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Yoga: How it Improves Your Health

The benefits of yoga extend beyond the mat. Yoga is a practice that honors the mindbody connection.  In science, the mind is defined by brain-cell communication.  The field of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) shows that this model of the mind can be extended to the entire body.  This is because neuropeptides and their receptors are located throughout the body. PNI also informs us how our physiology impacts our emotional and mental state.  

Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of yoga is that it is a practice of being in the present moment.  It’s no surprise that in today’s chaotic world, the popularity of yoga is rising. Yoga asana (postures) are truly a moving meditation; an act of linking movement with breath.  Yoga asana is a tool of awareness; in fact, it’s no surprise that studies show yoga practitioners have greater bio-feedback and are more aware of bodily changes and sensations.  Studies display that yoga practitioners have greater pain tolerance. 

In one study, participants were asked to place their hand in a cup of freezing water. The yoga practitioners were able to hold their hands in the water twice as long as non-yogis.  The yoga practitioners were found to have greater grey matter in the areas of the brain associated with pain. This research suggests that yoga can help equip individuals with the tools to deal with sensory inputs and perhaps the emotional reactions attached to those inputs; this overtime can lead to positive changes in brain connectivity and structure. Traditionally, yoga asana was practiced to prepare the mind for meditation.  

Meditation: the simple act of breathing and attending to the breath.  Although the benefits of meditation have been documented anecdotally and scientifically for decades, only recently has its importance in the area of psychiatry been understood.  Research shows that meditation stimulates the expression of genes that are powerfully anti-inflammatory in nature, and helps to stabilize blood sugar (which has major implications on mood).  The practice of meditation and yoga also helps us to be liberated from our more analytical selves; we become more skilled at developing “the observer” and, in turn, can be less reactionary. Meditation is truly a practice of neutrality, in which we practice witnessing without fixing.  

Studies show that certain areas of the cerebral cortex are thicker in people who meditate on a regular basis.  These areas of the brain are involved with attention and sensory processing and are used for planning complex cognitive behaviors.  There are also studies that show people who meditate throughout life maintain thicker cerebral cortexes as they age (while more studies need to be done, this has important implications for the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's).  Overall, meditation is a means to help reduce stress and send signals of safety to the body.  

If you are interested in learning more about the benefits of yoga and meditation, look into the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and author of Wherever You Go, There You Are and Full Catastrophe Living.  In his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) approach, he combines Hatha yoga (a style of yoga which involves holding yoga postures) and mindfulness meditation, which has shown impressive clinical study results and is currently implemented in hospitals and clinics worldwide.  Kabat-Zinn has observed that those with more physical complaints, for example joint pain, often do best with meditation--he refers to this as the “mind door”; while others with anxiety, depression, panic attacks, etc., do best with asana--which he refers to as “the body door”.  

Yoga will help you gain flexibility and strength in both body and mind.  

Edye’s Naturals supports you in living a holistic life. Honor your mind body connection by taking actions and making choices that support your whole self.

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