Science Agrees; Yoga Has Significant Effect on Cellular Health
It’s no secret there are innumerable health benefits to practicing yoga. Incorporating different elements of yoga into your life can result in profoundly positive changes to your mental and physical state. But what if implementing these yogic practices could actually affect your cellular composition? This might come as no surprise to swamis and devout yogis, but now science is beginning to find evidence that this may be true in both quantum and physiological studies.
Changes at the Micro Level
Our bodies replicate and produce new cells at a rate of roughly two million per second. Over the course of a day, that adds up to hundreds of billions of new cells. Aside from growth, many of these cells have different roles, often producing different proteins needed for necessary bodily functions. But with so much of this cell growth occurring, there is plenty of opportunities for mistakes and mutations to occur.
Of course, our bodies have systems for repairing faulty cells, but the process can go one of two ways. When a cell is found to be mutated, it is essentially told to destroy itself. These cells contain substances that can be harmful if expelled suddenly in a process called necrosis. Certain cellular substances can be toxic to other cells around them leading to inflammation and other negative side effects, known as cytotoxicity. But when this cell death occurs in a controlled process called apoptosis, the cell is contained with none of the potentially harmful material escaping and interacting with other cells.
Cell necrosis can be caused by a number of things, ranging from physical trauma to toxins and pathogens. And when our bodies experience illness and disease, the whole process of cell renewal can become inhibited and bogged down. Cell growth and repair can also be hindered by heat and stress.
A change in just a few degrees can lead to the unraveling of cell proteins and their subsequent death. Stress from environmental factors can also affect us at a cellular level, to the point that it can have a negative impact on hereditary traits passed down to our children. So, what can we do to prevent this?
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The good news is that our bodies have methods of dealing with many issues threatening our cells and can prevent damage to a certain extent, when healthy. But in order to maximize those functions and prevent cytotoxic necrosis, we can take proactive steps like practicing yoga.
Yoga for Cellular Health
The idea that yoga can affect your cellular health and consciousness has been around for a while. In fact, it was the primary philosophy of the yogi and guru, Sri Aurobindo. He believed that man is a transitional being living in a mental consciousness and that our goal is to manifest and evolve to a higher “supramental” consciousness. With a western education and acceptance of evolution, Aurobindo believed that the consciousness which man possesses is the same as the divine, but needed to undergo many phases before attaining realization.
Aurobindo’s philosophy implied that we were involved in a kind of a reverse evolution, in which our consciousness has been scattered into many disparate instances and must be reunited by concentrating it through yoga. This meant that there is a type of consciousness even within individual cells that must be awakened. By practicing yoga, the goal is to unite a divine consciousness within our bodies, starting at the cellular level. But is there a direct correlation between this philosophical, meditative yoga and physical, cellular health?
Clinical studies of meditation as well as hatha yoga have been proven to have a multitude of positive effects. One study found evidence that deep relaxation from meditation can directly benefit neural plasticity. Practitioners of transcendental meditation have been shown to have significantly larger volumes of gray matter in certain areas of the brain. This gray matter is packed with neurons, synapses, and cell bodies and is essential to the function of our nervous systems. The neuronal cells in gray matter are also directly responsible for speech, emotion, memory and muscle control.
The benefits of hatha yoga on cellular health have also been well-documented. Stretches from certain yoga postures have been shown to regenerate b-Cells in the pancreas increasing glucose metabolism and insulin receptors. The stretching from these poses is also highly beneficial for lung reflexes and cardiorespiratory health, likely due to an increase in the level of red blood cells in the body.
How Can the Mind Affect Cells?
The question of consciousness and how it controls our actions has interminably puzzled scientists. But some theoretical physicists have started to entertain the idea that it might have something to do with quantum physics. There are many similarities between the strange and sometimes inexplicable quantum effects and the enigma of conscious activity in our brains, leading some physicists to begin referring to the idea as quantum consciousness.
