Meditate on your DNA – Predispositions & Epigenetics.

Meditate on your DNA – Predispositions & Epigenetics.

– Composed by Rebecca Bourhill and Glenn Nangaku Leisching


Is it Nature or Nurture, or both? What is the interplay between your future of pure-potential, and the fixed limitations encoded in your memories and DNA? In this blog we explore recent research into how your genes respond to their environment. Research suggests your genes can be influenced to express themselves optimally, or not at all. Healthy behaviours (such as meditation) can slow, even stop, the ticking time-bomb of a potentially life-threatening genetic inheritance from your ancestors.

Defining predispositions and epigenetics?

Throughout the article, the term predisposition describes an individual’s increased risk of getting a condition based on their genetic makeup that has been inherited from their parents and their ancestral lineage.

These conditions range from heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, – the list goes on.

Epigenetics refers to how your behaviour and environmental factors sets the scene, consequently affecting the way your genes express themselves. Epigenetics, broadly speaking controls gene activity without changing the DNA itself.

‘Epi-’ Greek for above. The term ‘epigenetic’ are factors that are ‘above’ or beyond the genetic code – external factors. Epigenetics is the study of how influences or modifications directed at your DNA regulate whether a gene is activated or not. These changes, in the form of chemicals, attach to the DNA genome, creating a ‘tag’. This tag – called the epigenome – does not change your genetic sequence itself. Rather, the epigenome affects the expression of your genes.

The good news is therefore, that because epigenomes (and their affect on gene expression) are influenced by lifestyle factors, chemical exposure and medication – all of which are controllable. Therefore, you can have a profound affect of your genetic expression!

The ‘hardware’ and ‘software’ in your genetic field

Let’s use the metaphor of yourself as a computer consisting of hardware and software. Your genome – what makes you, you – would be considered ‘hardware’…the unchangeable, inherited, part of yourself – your predispositions for different conditions and physical characteristics.

Now, what is exciting is that you have the ability to turn these gene predispositions ‘on’ or ‘off’ using lifestyle choices, or in keeping with the computer metaphor, ‘installing’ the correct, useful ‘software’ or ‘programs’ to create a positive outlook and keep harmful genes dormant.

Not only can you nurture or cultivate positive ancestral predispositions, you have the ability to dial the volume down on all the negative potential in your inherited nature.

The opposite is also true. Installing harmful ‘software’ will increase your chances of triggering genes that are potentially dangerous or life-threatening. Studies are showing that epigenetic changes (that are altered by lifestyle factors) can be passed on from generation to generation.

This essentially means the buck can stop with you! The changes you make today will influence the health of future generations.

Nature & Nurture: Influencing the outcome of predispositions

Identical twins, for example, inherit the same DNA, however, they can turn out to be vastly different from one another. At the age of say 55 one can get heart disease while the other can be running marathons in perfect health. Part of the answer to this lies in the way they have nurtured their genetic make-up by turning certain genes on or off.

Nature would be the genes the twins inherited – what has been passed down to them from previous generations. Nurturing is how one feeds or starves these genes. In one’s external world, pollutants, chemical exposure, diet and personal lifestyle choices encourage positive changes and impact on the epigenome. Your holistic choices in the form of dietary changes, increased exercise, stress reduction through meditation, and habitual changes, big or small, can determine which path your health takes.

A relatable example of smoking can be used to illustrate. If you have a predisposition for cancer you turn the cancer gene ‘on’ by feeding the fire. However, stopping the habit of cigarette use can immediately start reversing the damage caused. A similar model can be applied to sugar addiction with those who have a predisposition for obesity or diabetes.

Meditation: Between stimulus and response there is an opportunity!

Meditation can have a significant influence on your epigenetics.

The practice of Zen meditation for example, creates a moment of consciousness and space between whatever the stimulation may be and your habitual response. In the smoking example: the stimulus or trigger could be stress at work or a negative emotional experience. Often a smoker’s immediate response to the trigger or stress is to have a cigarette. The practice of Zen meditation develops mindfulness – awareness of unconscious, patterned behaviour. This awareness has the power to momentarily interrupt the stimulus-response cycle and affords youf the opportunity to choose a healthier, more empowered and self-aware response to the stress or what triggers you.


