We’ve all known for centuries (nay, millenia!) that yoga is as good for the soul as it is for the body. But until very recently, Western medicine dismissed this as sheer bunkum. As it didn’t involve chemical interventions, surgery, or rigorous moral reeducation, it was (in the minds of old-fashioned scientists) clearly not a valid form of treatment. However, the sheer weight of the evidence is beginning to make an impact. Modern, more open-minded scientists, are taking the potential of yoga to help soothe and heal troubled souls more seriously. They’ve made some significant finds, which are slowly leading to yoga’s acceptance by mainstream medicine in the field of mental health. It’s about time too. With the world’s mental health in the poor state in which it finds itself, we need all the help we can get! Here is what science has to say about yoga’s potential to aid your mental health:
Yoga Can Fight Addiction
When things get tough, far too many of us self-medicate with substances. Addictions are often related to other mental health issues, but they also cause considerable problems in their own right. It appears that yoga can help people both to fight the underlying causes of their addictions, and the addictions themselves. Yoga is increasingly being used by addiction therapists, who say that yoga helps addicts on a number of levels. It combats the sense of detachment from the body which is common among many addicts. It activates the parasympathetic nervous system (more on that later), which calms the stressors which can lead to cravings. It enables the recovering addict to develop a respect for and awareness of their body. And it ‘syncs’ body, mind, and soul powerfully – producing naturally the feeling of intrinsic ‘connectedness’ which many seek through substances.
Yoga Eliminates Stress
We all know anecdotally that yoga is relaxing. But do we know why? It’s all to do with the parasympathetic nervous system. Without getting too technical, two parts of your nervous system are responsible for the automatic processes of being wound up, and of being relaxed. Your sympathetic nervous system is responsible for putting you into ‘fight or flight’ mode, while your parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for the ‘rest and digest’ mode. ‘Fight or flighht’ mode is designed for short bursts of intense energy. It involves the diversion of resources from the organs to the muscles, and the release of chemicals which aggravate your mental state to provoke action. It’s only supposed to last for long enough to outrun or outfight a predator, but sadly, the sympathetic nervous system can’t distinguish between a predator and things like work-based stress. If you’re stressed, you’re in ‘fight or flight’ mode – which for many of us becomes unnaturally prolonged. This is very bad for us. What needs to happen in order for our bodies and our minds to relax is for the parasympathetic nervous system to be activated. This pulls your body back into the resting state at which it operates best. It re-routes resources to where they need to be, and gets the automatic processes like digestion back on track. Mood-levelling and enhancing chemicals are also released, which replace the aggravating cortisol and adrenaline released by the sympathetic nervous system. How can you make yourself switch from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic nervous system? You guessed it – yoga.
Yoga And The Vagus Nerve
Just as you can switch your body into ‘fight or flight’ mode using your mind (imagining terrible scenarios will do it, as will stressful and depressed ruminations!), so you can relax your mind using your body. When we do yoga, we consciously make our bodies mimic the physical symptoms of calm and peace. We regulate our breathing, we make slow, smooth movements. Our hearts tend to slow themselves in response to all of this. As we do all of this, we are signalling ‘calm’ to our vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the largest nerve in the body. Its job is to report to the brain on the status of every major organ. When we do yoga, the vagus nerve notices the relaxed state of heart, lungs, and limbs. It relays this information to the brain – telling it to calm itself down because everything is clearly ok. This is why, as you do yoga, you seem to feel all of your worries dropping away. Freed from the intensities of the sympathetic nervous system, the brain allows itself to go into a deeper, calmer state of being which is much more pleasant, and much more mentally healthy than the alternative!
Post written by Anne Deal
An article in The Art of Healing magazine explained the benefits of yoga from a very interesting perspective that we had not seen before.
It starts by accepting the scientific perspective that our heart has a set number of beats before it will just stop working. If that is the case, slowing down our breathing oxygenates our blood, meaning that the heart has less work to do.
It goes on to suggest that the yogis understood this principle and so developed more effective ways of breathing. They reduced the amount of toxins that were allowed to enter the bloodstream and practised a host of techniques, from meditation to yoga postures, practices that harmonised the peripheral nervous system and slowed the heart rate.
The article goes onto discuss the three phases of purification of the blood, rebalancing of the nervous system, and rejuvenation’ of the endocrine system.
Liveyogalife.com has a wide range of MP3 yoga classes available:
We all know from our own experiences the many benefits of practising yoga regularly. So it can as no surprise when I read this article on the health benefits of practising yoga in the Art of Healing magazine providing evidence to support this.
For a great many people the benefits of yoga are obvious in light of its long history of over 5000 years. However in the Western world a higher level of proof is required in the form of randomised, controlled clinical trials before it is fully accepted within the conventional medical system. This is often referred to as the “scientism of medicine”. It largely dismisses anecdotal experience (learning from the experience of others) which is what the majority of the world uses to work out if something has value or is worth doing.
The article outlines a range of areas where yoga has found through trials to be highly effective in treating modern ailments such as:
Whether you are wanting relief for an ailment or just want to improve your health and well-being, yoga is an excellent form of exercise.
Liveyogalife.com is an online yoga studio offering MP3 yoga and meditation classes for a wide range of styles, interests and levels.
We came across this article recently in the Sydney Morning Herald on the topic of “What Yoga can do for you” and thought it may be of interest.
The study was led by Dr Dhanunjaya Lakkireddy, an associate professor with the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kansas and the findings were presented to the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology held in New Orleans in 2011.
The study focused on 49 patients with the heart rhythm disorder who had no physical limitations and no prior experience with yoga. Their episodes of irregular heartbeat were measured for a six-month period by researchers at the hospital.
The report said that “it appears yoga has a significant impact on helping to regulate patients’ heartbeat and improves the overall quality of life”. The report also cautioned “that larger studies are needed to bear out the findings of his study, and that patients should continue with standard medical therapy.”
For anyone who has practiced yoga regularly these conclusions will not be at all surprising!
The article stated that “This is the first study to show that only a little over an hour of meditation training can dramatically reduce both the experience of pain and pain-related brain activation … We found a big effect – about a 40 per cent reduction in pain intensity and a 57 per cent reduction in pain unpleasantness. Meditation produced a greater reduction in pain than even morphine or other pain-relieving drugs, which typically reduce pain ratings by about 25 per cent.”
The first ever major Yoga Therapy conference is being held in June, Australia in June 2011. This is very exciting as you get to listen to some of the best yoga therapists and researchers from Australia and overseas.
The focus of the conference is to explore the specific and profound ways Yoga can assist in maintaining good physical and mental health and in recovery from illness. It will also provides evidence-based research about the therapeutic benefits of Yoga.
The conference is from 11-12 June 2011 and is at the Vibe Hotel Sydney, 111 Goulburn Street, Sydney NSW 2000.
It is packed full of amazing speakers and will be an event not to be missed.