Yoga And Mental Health – What Does Science Say?

Yoga and Mental Health

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

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Chair Yoga – what is it?

Chair yoga with yoga teacher James Bryan from Knoff Yoga
Chair Yoga is a set of yoga poses which uses a chair. Why a chair? Everyone has a chair, yet not everyone can do a a full yoga class. Using a chair is a very useful prop as it provides stability and safety.

As well, anyone who has attended an Iyengar yoga class, which uses props, will realise how much deeper you can go into a yoga pose with the use of props.

For, James Bryan from Knoff Yoga carefully crafted two sets of chair yoga classes:

  • Level 1 Open is a series of classes that improves your strength, flexibility, stability and mental awareness – all the time you are sitting in a chair.
  • Level 2 Foundation takes these exercises deeper with a more energetic series of exercises that includes standing and balancing using the chair as support.

Check out all of James’ Chair Yoga classes here.

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Yoke Magazine – For Discerning Yogis

yoke_magazine We came across Yoke Magazine a few months ago. It is an advertising free magazine that appeals to a young and young-at-heart audience, creatives, artists, yogis and food and travel enthusiasts, seeking out inspiration and adventure for a more balanced, happy and creative lifestyle, to empower themselves and at the same time, their community.

The ancient Sanskrit root for yoke is ‘YUJ’ युज् which is the root word of yoga योग. The word yoga means ‘to be yoked’ – the spiritual concept of ‘being yoked’ means to join or connect, to form a bond, to unite.

It is a subscriber-supported, independently produced high-quality eco-friendly print magazine. Published and distributed by YOKE PUBLICATIONS based in Sydney, Australia. The driving force is Cynthia Sciberras.

Cynthia is currently using crowd funding to publish the third edition which is getting released on 3 August 2015. We encourage you to check it out and support Cynthia in her amazing magazine.

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Sacred Earth Music

Sacred Earth – Music for Inner Peace – are currently touring around the east coast of Australia, and are performing on Saturday 22nd February 2014 at a retreat centre near Canberra (Australia). They are an amazing group and we are looking forward to see them later this month. For more details go to

Sacred Earth Canberra Performance February 2014

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Are you clear with what you really want for 2014?

Goal setting for 2014 - Do your yoga anytime anywhere with
For 2014, how about starting it clean and fresh? Before planning or expending any time, energy or money on any “how-to-do” steps, why not take a step back and be clear about the most fundamental of questions. What do I want?

This is the most important question you can ask yourself, and for some people it is the toughest question to answer.

In its purest form you need to ask whether what you want is something you really want for yourself, or whether it’s something you think you want based on what others want or what others will “approve of”.

It would seem that only when I am clear with what I really want in my heart-of-hearts, that whatever I create flow effortlessly, get executed joyfully and in an inspiring way. And in the end, it leaves me feeling truly satisfied and happy with how the journey unfolded AND the outcome I created.

“What I want” doesn’t have to be a huge mammoth of a goal or involve large life changing decisions. It can be little things, such as what I want to eat for breakfast, how I want my living room or kitchen to look like, or deciding to get up to do a simple asana practice to get my prana flowing.

So take some time and make sure that whatever you choose to do in 2014 is aligned with what you want.

If you want some assistance on being grounded and centred, getting clear with what you want or reducing your stress levels, check out these DRU yoga classes:

Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter, and let us know how you’re going with your yoga practice.

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Interview with designers Jony Ive from Apple and Marc Newson

I have watched the rebirth of Apple over the past 20 years from a second-rate computer and software developer into a stylistic, design-driven company that provides quality products. As testimony to the quality of Apple’s iPhones I have a three year iPhone 4S which is still working fine and looks great. Not many companies these days produce products which are of such quality.

A driving force behind the changes at Apple, other than Steve Jobs, has been Jony Ive. His designs and ideas are the driving force behind Apple’s stylistic products and software interfaces.

Jony Ive rarely gives interviews. Last month, Jony Ive teamed up with designer Marc Newson to create a list of items for a charity auction through Sotherby’s Fine Art Auctions for Bono’s charity (Red). To promote the auction, Jony and Marc talked with Charlie Rose for 40 minutes.

The interview is below (streamed through Hulu). They talk about how they see design, what inspires them and the auction items – two of which they created for the auction. I found their perspectives on why they design to be very inspiring, and thoroughly engaging. I encourage you to watch it.

Whether you want to get fit, re-balance your chakras, or need to unwind and relax, has an extensive range of MP3 yoga and meditation classes that will hit the spot.

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