Have you ever wondered why you feel so relaxed and less stressed after yoga class?
It is no secret that yoga and meditation have numerous health benefits, especially for those leading a busy life.
Today, I will point out the effects of yoga and meditation on our body and explain some of the scientific background.
Next time you are doing yoga, you will know exactly what happens in your body!
The Stress response
There are many studies on the effects of yoga and meditation on our body. The list of benefits is quite long but the main factor that is enhanced in each research article, is its effects on stress.
Whenever you feel stressed, specific hormones, Cortisol and Adrenaline, are released and affect our heart rate, alertness, increase blood flow to our muscles, result in pupil dilation and regulate blood sugar (to name a few effects).
This is the body’s reaction to external factors that require you to focus. Basic levels of stress are necessary for survival. Otherwise, we would not be able to run as fast as we could if we faced a lion, right?
However, when Cortisol levels are high frequently or don’t decline at all, the body starts to adapt. This leads to the condition we call “Chronic stress” and is one of the main factors contributing to the development of chronic pain and diseases.
If the development of chronic stress is related to our everyday lifestyle, it should be easy to decrease it, right? All we have to do, is to make some changes in our way of living. This is easier said than done! Many of us try to balance work, kids, school, cooking and making time to care for your body gets nearly impossible.
This is where yoga and meditation practice comes in handy. Because even 10 minutes of daily practice are enough to relieve stress and prevent and heal your chronic diseases.
How does Yoga decrease stress?
Yoga re-shapes the brain
In our brain, there are two important regions when it comes to experiencing stress: The insula integrates thoughts and emotions and the amygdala regulates fear and anxiety.
Whenever a part of the brain is used frequently, specific cytokines are released to further increase the mass of that region. The brain thinks that this region is important for survival, so it will try to make it grow.
By User Washington irving on en.wikipedia – Originally from en.wikipedia; description page is (was) here * 14:35, 13 February 2004 [[:en:User:Washington irving|Washington irving]] 189×230 (22,159 bytes) <span class=”comment”>(Location of the Amygdala in the Human Brain)</span>, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1305281
In fact, it was found in scientific studies, that people experiencing high levels of stress have a larger amygdala.
Thus, all we need to do is to signal our brain that it should decrease the amygdala, so that we experience less stress, right?
As a matter of fact, a research team at the Massachusetts General Hospital found that yoga helped to shrink the amygdala of highly stressed people and aided in further stress regulation.
In contrast to that, yoga increases brain volume of regions responsible for attention (superior parietal cortex), regulating stress (hippocampus) and self-awareness (somatosensory cortex and precuneus, posterior cingulate cortex). These findings were proved by MRI scans between those who practised yoga regularly and those that didn’t.
The reason for this lies in the release of specific neurotransmitters through the practice of yoga.
In the brain, there are neurotransmitters, small molecules carrying signals between neurons (brain cells). Some of these neurotransmitters have an activating effect (like endorphins and Dopamine), some of them suppress specific processes. If there is no balance between these neurotransmitters, anxiety, stress, bad mood and sleep are often the results. One of those suppressant is called GABA.
It was found in scientific studies that yoga decreases the amount of GABA in our brain. In addition to that, yoga combined with meditation seems to have an even bigger effect than yoga alone.
As a side effect, yoga and meditation also increase energy metabolism and regulate Insulin secretion, as well as inflammatory responses. These factors contribute to stress relieve as well.
Yoga for chronic diseases
A study in 2005 examined the effects a single yoga session can have for inpatients at a New Hampshire psychiatric hospital. The patients were battling bipolar disorder, major depression and schizophrenia. Before and after the session they answered a 65-item questionnaire to measure levels of tension, anxiety, depression, anger. It was found that they dropped significantly. Some of the patients decided to take additional classes and saw even greater results.
In general, yoga and meditation practice was found to improve quality of life for elderly, people fighting cancer and chronic diseases and even epilepsy.
Yoga for Health
The following is a quick summary of all the health benefits of yoga and mediation. This list is certainly not complete, as the effects of yoga and meditation on our body are still not thoroughly researched.
Yoga and Meditation …
- decrease cardiovascular risk, heart rate and blood pressure
- boost immunity
- increase lifespan
- reduce anxiety disorders (even in pregnant women)
- increase spinal mobility
- improve quality of life (especially for chronically ill patients)
- reduce depression
- reduce emotions such as tension and anger
- increase energy metabolism
- regulate hormone levels in our body, such as Insulin, Cortisol
Can you think of any reason NOT to do yoga?
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