A daily morning practice of meditation sets the scene for the rest of your day and exercises your mindfulness muscles. In a highly charged situation taking a ‘mindful-minute’ helps you become present and aware of the trigger (stimulus) before immediately responding. Mindfulness can take the form of grounding yourself either through following the breath in and out and feeling the sensations in the body of your breath, or feeling your feet on the ground.

Beside the many other benefits of meditation and mindfulness, their practice gives you an opportunity to reprogram your software to make unscious behaviour more conscious thereby allowing time to consider whether your habitual response is helpful or harmful. Meditation supports these little pauses and provides the necessary space that help enhance positive behaviour or break negative programming which have a significant influence on the expression of your genes.


Nerlich, B. 2018. Epigenetics: Grappling with definitions.

Epigenetics: Grappling with definitions

Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2022. What are Epigenetics?

Guerrrero-Bosagna, C. 2017. TED-ed. What is Epigenetics?. YouTube.

Experiencing Depression? How Meditation can help.

Experiencing Depression? How Meditation can help.

– Composed by Rebecca Bourhill and Edited Glenn Nangaku Leisching

Introduction to Depression

Depression is a worldwide problem that can occur at any age. Although more common in people in their 30’s and 40’s, depression is now reaching our younger population due to various factors discussed later in the blog.

Depression drains the life-force from your body, leaving you with little to no energy, lethargy, deep sadness, despair, and hopelessness. If not addressed, extended bouts of depression can cause an individual to be house-bound, secluded, and with chronic health-related conditions.

There are many different forms of depression ranging from chronic mild depression to more severe major depressive disorders like manic depression or bipolar disorder.

Although the exact causes of depression are not known, there are three components that are known to contribute to its development. Factors include chemical or hormone imbalance, genetics and trauma.

Importance of applying Buddhist practices such as mindfulness, compassion, and empathy have been shown to have numerous benefits for mental and emotional well-being.

The Origin of Depression: chemical explanations; trauma; and genetics.



Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers used by nerve cells in the brain to communicate between neurons. In states of depression three primary neurotransmitters are out of balance.

The first is Dopamine. When an individual reaches a milestone, gets a work promotion or accomplishes a goal, dopamine is responsible for the ‘happy feeling’ that pulses through the body. Dopamine is the brain’s reward chemical.

Second, norepinephrine – the fight/flight chemical, if constantly raised due to long or regular exposure to trauma, an individual will tend to live in a state of hypervigilance in preparation for the next trauma inducing event to happen.

The third chemical is serotonin, known as the “feel-good chemical”. If there is an imbalance of serotonin, which can often be the case in depression, SSRIs (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) are sometimes used to increase serotonin levels. Not only is this chemical responsible for one’s mood but it also plays a role in other important body functions.

Although it was thought that low levels of these neurotransmitters were the primary cause, research is showing that there are other factors that can bring about depression.


A traumatic life event can trigger a depressive episode, along with anxiety. Extended periods of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) caused by trauma, creates a continuous negative thought pattern which can lead to depression. Symptoms of both depression and PTSD overlap and often exist together.


Another relatively recent field of study is intergenerational trauma. Evidence is emerging which shows that trauma can be passed from one generation down through the next five generations.

A well-known study of intergenerational trauma using children of Holocaust survivors was published in 1966 by a Canadian psychiatrist. In the article children of Holocaust survivors had an increased likelihood of depression, PTSD and anxiety. Trauma from the Holocaust created a change in the survivor’s genetics due to heightened exposure to the stress hormone cortisol. These genes were passed down to offspring.

Meditation and depression: How the brain responds to meditation

Although the practice of meditation can be traced back in time for many thousands of years, it is only recently that it has become a widely acknowledged tool to manage depression, anxiety, and mental health challenges.

The question needs to be asked: “Why or how does meditation help depressio

To help understand how the brain changes during meditation, we look at the brain’s neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to change and adapt in response to new experiences and environmental changes.

In order for the brain to adapt and change, new neural pathways need to be created. Originally believed to only happen in childhood, it has been proven that new neural pathways are created throughout one’s lifetime. During bouts of depression, the creation of new pathways are disrupted. This is where meditation comes in.

Meditation can not only stop these depression induced pathway disruptors, it is now known that meditation can help rewire the brain and create new neural pathways. These physiological pathways created through meditation enable us to regulate and manage emotions more effectively by changing the structure of the brain’s hippocampus which controls emotional regulation and in the amygdala which manages our flight/flight responses to signs of danger in our environment.

