So many of us have heard about yoga and mediation having health and wellbeing benefits but what exactly are these benefits and are they scientifically proven?
Yoga and meditation possess a wealth of positive effects on health, that are not usually investigated or researched by the standard yoga attendee or meditation student. Both yoga and meditation, when practiced by an individual, can strengthen the mind-body connection within a person, improving not only overall fitness, but mental strength and wellbeing. Many styles of yoga practice incorporate meditation in their routines, teaching individuals to centre themselves, calm their minds, and bring peace and relaxation.
Improving your Mental Wellbeing
The main reason that individuals try yoga and/or meditation, is to help with stress reduction. Our lives can be particularly stressful, and these sources of stress can come from overwork, finance worries, or personal relationships. Having a way to stay calm and organize your thoughts on these matters can be the difference between being able to handle them calmly, or spiraling into an anxious state. Regular yoga sessions can help to reduce the stress response that your body has, and help to lower blood pressure. Similarly, meditation is an effective stress reducer, and can reduce anxiety, and other panic disorders.
Both yoga and meditation can improve mental focus. Yoga philosophies are based around positive themes, and the upkeep of good mental health. Yoga participants are known to be happy, and peaceful, when compared to other individuals with similar issues that don’t take any measures to relax their minds or bodies. This was shown quite clearly in a 2012 control study which was published in “Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine”. Meditation provides an emotional boost, even when relaxing at your desk for a few minutes before, or during, the work day. Simply shutting your eyes and taking a few deep breaths in a stressful situation can be more helpful than any other alternative, and it’s definitely more progressive than allowing yourself to get angry or upset.
Meditation or Pranayama are quick alternatives to yoga in these situations. Pranayama offers breathing techniques seen to reduce stress levels, cortisol, lower heart rate and blood pressure leaving you feeling more focused and harmonious. By focusing on your breath, lengthening your inhalation and exhalation, your vagus nerve is activated putting your body and mind into a parasympathetic state (rest and digest). Having the ability to take yourself from fight or flight mode into rest and digest merely through the use of your own breath is a powerful tool to master and can then be called upon any time you need it.
Diet and Health
Studies have suggested that practicing yoga and meditation improve body awareness, which can lead to better eating habits. When you’re working on improving your fitness, and bettering your physical and mental health and wellbeing, you’re more aware of what’s going on inside your body, what you’re putting into it, and how you’re sleeping.
Exercise, diet, and sleep become something you think about naturally, all three become a necessary and vital part of your life and livelihood. This, in turn, can lead to a better quality of life, increased self-esteem, and a desire to take better care of yourself and your body. Both meditation and yoga are behavior modifying techniques that can assist you in improving your overall fitness.
While these practices are known for reducing stress levels, and helping individuals find balance within themselves, they also have a noticeable effect on your overall health. When you have the ability to both notice and improve your own habits, you will, ultimately, start to notice that your health improves, meaning you’ll be fit enough to participate in physical activities, complete tasks without feeling too fatigued, and just generally feel better over the course of a working week.
Yoga has also been known to help with various medical conditions, including bronchial asthma, which was discussed in the British Medical Journal (1985). A study organised by JAMA (1998) also showed that yoga can be good for carpal tunnel, and the Annals of Internal Medicine (2005), showed that the practice has been effective for back pain treatment, too.
Meditation assists with the improvement of mental health, and has been shown to decrease depression, and pensive thoughts. Studies have shown that anxiety, depression, and stress can all be reduced with regular meditation.
GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, is the part of your brain which is central to the suppression of brain activity. Your GABA produces calming effects that are similar to the feeling you get from drinking alcohol, that “buzz”, if you will. Yoga and meditation have the ability to release GABA because they have the same kind of effect that any other calming activity or drug can have on your brain. The more relaxed you are, the more likely your neurotransmitters are to pick up the changes that you’re making, and as soon as your body and mind hit a level of relaxation and calm, your GABA will produce the calming effects necessary to keep you in that state for an amount of time after you’ve finished your class or session. According to a study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (2010), when compared with an hour of reading, an hour-long yoga practice increased GABA by almost 30%.
Cortisol is the stress hormone that our bodies produce. It can usually be effectively managed outside of medication with a healthy lifestyle and some focus on our mental health. Both yoga and meditation have been proven to assist in reducing stress levels. Back in 1995, a professor at Thomas Jefferson Medical College conducted a study in which he set out to prove that yoga could lower an individual’s cortisol levels. The study presented a notable drop in the level of cortisol following yoga practice, and similar studies have been repeated since. Since meditation is very similar to yoga, it wouldn’t be going too far to say that it would have a similar, if not the same, effect.
Yoga and meditation are the most effective forms of relaxation. Both have the ability to lower blood pressure, and help with mental health, yes, but they are the purest form of slowing down and taking a deep breath. A few minutes of meditation a day, and a couple of yoga classes per week could mean the difference between a high-stress week, and being able to complete your tasks without feeling like you’re being piled under a mountain of work.
You don’t have to practice yoga, or meditate, in silence. A large proportion of people enjoy and relish in listening to various soundtracks, soothing songs, or white noise while completing their daily yoga or meditative practices. Music or a peaceful environment can actually be very beneficial when meditating or doing some yoga, because it can help you block out the rest of the world, and truly focus on yourself.
So what are you waiting for? If you have been deliberating on whether to step out of your comfort zone and take that yoga class, why not try it and see if you can see the benefits from your own practice.
There are always group classes you can join or if you feel nervous about being a newbie in a group class there are beginners classes or private sessions for you to learn the basics and practice the poses (asanas) in a safe way.