One physicist, Richard Penrose, says he believes there is a possibility that molecular structures in our brain can alter their state in response to a quantum event. His theory, which he has called orchestrated objective reduction, essentially states that objects that are larger than atoms are subject to the laws of gravity and the Newtonian laws of physics that we all know. But objects at the atomic level and smaller are subject to the bizarre quantum laws, where particles can exist in two places at once, disappear and reappear instantly, or only occur if we observe them.
So, what does this have to do with cellular consciousness? Along with Penrose, another physicist, named Matthew Fisher, proposed the idea that the microtubules, or the protein strands that connect our cells and the neurons in our brain, can enact quantum superposition, essentially the ability to be in two places simultaneously. According to Fisher, this is especially the case with phosphorous which can achieve more robust superposition and are the key to phosphate ions, the basic unit of energy for cells. Through a convoluted process that is only easily understood by those well-versed in quantum physics, Fisher’s theory basically states that neurons in our brains can become “entangled” with disparate cells, with the ability to have an effect on them. If this is true, he says, “it would be an extremely common occurrence, happening pretty much all the time.”
With the possible implications of these quantum theories, it would come as no surprise that our conscious thought could have a profound impact on our cells, through a cellular consciousness. This possibility falls in line with other phenomena in biology like photosynthesis that could potentially be explained with quantum mechanics. Plants have the ability to convert light into chemical energy at the cellular level, so it’s not that farfetched to imagine that we can convert conscious energy to a cellular level. And what could be a better channel to focus that conscious energy than through yoga?
Mind Yoga: Master Your Mind, Master Your Life
Everyone is faced with challenges and obstacles throughout their lives and on their path to fulfillment, happiness and success. It’s not what happens to us in life that determines our outcomes, but rather how we respond to what happens to us. Having a knee-jerk emotional reaction to the challenges in life can create disappointing results. When we take a moment to process these challenges, and “choose” an appropriate response, we are more likely to make a wise decision.
In the human brain, when we have stress and experience the emotion of fear, our body sends out a massive amount of adrenaline into our system. This actually shuts down our logical thinking frontal lobe. Therefore, when fear rises, intelligence plummets. When you look back, can you match some of your worst decisions with a highly emotional state?
Meditation is a practice where you learn to “observe” your thoughts and emotions. As you do this, you can slowly begin to detach and analyze them so that you can slow down and make better decisions. The longer you meditate, the more that you’ll realize that while you can “have” emotions, you don’t need to “be” your emotions. This is a powerful distinction that builds your emotional intelligence.
We practice emotional intelligence when we allow ourselves to feel an emotion and then choose how we want to process and respond to that emotion. This allows us to create a more proactive response. The quality of our life depends on the quality of our perspective. When we are open-minded and willing to put our ego to one side, we can change the way we look at our life’s challenges. Meditation gives you the flexibility to change your perspective on life’s events.
A small adjustment in perspective may give you the power to make a dramatic and positive change in your life’s experiences.
Achieve Mental Strength
We are constantly bombarded with negative messages from the world. If we let these messages control and affect our own thoughts, then we too are letting the outside world control our thoughts. We end up having thoughts which are not actually ours. They are the thoughts of our culture, our society and of our environment. If you have any contact whatsoever with the daily news, internet news, newspapers of any kind or radio, you will be continually attacked with messages of negativity and fear. One would think that the world was always coming to an end! Unfortunately, disaster and bad news sells.
Creative and successful people have learned to monitor, control and choose their thoughts. This requires mental strength and mental discipline. They choose thoughts that support their visions and their dreams. They discard thoughts that are fear-based, negative and unproductive. This makes them original thinkers, innovators and leaders. Meditation is an effective practice for learning mental discipline.
It always amazes me how many people have discipline in so many areas of their life (their diet, their fitness and their schedule); however, few people practice any form of mental discipline – which is what really determines the outcomes and results that we have. The quality of your thoughts, determines the quality of your life.
Master your mind and you master your life! Successful, happy and balanced people have mental discipline, mental flexibility and mental strength. Just as your yoga practice helps you to create physical strength and flexibility, meditation assists you in developing mental flexibility and strength. When practiced with patience and persistence, meditation is the tool that will help you to master these areas as well.