Chemically, meditation reduces cortisol levels. High levels of stress can lead to stress-induced depression. Ultimately, lowering cortisol levels through meditation may reduce the risk of depression.

Meditation as a tool to manage depression

Through meditation we learn to observe our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and sensations without reactivity. Through meditation, the meditator is able to interrupt the unconscious stimulus/response cycle. Learning to recognize, acknowledge and let the stimuli – the thoughts and feelings go and detach from them can help break the cycle of uncontrolled reactive responses.

Having a single focus for the mind, either the breath or a physical sensation, gives you an anchor to come back to when distracting thoughts or emotions arise. Meditation creates space between stimulus and response patterning helping you respond to stressful, emotionally charged situations in new, creative and potentially healing ways. By being able to return to a grounded and centred state we are able to respond from a state of calm instead of from a place of defence or panic.


Depression has become a common mental condition through the world. It occurs in all ages, races, and cultures. The common causes of depression are known to be chemical imbalance, exposure to trauma, and inherited genetic dispositions. There is a growing field of response to help alleviate the consequence of depression in one’s life, work and family constellations. Psychological and psychiatric therapies, natural medicines, diet, and physical exercise are all know to help.

Born as the Earth Zen Academy (BEZA), a Zen School of the Heart, offers several free training programs related to meditation, authentic communication, and Nature Based Wisdom Teachings (NBWT) to help you or someone close to you manage the effects of depression.


Schimelpfening, N., (2022), The Chemistry of Depression, Very Well Mind,

Iliades, C., (2016). How Trauma can Lead to Depression. Everyday Health,

DeAngelis, T., (2019). The Legacy of Trauma, American Psychological Association,


Coelho, S., (2022). Cortisol and Depression: What to know, PsychCentral,

Silent Zen Meditation: A Path to Inner Peace and Self-Awareness

Silent Zen Meditation: A Path to Inner Peace and Self-Awareness

Discover more as we explore the Benefits and Techniques of Practicing Silent Zen Meditation for Mental Clarity, Emotional Balance, and Spiritual Growth.

– Composed by Ekan Nangaku and Duane Steffens


Silent Zen meditation is a form of meditation that involves sitting in a relaxed yet alert posture and focusing on the breath while maintaining a quiet and still mind. It is a practice that has been around for centuries and is rooted in the Buddhist tradition of Zen. In this article, we will explore the history and benefits of silent Zen meditation, the challenges that one may encounter during the practice, and how to integrate it into daily life.

Understanding Silent Zen Meditation

Zen meditation is a practice that originated in China over 1,500 years ago and was later introduced to Japan, where it became the foundation of the Zen Buddhist tradition. Zen meditation involves sitting in a cross-legged posture on a cushion or a chair with the back straight and the hands resting in the lap. The eyes can be kept open or closed, depending on personal preference or stage of practice.

During meditation, the focus is on the breath, which is used as an anchor to keep the mind from wandering. The practice is to observe thoughts and feelings as they arise, without getting caught up in them, and return to the breath whenever the mind wanders. This practice cultivates a state of mental stillness and calm, which can lead to greater self-awareness and a deeper sense of inner peace.

Posture is an important aspect of zazen, as it helps to create a stable and comfortable foundation for the practice. Sitting cross-legged on a cushion or a chair with the back straight helps to keep the body aligned and relaxed, allowing for a more efficient flow of breath. It is recommended to use a cushion or a folded blanket to support the hips and the knees, as this helps to reduce strain on the lower back and promotes a relaxed posture.

Breath control is another crucial component of zazen meditation. Focusing on the breath helps to maintain concentration and calmness. It is common to count the breath and focus on the sensation of the breath moving in and out of the body.

Benefits of Zazen – Zen Meditation

There are many benefits to practicing silent Zen meditation regularly. Here are some of the most common ones:

Improved focus and concentration

By focusing on the breath and learning to observe thoughts without getting caught up in them, zazen can improve one’s ability to concentrate and stay focused. This can be especially helpful for people who struggle with distractions and a wandering mind.

Reduction of stress and anxiety

Zen meditation can also be a powerful tool for reducing stress and anxiety. By cultivating a state of calmness and stillness in the mind, the practice can help to lower the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body and promote relaxation.

