When we think of yoga, we usually think about the physical aspects such as the poses, postures and equipment but, the yoga journey begins with the body’s most important muscle – the brain!
A piece of your mind
Recent scientific studies have shown conclusively that the regular practice of yoga can reduce anxiety, improve mood and may actually slow the body’s biological clock. In his book, ‘The Science of Yoga,’ William J Broad, a yoga enthusiast for almost 50 years, used decades of studies and conversations with hundreds of scientists and practitioners to reach these uplifting conclusions.
Before a beginner even strikes their first pose, the practice of yoga begins with mental attitude and keeping an open mind in order to open yourself to the benefits of this ancient art. Described as a science for personal development, yoga is a marathon rather than a sprint and requires an investment of dedication and perseverance – an investment which will pay dividends over time. Although not an exercise or weight loss program, yoga uses a number of physical poses and postures, all of which serve a specific purpose and, all of which help to strengthen the connection between mind and body, allowing us to better understand our physical selves. With regular practice, yoga can help us to understand and differentiate between different physical sensations and cravings in order to better take care of our physical health.
The science bit
Yoga is the first and most prolific of the Vedic sciences – the science of self-realisation. It is a divine science and a cosmic science. A science which helps to keep mind and soul together for a more centred and happy existence.
One simple explanation for the health benefits of yoga is that it promotes relaxation which, in turn, reduces stress levels. Yoga essentially can train the body’s stress switches by rewiring our circuits – by staying very still or by concentrating, our logical brain is activated whereas, when we bend forwards, our relaxation switch is turned on so, bending forwards and concentrating at the same time is triggering both the logical brain and the relaxation signal simultaneously. With stress being responsible for a great number of illnesses and maladies in our modern world, it’s easy to see how this aspect can help to improve our physical health, but it doesn’t stop there. More and more physicians are now incorporating yoga into treatment regimens including yoga instructor and doctor, Dr Loren Fishman who explains the incredible effect yoga has on the brain, central nervous and immune systems, saying, “It thickens the layers of the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain associated with higher learning, and increases neuroplasticity, which helps us learn new things and change the way we do things.”
Yoga also triggers brain chemicals GABA, serotonin and dopamine which are the ‘happy chemicals’ that promote a sense of wellbeing, relaxation and contentment – essentially the body’s own natural antidepressants – which further help to combat stress and anxiety for a happier, more centred life. These days yoga is being used as a tool to treat veterans suffering from PTSD and those recovering from brain trauma as studies have shown increased recuperation in those taking part.
As with many similar disciplines, yoga requires a certain level of openness and belief in order to be fully effective but, as these studies show, yoga is certainly a lot more than a leap of faith.