The Genie in Your Genes: Epigenetic Medicine and the New Biology of Intention by Dawson Church, Elite Books, 2007, 362 pages
Paul E. Dennison
As I was studying for my doctorate in the 1960s, the debate in my educational psychology classes was that of the influence of “nature versus nurture”—the relative contributions of genetic inheritance and environmental factors to a child’s unfolding. Yet, as a mentor and educator, my definition of “nurture” is always to teach. All learners are unique, with varied gifts and strengths. I believe in the power of the learning process to bring out a person’s best, so my intention is always to nurture, no matter the circumstances.
On reading educator and researcher Dawson Church’s book Genie in Your Genes: Epigenetic Medicine and the New Biology of Intention, I felt a growing excitement as Church revealed recent scientific research showing the startling malleability of our genes, which can change from moment to moment according to our thoughts and feelings. In my own years of teaching, I have daily seen how new learning—which can occur in an instant—has a direct impact on vitality, motivation, and well-being. Church makes the case that we can influence our cells and bodies—our health—by “claim[ing] responsibility for the quality of thought and feeling we host, selecting those that radiate benevolence, goodwill, love, and kindness.” “Nurture” even affects and changes those genes that were believed to limit us!
In this book, Church asks some important questions, such as: “What can we teach every high school student, every worker, and every retiree that would maintain their bodies and their minds in the best possible condition for the longest possible time?” “How can we make the largest number of people as well as possible?” He then offers provocative answers to these questions by elucidating the new field of epigenetics, which links how we think and emote—our everyday consciousness—to genetic changes in our RNA and DNA.
Church’s well-researched work validates the premise that, for better or worse, our lifestyle choices do in fact affect our genes. “Nature,” our inherited genes, might play an important role in our genetic blueprint. However, “nurture,” the parental, cultural (including academic), and personal choices that influence how we think, move, eat, and self-calm, has now been proven beyond a doubt to make a critical difference in gene expression and even to alter our genes.
In this important book, the author reveals how our thoughts, beliefs, and emotions trigger the expression of DNA strands. Even the people we choose to have around us affect our genes. Church is intrigued by the early work on mirror neurons, said to fire in the brain when we witness an act done by another that calls on the same group of neurons in us. He focuses on a class of genes called immediate early genes or IEGs, which respond to life events within a few seconds. Many IEGs are regulatory genes that switch on other genes affecting specific aspects of the immune system. Distress or negative stress, whether sourced from within or mirroring another, can depress gene expression that enhances immune-system function. Thus epigenetics is explaining how thoughts and beliefs influence our health continuously, each and every day.
Church gives examples of interventions that can be used deliberately, in the moment, to shift thoughts, beliefs, energies, and perhaps ultimately one’s genes. He describes some remarkable healings done using Gary Craig’s Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), which uses affirmation and meridian tapping in a way similar to Educational Kinesiology processes, with similar, often surprising, benefits. Church makes the case that emotions signify to the brain what things are important. By tapping or rubbing acupressure points, a soothing physiological signal can release stress or a catastrophic thought, breaking the conditioned association.
He further refers to the Energy Psychology work of Donna Eden and David Feinstein, and provides “how-tos” of the Cross Crawl and the Wayne Cook posture (two activities central to Edu-K, Cook’s posture being the origin of Brain Gym® Hook-ups).
The Genie in Your Genes cites hundreds of scientific studies that give a sound theoretical framework for understanding this new field. The book makes a compelling prediction that the insights of epigenetic medicine will, in the coming decade, dramatically advance not only medicine and psychology but also the vital field of education.