field of psychology. Many folks that have taken first year psychology at university used his book. It's amazing how many people are familiar with Phil Zimbardo from that lens. He did the Stanford prison experiment and that was part of his claim to fame, but recently he's done a lot of work on time perspective.
The way that that work is translated into our product and into the tools for people is there's the past, present and the future and the key is how do we balance where we are in the moment. Some of us are past oriented. We spend a lot of time, “I should have done that, should have said that, that should have happened.” A lot of us are future oriented. “Tomorrow this is going to happen.”
We don't always spend enough time in the present and there has to be a balance. So he's done a lot of really interesting research on whatever your predisposition is — if it's in the past, if it's in the future. How do you balance out that orientation and then learn how to use that to your benefit in the moment, because that's all we have, right, is right now in that moment, but we can use the past and use the future to help.
Another area of work where Dr. Zimbardo has been helpful to us is around the power of visualization, kind of what is happening neurobiologically when we visualize, when we, not only in our mind's eye see where we want to go, and what happens to start to orient our behaviors towards that objective. But then there's some emerging research on translating that, not only within the imagination, but then actually seeing it.