Yoga is a spiritual discipline dating back to some 5000 years in the history of Indian philosophy, its purpose, mainly to unleash spiritual and mental powers of an individual. However, in recent times Yoga has been extremely popular in the context of fighting stress, anxiety, and depression in these times of industrialization and our fast pacing lifestyles.
Yoga is used in medical practices to treat conditions such as multiple sclerosis, arthritis, and others. Many recent studies show the amazing effects Yoga has on the brain, central nervous system, and the immune system. Yoga is also understood to be a body of knowledge handed down through millennia from Guru to Chela. This has been gained through intense, systematic, introverted investigation into the workings of the human mind in search for the sense of existence.
2.1.1 Science behind Yoga and Stress
Stress has become a part of life and a way of living a life. It has completely blended into our lifestyles and our blood. Waking up to a morning full of emails, reminders and phone calls to ending your day, with reverting back to emails from your bosses or colleagues, our days have been full of stress and anxiety. In such situations, it becomes very important for a human being to find out some time to relax and heal their body and soul.
In recent times, Yoga has been extremely popular in the context of fighting stress, anxiety, and depression in these times of industrialization and our super-fast lifestyles. The neuroscience behind Yoga can help explain why regular Yoga is so effective in reducing stress and creating balance in the body. It can also help you deepen your Yoga practice and increase focus on elements that you might otherwise overlook. The stress response and ‘relaxing’ signals travel through the body along a particular route and parts of this route have little ‘switches’ which we can physically manipulate to turn the signals on or off.
Apart from the spiritual aspects, the physiological benefits acquired from Yoga have recently had radical scientific understandings behind its workings. It is also moderate the surge and the production of chemicals in the body that affects us mentally, physically as well as psychosomatically. So, let’s understand the science behind yoga that makes it so useful!
1. Reduces Stress Hormones
When our body gets severely stressed, it secretes a hormone called cortisol which keeps us alert in critical situations. But in the long run, it also disturbs the body functioning. Yoga reduces the stress level of a person, thus moderating the production of the cortisol hormone and thereby keeping the individual calm.
2. Secretes Antioxidant Enzymes
Repeated exposure to environmental pollutants and metabolic by-products result in the formation of free radicals, which contribute to various diseases including cancer and expedite the aging process. To counteract free radicals, the human body has a powerful internal defense system in the form of antioxidant enzymes. The levels of antioxidant enzymes were found to be significantly higher in people practicing yoga, thus enhancing the defense against free radical damage.
3. Stimulates Parasympathetic Nervous System
The parasympathetic nervous system is one of three divisions of the autonomic nervous system which conserves the energy by slowing the heart rate and increasing the intestinal and gland activity. It also relaxes the sphincter muscles in the gastrointestinal tract.
Yoga stimulates this parasympathetic nervous system, which calms us down and restores balance after a major stress is over. When the parasympathetic nervous system switches on, blood is directed toward endocrine glands, digestive organs, and other body organs, thus reducing the heart-beat rate and lowering the blood pressure.
4. Improves Immunity
This is additional to the fact that Yoga reduces cortisol hormone. Too much of cortisol can dampen the effectiveness of the immune system by immobilizing our defense system in the body (WBC). Yoga moderates the production of cortisol, thus boosting immunity.
5. Cures Addiction
Dopamine, a chemical in the brain that gives contentment during a high on one’s drug of choice is generated naturally by doing Yoga. Thus, the craving for that level of contentment from addiction is no longer manifested. Yoga can give you the same level of dopamine high or contentment, thus cutting out the craving for drug addiction.
6. Enlarges the Brain
It has been discovered that people practicing Yoga have more brain cells than the non-practitioners. It was found that with more hours of practice per week, certain areas of the brain were more enlarged – a finding that truly explains that Yoga is a contributing factor to the bigger brain size. People practicing Yoga have larger brain volume in the regions that contain the mental mapping of our body, involved in directing attention, critical to dampening stress, and areas key to our concept of the self.
7. Helps to Stay in the Present
Yoga makes one attentive to the present moment and gives more awareness towards negative thoughts. It provides you the ability to let go of the negativity inside your brain and mind and lets you focus on self-preservation. Yoga helps you to dissolve the past happenings which bother or worry you in any way and helps you to completely focus on your present and the current happenings.
It is important to remember that Yoga has no governing body. There’s no hierarchy of officials or organizations meant to ensure purity and adherence to agreed-upon sets of facts and poses, rules and procedures, outcomes and benefits. It’s not like a religion or modern medicine, where rigorous schooling, licensing, and boards seek to produce a high degree of conformity. Instead, it’s a free-for-all—and always has been.
The art and science of Yoga have infinite possibilities for providing answers to most health problems troubling modern humankind. However, we often misunderstand this science and want it to be a miracle pill. A pill that we take only once, and want all the problems to vanish into thin air! Yoga is a holistic science and must be learned and practiced with a holistic view. Yoga gives frames for the new understanding and new approach to the perception of the human health.