By Sophia Godkin, PhD
The word ‘karma’ gets a bad rap these days. It’s like the misbehaving child causing a ruckus on the playground, making everyone’s life miserable. Just say the word ‘karma’ and the expression on people’s faces around you will be one of worry, fear, and/or concern.
Ask Merriam-Webster and they’ll tell you that karma is the force created by a person’s actions that some people believe causes good or bad things to happen to that person. Oxford and the most reputable source of information on the web, Wikipedia, provide related definitions, from which it’s evident that karma leaves with us a sense that our potential for health and happiness may be doomed because of our actions in previous lives and generations that are unavoidably passed down and affecting us today. ‘It must be karma’ you’ll hear someone say when something challenging or unpleasant happens in their life.
What if, just for a moment, we let go of this stigma and look at the true meaning of karma? Karma, in its truest sense, is ‘the memory contained in the cells of your body’. And yes, scientific studies have confirmed that this cellular memory is in fact passed down intergenerationally as an epigenetic inheritance, be it an effect of a particular dietary change1 or a traumatic experience2. Karma then is nothing more than a genetic mutation.
Which brings me to the good news. Scientific research, especially since the start of the millennium, has made it clear that our genetic mutations, whether they are for illness or health, depression or joy, struggle or ease, can be activated or deactivated, turned on or off, through epigenetic means. Just as any memory, this cellular memory can stay in the past or it can travel with you into the future, affecting your every thought and action. The course it takes is up to you.
So how can you choose what goes into your cellular memory and change your karma forever?
Find your talents and share them with the world. Those things that you love doing are usually also the things that you’re good at. So find them, own them, and share them! Your cells will thank you and the world will thank you, for you’ve filled a much needed gap that was essential for the synergistic functioning and expansion of the Universe.
CELLebrate your body with food. Every bite of food either supports your cells in functioning optimally or it signals those unwanted genes to turn on. Your genes are not like anyone else’s genes so be sure to find out what’s right for you in terms of not only what you eat but also when you eat it.
Move to sweat and smile. Want to walk a mile around your neighborhood park? Take a step class? A Zumba class? Lift some weights? Run a 5K? Go all out with CrossFit? Whatever it is, make sure it feels good to you. If you’re looking good, it’s not a guarantee that your cells are looking good too, but if you’re feeling good, the probability is high that your cells too are frolicking happily around your body.
Choose your tribe intentionally. It’s true what they say: ‘You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.’ Whether at home or at work, every person you are around influences your state of mind, your development, and even your health habits. It’s known in the scientific community as social contagion, and it’s not just about who you spend time with in person; it extends to those you interact with on social media3. So why not choose to be influenced by people who “get” you, who support you (and your tiniest cells) in being the best version of you, and who share your goals, vision, and definition of “success”?
Mind your mind. ‘Why did I do/say that?’ At first glance, humans appear to be mysterious, complex beings. When we as these mysterious, complex beings practice becoming aware of the reasons why we do or say certain things, we become aware of the inherent workings of our conscious mind and of the memories our cells may be holding onto by way of our subconscious mind. And over time, things become a lot more clear and simple. If this type of self-reflection isn’t something your mind naturally gravitates to, then ask a friend or make an appointment with someone for whom these are natural gifts. That’s the beauty of each of us having unique talents… we can share them with one another in the interest of the common good.
Why did I write this? Because one of my fundamental values which drives a lot of my thoughts and behavior, is freedom of self – the kind you can feel on the inside, that leads you to burst with joy on the outside, and that knocks the old view of “karma” as something predetermined upside its head. Because it leaves you with a realization that no matter what your cellular memory, you can leave it in the past and share your gifts freely with the world.
1 Huypens, P., Sass, S., Wu, M., Dyckhoff, D., Tschöp, M., Theis, F., Marschall, S., Hrabě de Angelis, M., & Beckers, J. (2016). Epigenetic germline inheritance of diet-induced obesity and insulin resistance. Nature Genetics, doi: 10.1038/ng.3527
2 Yehuda, R., Daskalakis, N.P., Bierer, L.M., Bader, H.N., Klengel, T., Holsboer, F., & Binder, E.B. (2015). Holocaust exposure induced intergenerational effects on FKBP5 methylation. Biological Psychiatry, doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2015.08.005
3 Kramer, A. D. I., Guillory, J. E., & Hancock, J. T. (2014). Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111, 8788–8790, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1320040111