Western science is beginning to find evidence and catch up with a lot of what Eastern philosophy has known for a really long time. Western science has understood that there’s actually something very powerful in Eastern philosophy that’s worth investigating. Yoga is an aspect of Eastern philosophy that is much talked about these days. Yoga helps to control our mind and in turn have more power in our lives. Thus, yoga is learnt to have the capacity to change brain activity.
There are four components in yoga that make yoga what it is today. One of the obvious component is the physical postures that includes the stretching, the exercises, the movements, the breathing techniques, the relaxation techniques. These are an important component that’s working the body to affect our global functioning. Another critical area is the idea of self-regulation, which is the ability to control our internal stress response to control our emotional response and this is basically reflected as resilience to stress and equanimity in the face of emotions and this leads to a psychological self-efficacy.
Another key area is the cultivation of mind-body awareness. This is the sense of being able to feel and experience what’s going on in the body and also to experience what’s going on mentally to be able to observe the flow of thought. This kind of cultivation of the mind-body awareness leads to an increase in mindfulness and this is able to change behaviours in a very positive manner.
The final component is what really reflects the traditional origins of yoga. It is the idea of experiencing deeper States, virtual states and transcendental states. Even though these states are short-term these kinds of experiences can get you to experience deep meditation that can really be transformative for people and bring them to a positive lifestyle, to have them gravitate towards positive goals in life and to improve and enhance their meaning and purpose of life.
For those who have experienced the benefits of yoga, they don’t need any evidence or research to convince them that yoga can help the mind, body and soul. However, there are others who do like a little bit more of robust, scientific, systematic way of looking at what’s actually going on rather than the anecdotal evidence that people claim.
However, research has claimed that yoga can drastically reduce the measures of depression and anxiety in one’s life. It also increases resilience and improves overall psychological distress. Also, research proved an increase in the frequency of positive experiences and conversely a reduction in the frequency of negative experiences.
Also, one of the most important scientific principle on which the whole philosophy of yoga rests is prana with space. ‘Give me some space’ is an often heard phrase. What we need to do is to actually create that space in our body. This space should also be created in the mind. When the mind is clogged with thoughts, we need to flush them out. This is what meditation is all about – emptying the mind. Similarly, in the body, while doing asanas, what we actually do is stretching out the body and thus we are creating the much needed space. And when space is there, prana flows and when there is prana, there is wellness.
Yoga, thus helps with the connections in our body and these connections are made through the channels in our body called nadis. What moves through these channels is energy and information. This in yoga is called prana and chitter respectively. Physically these channels are blood vessels, nerves, lymphatic vessels, acupuncture meridians and many more.
Prana is things like heat, electrical, electromagnetic, electrochemical energy flooding through the different channels of the body and also energy carrying molecules like gluscose, ATP. Chitter is the information that might flow through nerves and also electromagnetic energy that flows through the body carrying information and also information-carrying molecules such as hormones, neurotransmitters, immune transmitters etc. So physically and energetically we have energy and information flowing through the body. And to enhance the flow of energy and information through these channels in the body we need to practice what is called YOGA.
Breath is another most powerful tool that everyone has within their reach to bring their stress response right under their control. The most direct way of doing that is by taking fewer breaths within a period of time. This means trying to fill your lungs and expand the lung volume with every single breath. This means trying to increase the lung volume as far as you can from one breath to the next.
Thus breathing lesser can help reduce blood pressure. Blood pressure is governed by the sympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system is the messenger of the stress response. Thus, breathing plus the effort of regulating your thoughts both enhance the parasympathetic signal and bring sympathetic nervous system signal down.
Yoga strengthens the power of the mind. The more control we have over our mind the more we can control the health and our biology. It is understood that 90% of all the illness is related to stress. Stress is the mind overworking in a sense fear and just being lost in the world of so many things going on. Yoga is known to bring everything into a focus.
Meditative practices can indeed change brain activity. When you focus your attention on anything you change brain activity in a discrete way and over time you are able to change brain structure through what’s called brain plasticity. This means you end up having a brain that is conducive to the benefits and practices that come along with contemplative practices like yoga and meditation.
One can also observe changes in the stress system as reflected in the nervous system. Cutting edge areas in research bring yoga into the biomechanical modern world. Hence, yoga is viewed not just as a hobby. Scientifically, it is viewed as something that is very biological. It changes the activity of the neurons in the brain. Thus, the functions in the body gets changed at the molecular as well as cellular level. There’s a lot that can be learnt through conventional biomedical research on yoga. Biomedical research itself is evolving to be able to allow us to peer into the body and the brain in ways that were inconceivable decades ago.
Yoga began as a reaction against the urban environment and the enslavement and exploitation of animals and damming of rivers around 10,000 years ago when we human beings shifted from living aligned with nature and in harmony with nature to wanting to control nature. There was a group who said – I don’t know if that’s the way that’s ultimately going to bring happiness and they held back and as more and more cities developed those people we call yogis now retreated into the forests and jungles and the mountains to see if there was a better way to achieve happiness and bliss and the knowledge of who we really are.
Yoga has a great capacity to help people heal and help people overcome challenges but it’s also important that we don’t get stuck there because ultimately yoga is all about self-realization. So, it’s important to keep going with yoga to really get to the juice of yoga which is to really know the truth of who we are and that is difficult to be quantified through western science. Although western science is bringing more people to the practice. This is because yoga is giving them a language that they need in order to enter.
It integrates the mind, the body and the spirit so that people reconnect with their soul and it clarifies things in people’s lives. It helps people fulfill personal destiny. It is a very deep, spiritual, devotional practice. At the same time it a beautiful physical practice that creates well-being.