Increased self-awareness and mindfulness

Through the practice of zazen, one can develop a deeper sense of self-awareness and mindfulness. By observing one’s thoughts and emotions without judgment, one can learn to better understand oneself and one’s patterns of behavior, which can lead to greater personal growth and self-improvement.

Increased compassion and empathy

Zen meditation can also promote feelings of compassion and empathy towards oneself and others. By learning to observe one’s own thoughts and feelings with acceptance and kindness, one can develop a greater sense of empathy and understanding towards others, which can lead to more harmonious relationships and a greater sense of connection with the world.

Improved sleep quality

Research has shown that regular meditation practice can improve sleep quality by reducing the levels of stress and anxiety that can interfere with sleep. Silent Zen meditation can be particularly helpful in this regard, as it promotes a state of relaxation and calmness that can help to induce sleepiness.

Improved immune system function

Studies have also shown that regular meditation practice can boost the immune system by increasing the activity of natural killer cells, which help to fight off infections and cancer cells.

Common Challenges of Silent Meditation

While the benefits of silent Zen meditation are many, there are also some common challenges that one may encounter during the practice. Here are some of the most common ones

Difficulty in achieving a clear mind

Many people struggle with achieving a clear and still mind during silent meditation. This can be especially challenging for beginners who are not used to sitting in stillness for extended periods of time. However, with practice and persistence, it is possible to develop greater mental clarity and stillness.

Physical discomfort and pain

Sitting cross-legged for extended periods of time can also be uncomfortable or even painful for some people. This can be due to tightness or stiffness in the hips, knees, or lower back. However, there are many modifications and adjustments that can be made to the posture to make it more comfortable and sustainable.

Distracting thoughts and emotions

Another common challenge of zazen is dealing with distracting thoughts and emotions. It is common for the mind to wander during the practice, and for thoughts and emotions to arise that can be distracting or unsettling. However, with practice, one can learn to observe these thoughts and emotions without getting caught up in them, and return to the breath.


How to Overcome Common Challenges of Meditation.

Here are some techniques for overcoming common challenges of silent Zen meditation:

Acceptance and non-judgment

One of the keys to deepening your Zen meditation is learning to accept whatever arises in the mind, without judgment or criticism. This includes accepting physical discomfort, distracting thoughts, and difficult emotions. By learning to observe these experiences with kindness and acceptance, one can cultivate greater equanimity and stillness in the mind.

Patience and persistence

Zen meditation is a practice that requires patience and persistence. It can take time to develop the ability to focus the mind and achieve a state of stillness, especially for beginners. However, with regular practice and a commitment to the process, one can make steady progress over time.

Modifications and adjustments to posture

If physical discomfort or pain is a barrier to meditation practice, there are many modifications and adjustments that can be made to the posture to make it more comfortable and sustainable. This may include sitting on a cushion or block to elevate the hips, using a chair for support, or using props to support the knees or lower back.


Silent Zen meditation is a powerful tool for cultivating stillness, focus, and self-awareness. By learning to observe one’s thoughts and emotions with acceptance and kindness, one can develop greater mental clarity and resilience, as well as a deeper sense of connection with oneself and the world around them. While there may be challenges along the way, with patience, persistence, and the right strategies, anyone can learn to practice Zen meditation and reap the benefits it has to offer.


Is it necessary to practice Zen meditation for long periods of time?

No, it is not necessary to practice for long periods of time to experience the benefits of Zen meditation. Even a few minutes a day can be beneficial, and one can gradually increase the length of their practice as they become more comfortable and skilled.

Do I need to be Buddhist to practice silent Zen meditation?

No, one does not need to be Buddhist to practice Zen meditation. While it has its roots in Buddhism, the practice is open to people of all faiths or no faith.

Can I practice Zen meditation on my own, or do I need a teacher?

While it is possible to practice on your own, having a teacher or guide can be helpful, especially for beginners. A teacher can provide instruction and support for the practice, as well as help to address any challenges or obstacles that may arise.

Is it normal to experience physical discomfort during Zen meditation?

Yes, it is normal to experience physical discomfort during Zen meditation, especially if one is not used to sitting in stillness for extended periods of time. However, there are many modifications and adjustments that can be made to the posture to make it more comfortable and sustainable.

Can Zen meditation be practiced in a group setting?

Yes, silent Zen meditation can be practiced in a group setting, such as a meditation center or retreat. Practicing with others can provide support and encouragement, as well as deepen one’s sense of connection with others and the wider world.