The Science of Yoga: The Healing Powers of an Ancient Practice Come to Light

Stress has become a way of life. Whether the days are full of multiple goals and endless obligations, traffic jams and transit delays, complex systems of bureaucracy and finance, or an overwhelming array of in-person and virtual relationships, the pace of current human existence is bursting at the seams.

For centuries, sages have relied on yoga to transcend earthly limitations. Each meditative pose is an effort to identify pockets of pain that accumulate inside the body. Each inhale confronts suffering. Each exhale is an attempt to transcend it. Through this process, worry is replaced with loving kindness.

Now, bodies of research are proving that yoga is more than a niche spiritual force for particularly enlightened beings.

Yoga has the power to heal the world, one human at a time.

The Rise of Yoga

A system of poses, breathing exercises and meditations that originated in ancient India to inspire physical, mental and spiritual well-being first started to spread around the world as a form of exercise in the twentieth century.

For decades, in the US, yoga seemed to capture the interests of quirky, white city dwellers and affluent suburbanite moms, but over the last decade, it has expanded from the studio and can currently be found in public parks, hospitals, outpatient clinics, work spaces, elementary schools, military bases, rehab centers and even airports.

In fact, the 2016 Yoga in America Study commissioned, by Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance, estimated that more than 36 million people were practicing yoga in the US by 2015, compared to 20.4 million in 2012. A staggering 80 million people are likely to try yoga in 2016.

The Origins of Yoga

Yoga is first mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient collection of Sanskrit poetry that is sacred to the Hindu religion, dating as far back as the second century BCE. Verse 48 of Chapter Two essentially describes yoga as a state of equilibrium.

In Introduction to Yoga Sutras, Nicolai Bachman references the authoritative text on yoga to explore what it means to live a yogi life. He teaches that yoga is a path to positive transformation. Through a dedicated yoga practice, one can root out negativity and plant loving kindness. Citing Sutra 1.2, “yoga-citta-vritti-nirodhah,” Bachman describes yoga as a powerful tool for calming the noise.

While the validity of ancient texts may invite skepticism, the first professional-level medical textbook on yoga was released in the US in 2016. In Chapter One, “Introduction to Yoga in Health Care,” licensed medical practitioners recognize the importance of developing habits that balance emotions and modify unhealthy thought-patterns and acknowledge that yoga can play an integral role in preventing disease.

The Spirit of Yoga

For those who practice yoga, the spiritual benefits are clear. For example, one needs only to join Janet Stone for Surya Flow to awaken the internal light inside. In less than one hour, the mind is clear, the body is warm and it’s entirely possible to feel more connected to other living beings.

With any yoga practice, the series of poses, breathing exercises and meditations still the mind as the body moves. The breath becomes a mantra. Meditation is a prayer.

Yet, yoga is not magical. It cannot banish all worldly stress. It can change our brain chemistry while reducing the amount of stress we experience on a daily basis, but reaping its benefits requires time and dedication. Most importantly, the investment is worth it. Substantial scientific research is beginning to confirm what was once based simply on intuition.

The Science of Yoga

It is known that yoga stretches the body, supports circulation while flushing out the blood and lymph systems, stimulates every major organ, tones the muscles and helps to removes impurities while encouraging ultimate flow.

While there is still a need for more in-depth, robust research, scientific studies suggest that a dedicated yoga practice can aid in the treatment of many common health afflictions, including:

Pain

A few different 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. In addition, it improves the daily function of people struggling with curvature of the spine due to fibromyalgia and osteoporosis-related conditions.

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. In fact, one 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.

Depression

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. Of the 17 subjects that completed the trial, all experienced significant reductions in anger, depression, neurotic symptoms and low frequency heart rate variability; 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.

Cardiovascular Disease and Weight Loss

Those involved in a yoga practice, compared to those who did not exercise, displayed improvement to body mass and weight, blood pressure and cholesterol over time. The evidence is promising for cardio-metabolic health.

Cancer

One of many studies explores quality of life, psychosocial and symptom-management benefits of yoga intervention and found positive outcomes. The analysis supported preliminary evidence of the significance of yoga for improving quality of life and symptoms in cancer survivors.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Yoga may not erase all attachments to a painful past, but it can inspire healing through peaceful embodiment and an awakened sense of calm.

Gene Alteration

According to a 2013 study, 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.

Smoking Cessation

Yoga may squash cravings in general but it has also been proven to reduce perceived stress and negative affects in those attempting to quit smoking.

The Science of Meditation

Those seeking to handle stress, that feel intimidated by yoga, may find solace in the effects of transcendental meditation (TM). TM is a state of mind that can be achieved anywhere at any time through deep breathing, the use of soothing mantras and an overall quest for stillness. Meditation is proven to increase one’s ability to regulate emotion, sleep more peacefully and possibly even improve the memory. In fact, group meditation may have the power to inspire world peace.

Discussing this scientific phenomenon in Beyond Cosmic Consciousness - Part 1, David Wilcock asserts that, “a single moment of pure consciousness is worth more for humanity than an entire lifetime of good works.”

The Limits of Science

In an effort to honor both the ancient universe and modern science, Wilcock implores his viewers to tap into their deep esoteric knowledge when seeking meaning. As with most matters of the divine, he asserts, there is, “a concerted effort to hide from the mainstream, scientific breakthroughs that would lead us in the direction of a universal consciousness.”

Anyone who fully participates in a yoga session can confirm its power. However, the healing begins within and is ultimately still immeasurable. Each human possesses the will power to optimize wellness, practice healthy habits and create transformation, but yoga is not a pill to be swallowed. It is a powerful energy to be harnessed by faith, dedication and an open mind.

Prescription of Wellness

More and more, humans are waking to the notion that stress is harmful. They are ready to step away from the grind in order to initiate the path to wellness.

Ashleigh Sergeant dedicates a four-part series to The Science of Happiness, and demonstrates how yoga and meditation can alter stress response and cultivate a peaceful mind.

Initiate Positive Transformation Today

  1. Fight or Flight - Rewriting Your Stress Response

Stress occurs in the body via involuntary processes meant to activate when danger arises, but humans have developed the psychological power to process minor stress no differently than if they were running from hungry bears. Ashleigh demonstrates how to calm the fight-or-flight response through gentle yoga. Ultimately, she admits that stress is inevitable, but also manageable.

  1. New Neural Pathways

Consider the enlightenment that may come with breaking old thought patterns. The mind is an endless cacophony, but it can be trained to take naps. It is not only possible to blaze new trails in the brain. It is a necessary aspect to health and longevity.

  1. Rest and Digest: Parasympathetic Nervous System

To stress is human. To relax is divine. Humans have the power to transform pain and suffering into awareness and relaxation.

  1. Evolutionary Emotions of the Limbic System

Embark on this powerful meditation that urges each individual to sit with pain. When you don’t feel emotions completely, you create pockets of tension in the body. This meditation honors the importance of processing pain on the path to bliss.

Yoga is a Super Power

The daily stresses that encompass life are cornerstone to living on earth but yoga has the power to transform the effects of stress on the body. Inside each human there is a super power waiting to be tapped. That is the power to take a deep breath.

In The Power of Conscious Breathing, Anders Olsson, asks the question, “how different would the world be if we all used our breath?”

Yoga will light the way.

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