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?
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?
8 Reasons Why Yoga Makes You Happier and Healthier
Develop Superpowers With Yoga
Yoga stretches the body, supports circulation, flushes the lymphatic system and stimulates major organs. It also alleviates common ailments and may be considered preventative medicine.
1. Reduce Pain
According to Harvard Health Publications, several studies found that a weekly yoga practice can reduce lower back pain and may be more effective for addressing pain than standard medical care or exercise therapy. Yoga improves the daily function of people struggling with curvature of the spine due to fibromyalgia and osteoporosis-related conditions.
2. Alleviate Anxiety
Anxiety has become one of the most common disorders in the US and studies have shown that yoga may be more effective, and possibly less expensive, than pharmacological treatment in alleviating symptoms, according to a 2007 study published in Evidence-Based and Complementary Alternative Medicine. The study found that a yoga session increased brain Γ-Aminobutyric (GABA) levels by 27 percent in yoga practitioners; anxiety and depression are traditionally associated with low GABA levels.
While yoga may not erase all attachments to a painful past, another study found that it can promote healing for people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) through peaceful embodiment and an awakened sense of calm.
3. Get Out of the Clouds
Conducting scientific studies to prove that a yoga class has a positive effect on the mood may seem unnecessary to a dedicated yogi but nonetheless, when those who struggle to get out of bed manage to muster the strength to strike a pose and breathe through the low point, the effort is proven to uplift.
Researchers at UCLA, Moscow Research Center of Narcology and University of Bologna, found that, of the 17 subjects that completed the study: 1) all experienced significant reductions in anger, depression, neurotic symptoms and low frequency heart rate variability; and 2) 11 of the 17 subjects achieved remission levels post-intervention. Not only does yoga have the power to reduce depression, but it is potentially a practice that can sustain improved mental health.
4. Reduce Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
According to a 2014 study published by the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology, adults involved in a yoga practice, compared to those who did not exercise, exhibited improvements to body mass, weight, blood pressure and cholesterol, over time. The evidence is promising for cardio-metabolic health.
5. Improve Quality of Life for Cancer Survivors
Many studies explore quality of life impacts, as well as psychosocial and symptom-management benefits, of yoga as an intervention tool, usually with positive findings. For example, a 2012 study published in the journal of Evidence-Based and Complementary Alternative Medicine supported preliminary evidence of the significance of yoga for improving quality of life and symptoms in cancer survivors.
6. Improve Gene Expression
According to a 2013 study conducted by researchers at the University of Oslo and Oslo University Hospital, yoga can improve gene expression, especially in terms of immune function. Experimental sessions of gentle yoga postures, breathing exercises and meditation had a significantly greater effect on gene expression in peripheral blood mononuclear cells of subjects, compared with the control group protocol of walking in nature and listening to relaxing music.
Nature explains that, “genes encode proteins and proteins dictate cell function.” Gene expression refers to the ability of DNA to replicate, express and repair itself. Improved gene expression may be connected to improved immune function, cellular integrity and adaptability, in the evolutionary sense.
7. Support Smoking Cessation
Yoga may squash cravings in general but it has also been proven to reduce perceived stress and negative affects associated with smoking cessation, according to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Women’s Health.
8. It’s Never Too Late
It is never too late to get started or resume your yoga practice. Patanjali’s first Yoga Sutra states “Now begins the practice of yoga.” Remove the limitations that you identify with from the past, as well as your expectations for the future, and just get on your mat.