The Science Behind Yoga
Have you ever wondered why yoga is so popular and how it is that such an ancient practise could still be so relevant today?
Latest statistics show that 300 million people worldwide practise yoga and in Australia alone over 2.5 million people regularly practise yoga!
Yoga is Australia’s fastest growing sporting or fitness activity. Although I’m not sure you can call it a fitness activity exactly, as It is so much more than that.
So what’s all the fuss about? Why is it so popular…
This insightful 20 min video unpacks the science behind yoga and some of the latest research that uncovers how it works to improve health & wellbeing.
Click here to watch it now!
Here’s a sneak peek at what you will learn:
➡️ The 4 components that make yoga what it is
➡️ Studies showing effects on anxiety and depression
➡️ How yoga postures & breathing help manage stress
➡️ Neurological changes in the brain
The 4 Components that make yoga what it is.
- The physical postures & breathing practises to effect our global functioning
- Self regulation – control over stress response & emotional response
- Cultivation of mind body awareness – The sense of being able to feel and sense what is going on inside your body and to be able to observe what’s going on in the mind. To observe the mental fluctuations and stream of thoughts that are constantly flowing through the mind. Through this mind body connection comes greater mindfulness and improved control over our behaviours.
- Experiencing elevated states of consciousness – Experiencing transcendent states where time and space dissolve and there is an experience of oneness with all of life, often referred to as spirituality. These experiences even though often fleeting can have transformative effects on the individual leading to more positive lifestyle choices, better relationships and enhanced meaning & purpose.
Effects on anxiety and depression.
Psychologist Michael de Manicor at the yoga institute has conducted several studies on yoga and depression and anxiety. The most significant finding from these studies studies were a reduction in measures of depression. Comparisons were made between a group who did yoga for 6 weeks and a control who were continuing with their regular treatment and they found a signifiant difference between the 2 groups. There was a 33% reduction in depression scores in the yoga group, a signifiant reduction in scores of anxiety and overall psychological distress and an overall increase in resilience. There was increased occurrence of positive experiences and reduced occurrence of negative experiences. The average yoga performed was 12 minutes most days over 6 weeks.
How yoga helps to increase energy and vitality
When we stretch the muscles and connective tissues consistently in yoga 0ver time we create more space in the tissues, in the joints and in the intercellular space. With this increased space in the body, more oxygen is able to reach our tissues and more energy flows through the body. Similarly when we focus our mind in yoga postures we become more one pointed in our focus we naturally quiet down the monkey mind or you could think of it as emptying the mind and creating more space. Where there’s more space there’s more capacity to perceive things as they really are, not clouded by our pre conditioned beliefs and opinions.
We need to create that space in the body and the mind to be able to experience that flow of energy and vitality.
Yoga helps us to establish connections in the body. The connections are formed through the various channels in our body, which in yoga are called nadis. Physically these channels are the blood vessels and nerves and lymphatic vessels. What moves through these channels are energy and information, which in yoga are called prana and chitta. The energy that moves is energy carrying molecules like glucose and ATP.
Chitta is the information that might travel trough nerves and also through magnetic energy flowing through the body carrying information and also information carrying molecules such as hormones, neurotransmitters. Physically and energetically we have energy and information flowing through the body and enhancing that flow of energy and information through the body through these channels is the most important thing to make yoga happen in the body.
How yoga postures & breathing help manage stress
The ability to manage stress and emotion is one of the big reasons so many people first come to practise yoga. Learning to regulate the breath in yoga usually involves taking fewer breathes and expanding the lung volume which studies have shown to lower blood pressure. Blood pressure is governed by the sympathetic NS which is the indicactor of the stress response. So if blood pressure is high, it usually indicates sympathetc nervous system dominance and higher stress. So when we’re in a yoga pose and we’re feeling really challenged, we’re stressing our body creating a sympathetic NS response. To sustain the pose our mind then needs to focus. The prefrontal cortex is working to redirect attention and as we take longer deeper breaths we are essentially self soothing, calming down the sympathetic response and bringing about more parasympathetic response.
When we practise this on the yoga mat regularly – something incredible then happens when we step off the mat and into our day and we’re faced with a challenge that may not be a yoga pose but to our body feels like stress. It could be an emotional trigger, but the body has learned and practised this regulation by slowing down the breathing and redirecting attention using parts of the prefrontal cortex and so it knows what to do to soothe and regulate.
We practise this within every yoga posture we do on the mat.
Yoga strengthens the power of the mind.
The more we have control over our mind, the more control we have over the subconscious programs that throw us off track from making positive changes or following through on our intentions and ultimately the more empowered we are in or lives. We gain greater control of not only our body and our wellness but also how we engage with the world around us and control of our lives.
The more recent study of Epigenetics is showing us this. It’s showing us that despite what we were told a couple of decades ago, only about 10% of illness is related to genetics and a massive 90% of illness is related to stress.
Neurological changes in the brain
2 cutting edge areas of research that are bringing yoga into the biomedical modern world:
Changes in brain activity – When you focus your attention you change brain activity in a very discreet way. Over time you also change the structure of your brain through the process called neuroplasticity. You end up that a brain that is wired to handle stress and that is more resilient.
Molecular biological changes – The action of neurotransmitters. (molecules on the brain) – Studies have found a major neurotransmitter is effected after a single yoga class. In other studies – the activity in our genes is reflected as changing with these yogic practises. You enhance gene activity in things that are good for you like immune respsonse and you down regulate gene activity that is bad for you like inflammation in the body.
Yoga practices are changing the activity of neurons in the brain and changing function within the body at the celullar and the molecular level.
If you’re like me and a lot of my clients, you probably appreciate a robust scientific backing behind any kind of practise you engage in and aren’t we so lucky to have access to this today!
Once you experience the benefits and transformative effects of a regular yoga practise for yourself, you may start to feel the scientific evidence becomes irrelevant, as your personal experience of wellbeing is undeniable.