Yoga and You
The potentials of Yoga to affect your life in a positive way
As the popularity of Yoga continues to grow, so do the numbers of ever increasing voices rejoicing in the benefits of the ancient art. The Yoga class is becoming the ‘go to’ method of looking after body and mind. Why is it that so many are turning to Yoga? If you are yet to try it – you will not know (yet!). But even those who have tried it and may think it is not for them, may change their minds once they have experienced one, or even a few of the many potentials of yoga to affect your life in a positive way.
Here at Yoga Rocks, we advocate the belief that Yoga has something to offer every one of us. Its value is universal – irrespective of age, gender, religious beliefs, the size of your bank account or the size of your waist band for that matter! Opening soon, in the heart of Palmers Green with its beautifully colourful and diverse demographic, Yoga Rocks attempts to shed some light on some of the many benefits to be gained through regular practice of yoga with a brief commentary on what yoga can do for you, and some of the many reasons to book yourself into a yoga class.
It is widely accepted that many yoga asanas (postures) can have a profound effect on your body – promoting both flexibility and strength. Any yogi you meet will vouch for this, and the lasting perception of wellbeing a yoga class can give you. This claim is now also backed up by a growing expanse of scientific research too.
In the not too distant past, the tenants upheld through yoga regarding its many benefits have been questioned for their legitimacy. This has largely resulted from claims that the evidence obtained has not been done so through legitimate or scientifically controlled methods. In more recent times, there have been countless scientifically conducted studies which have shown the significantly positive effects that even a short term regular yoga practice can have on its practitioners.
A regular practice of just 12 weeks can show marked improvements on the cardiorespiratory system, on muscle growth, endurance, and flexibility (1). Even studies in which its participants performed only sun salutations – a series of basic poses often used to warm up – six days a week for six months, showed marked increase in upper body strength, endurance and weight loss – with the female participants showing a “significant decrease in body fat percentage”(2).
The clearly beneficial effects that regular yoga practice can have on flexibility, strength, muscle development and toning as well as weight optimisation are clearly evident for all to note – yet this is just the tip of the ice-berg – for many of the most astounding benefits yoga practitioners can receive lie in the unseen effects upon the body…
Modern understanding of the brain is that this organ is a constantly changing and dynamic entity. This concept, known in the realm of neuroscience as brain plasticity, asserts that your brain has the ability to change as the result of experiences (3). Repeated thought and actions can ‘remould’ your brain, and strengthen the neural networks. Remarkably, the ancient yogic systems and its associated beliefs have been advocating this knowledge for millennia, encapsulated in the notion of samaskaras (4) wherein “every action, intent or preparation by an individual leaves an imprint in the deeper structure of the persons mind”. As Pantanjali suggested almost 2000 years ago, dedicated, uninterrupted practice over time is key to achievement through yoga. Suffice to say, it should naturally follow that the positive reinforcement in mind and body promoted in yoga practice can have positive implications to the state of our grey matter also.
From head to heart, it seems that the potential of yoga to positively affect your body doesn’t stop at the brain. John Hopkins University – America’s first research University – has amassed a growing body of research showing how the practice of yoga can help keep your heart healthy too. A large number of studies conducted by the reputed University and other distinguished medical institutions show that “yoga benefits many aspects of cardiovascular health” which has resulted in a growing number of cardiologists and other professionals “recognising that these benefits are real” (5).
Worth noting is the range of benefits the studies show can manifest. For instance, regular yoga practice may reduce levels of body wide inflammation that aid the progression of heart disease, reduced cholesterol levels , lead to healthier blood pressure, blood sugar levels and body weight – all of which are major factors in reducing the risk of heart disease(6)(7). A review of the impact of yoga and cardiovascular disease published by the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that the participants in the study, whom ranged from young and healthy to older people with health conditions, that took yoga classes, lost an average of five pounds of weight, reduced their blood pressure score by five points, as well as lowering their levels of harmful LDL cholesterol by 12 points (8).
However, perhaps the most compelling single way that yoga benefits the heart lies in its ability to relax both body and mind. Science has shown how the practice of yoga and its unique combination of movement, breathing and meditation can considerably reduce levels of cortisol in the body, a.k.a the stress hormone. These were the findings of a study conducted by the Thomas Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia and the Yoga Research Society, in measuring the cortisol levels of participants after a 50 minute yoga class (9). The implications of this are sizeable when assessing the potential of yoga to reduce stress, and the maintenance of a healthy heart.
Yoga & Your Mind
Science is just starting to understand what yogis and esoterisists seem to have known for centuries. That the ailments occurring in the physical body can stem from a cascade of negative thought and imbalance originating in the emotional, psychic and mental. As Jonathan Greenberg, PhD (a postdoctoral research fellow in the department of psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School) proclaims, “We know stress is a very fertile ground for many physical and mental ailments”.
One of the single biggest contributing factors linked to maintaining a balanced, healthy mind is sleep quality. The implications of sleep deprivation or lack of quality sleep can be shocking. It has been shown that the synapses within a sleep starved brain can in fact begin to be consumed by other brain cells (14), and that lack of sleep can cause a chemical release in the brain that leads to Alzheimers (15). Ineffective sleep has also been associated with obesity, high blood pressure and depression, among other disorders (10) (11) (12).
However, as well as reducing the levels of cortisol in the body, studies have also shown that yoga can also promote a better quality of sleep and quality of life. A 2005 study conducted on 69 elder patients concluded that participants who took part in a yoga class fell asleep faster, slept for longer and felt more rested than those who took a herbal alternative (13).
Due to the evidence shown that yoga in general can help in emotional regulation and the improvement of ones mood, the yoga class is now considered an effective weapon in the armoury in the battle against depression, insomnia, eating disorders and anxiety conditions (14).
Western Science makes ever increasing advancements in its knowledge of the human body and its functioning of its organs. Interestingly, the growing body of evidence resulting from clinically conducted experiment seemingly serves to reaffirm the assertions that ancient wisdom of yoga has always known. Its methods and practices appear to have been born out of a deep understanding of the body and its functions, which we are only just beginning to widely understand. Furthermore, the way yoga asanas have been sequence show a level of intelligent design in affecting and stimulating different parts of the body and our sensory perceptions as move through our practice.
The benefits referenced in this short article only scratched at the surface in conveying the multitude of potentials that yoga has in benefitting our overall quality of life. The growing body of scientific research conducted around yoga and its effects on different aspects of our wellbeing act as objective evidence backing up the subjective claims that millions of regular yoga practitioners around the world have been declaring.
Our mission at Yoga Rocks is to spread the benefits and knowledge of this amazing art to as many people as we can reach. Our motivation is to positively affect each and every one of our amazing students in a way which suits their individual and collective needs.
So, unroll your mat, and book a class at the newest yoga studio in Palmers Green. We look forward to welcoming you here at Yoga Rocks and embarking on a journey of self-improvement together.