Science Agrees; Yoga Has Significant Effect on Cellular Health

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.


meditation by the lake


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?

Yoga and Emotional Intelligence

Yoga and Emotional Intelligence

Recently, in one of my journals, I read an article by a psychologist who had stumbled across an obscure research project involving emotional intelligence. I had first been exposed to the concept of emotional intelligence when I was working on my master’s degree back in the nineties. As a yoga teacher, emotional intelligence as a basis for a balanced life seemed intuitive.

The premise of the research is basically that our emotional intelligence is as important, if not more important, than our intellectual IQ. Without a strong emotional foundation, intelligence alone was not enough to create a successful and balanced life.

There are four components to emotional intelligence. The first is self-awareness or knowing what you are feeling and why. The second is self-management or the ability to use your self-awareness to get better at handling your impulses and disruptive emotions. The third component is empathy or the ability to sense how others are feeling; and the fourth component is being skilled at establishing and maintaining healthy relationships.

Without self-awareness, self-management, empathy and relationship skills, even the most intelligent person would find it difficult to live a healthy and stable life. That is because we are all dependent upon each other and emotions and feelings are a major part of human existence.

In yoga emotional turmoil is often referred to as “monkey mind.” This is an expression used to describe the jumping and scattering of our mind due to emotional instability. In life, it is all too easy for us to lose our emotional balance and end up leaping from one emotion to another.

Who doesn’t get pulled into drama and emotions or caught up in games, competition and fighting? How about sadness and fear? We call this being tossed around in the world. In the ideal, we are in the world, but not of the world. That means we are aware of our presence while being in control of our thoughts, words and actions. We have compassion for all of life and we relate to others with a sense of complete understanding. We appear in the world, but are not perturbed or thrown off balance by the events of life. Once this is achieved an individual is said to be liberated or free of the monkey mind.

Now, it is not that a person must go away and live the life of a hermit in order to achieve liberation. It means to live fully in the world, while maintaining a sense of emotional balance. It’s about control and reaction. If you learn to control your mind, you control everything. This is yoga intelligence. How do we achieve this? Practice; nothing in life is achieved without practice.

Sometimes people try to run away and hide and even renounce life to be free of life’s turmoil. But you can never run away. Without emotional intellectual we can remove ourselves physically, but the mind – its thoughts and emotions – go with us forever.

As the saying goes, “you take it with you wherever you go.”

Intellect in yoga is really mental attitude. “As the mind, so the person.” It is not about changing the outside world. It is about changing your attitude towards things. If you gain control over your emotions you will never be tossed about by the outside world. Emotional intelligence reminds us that there is nothing wrong with the world; the problems begin and end within our own minds.

We can try to measure the quality of life with a high IQ, but without awareness, control, empathy and the ability to relate the mathematical equation that measures our intellect, we miss the mark. The prize does not always go to the smartest, but it does more times than not, go to the one who has the ability to keep a focus; and keeping a focus requires the application of the four components of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-management, empathy and relating.

Therefore, with all things in life, be aware and fully understand their nature. Manage them with empathy and understanding, and then rise above the turmoil and be at peace. With awareness you begin to understand yourself. When you understand yourself you free yourself from the entanglement of worldly emotions. In this you will find a sense of balance and you will achieve the pinnacle of yoga and emotional intelligence: peace.

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