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May 10, 2015

The Science Behind our Yoga Practice.

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Yoga is a dynamic practice, it changes with our bodies, as they release and open the pose changes.

But it’s more than the physical, the true yoga resides in staying in touch with the breath. As a moving meditation, yoga isn’t meant to be just another exercise. More than anything, yoga is about finding a connection to our deeper selves, even if it’s a bit uncomfortable at times.Studies show that yoga is therapeutic for relieving low back pain, helping people quit smoking, improving fatigue in breast cancer survivors and as a treatment for chronic pain and fibromyalgia.

Breathing And Prana

Prana is the life force flowing through us, our breath, ever in motion, yet rarely observed. Pranayama is the practice of observing the breath and using the power of our minds to lengthen and bring higher quality to our breathing. This is how we harness the monkey mind during our yoga or meditation practice.

To many, learning to breathe sounds ridiculous, if we didn’t know how to breathe we wouldn’t be here, would we!

Yet most of us don’t pay any attention to it, the breath becomes a passive thing which just occurs without any effort. For most of us, daily stressors result in shallow short breaths where we aren’t utilizing the ultimate and optimum potential that richly oxygenated blood provides.

In other words, when we breathe deeply and focus on the breath as life-force then we energize our beings, we take our thoughts and actions into the present moment and we expel more carbon dioxide. Deep breathing practices also help us to release tension and slow the heart rate.

When we breathe deeply we also give the body the signal that all is well. Instead of being in a constant state of fight or flight, we switch the mode to rest and digest and we give our tired and stressed out brains and bodies a chance to relax and rejuvenate.

Tapping Into Our Inner World

Practicing yoga can help us to rewire our brains to attract the core desired feelings we strive for in life.

The deeper sentiments that aren’t always so easy to express, can be explored in a slow languid yoga practice. We can break down barriers in the psyche which hold us back in our everyday lives. Taking a step back and focusing on the present moment is key to achieving bliss and balance. It’s a process, like anything but I firmly believe when we practice yoga and stick to it we gain clarity in all areas of our lives.

Physical Benefits

Most people experiencing illness are in a chronic state of inflammation. This is caused by a multitude of factors, stemming from lifestyle choices predominantly. The more ways we can reduce inflammation, the longer and better quality of life we can achieve.

Amazingly, in one study researchers measured participants cytokines, the blood markers which indicate inflammation, and found significant benefit to having a consistent yoga practice.

“Blood tests before and after the trial showed that, after three months of yoga practice, all three markers for inflammation were lower by 10 to 15 percent. That part of the study offered some rare biological evidence of the benefits of yoga in a large trial that went beyond people’s own reports of how they feel.”

Many people find just a few simple yoga poses a day can drastically improve back pain and reduce inflammation.

There have also been studies which show yoga and pranayama to be of benefit to those suffering from type-2 diabetes.

Hypertension or high blood pressure can also be significantly reduced from practicing yoga. Over time the practice embeds itself in the psyche and practitioners have greater ease and control in monitoring heart rate variability.

Other physical benefits of yoga include treating asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and even weight loss.

Mental Benefits

Stress is one of the major causes of disease, and it leads to increased inflammation.

Nobody likes feeling stressed but certain factors seemingly beyond our control often put us in that place. The preliminary research on how poverty affects young children shows higher rates of learning disorders. When teachers in low income areas practiced yoga with the students they saw a marked improvement in the children’s ability to focus.

One major benefit of yoga is that once you learn a few asanas or poses, you can practice anywhere, any time, completely free. As Henry Thoreau would say, “all good things are wild and free.” I would have to agree.

When researchers measured the salivary alpha-amylase (a measure of the fight or flight response) they found a 40% decrease in this substance in surgical nurses who practice yoga.

What Yoga Really Is and How it Brings Balance

Yoga is a meditation, an exercise, trial and error, an opportunity to witness our attachments, a practice, a chance to go within. A chance to learn what feels right and wrong in our beings and to watch the monkey mind without partaking.

Yoga is not about perfection or appearances, it’s an internal process to help us find balance.

Balance is one of the most primary feelings we humans strive for.

When we become out of balance, we know it. After an over indulgent holiday packed to the brim with sweet treats, most of us will try and detox and rebalance by eating healthier or exercising. Working too much? Better take a vacation to reset all that stress. Didn’t sleep well for a week, time to catch up and go to bed early. Our conquests for balance show up in all situations in many different ways. Adding yoga into our routines gives us a stable practice to bring back balance and release stress and tension.

Reconnection with the breath, with our subconscious minds and our deeper selves opens us up.

We start to create new neural pathways which stimulates more opportunity to fully live life. In truth, we all want to feel connected to something greater than ourselves. Inherent in yoga is the acceptance of oneness.

Our minds aren’t separate from our bodies which aren’t separate from our spirits, and you and I, we aren’t so different after all.

Imagine if such an experience of oneness were to really permeate throughout our culture. The implications of such a shift would be monumental. For our own personal experience is only a microcosm of the bigger picture, and that my friends is how yoga brings balance and ultimately, bliss.

 

Relephant Read:

Meditation, Neuroscience, & Happiness: Dialogue with Rick Hanson, Ph.D.

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Author: Chantelle Zakariasen

Editor: Renee Jahnke

Image from Wiki Commons

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Chantelle Zakariasen