Beyond the Physical…
When we discuss yoga, we usually think about the physical benefits, such as strength, flexibility, and balance. While these are important to work on, in order to have good overall health; not nearly enough is mentioned about the mental and psychological benefits practicing yoga can provide us.
Yoga involves the concentration on the breath and body, which helps to soothe our minds and relieves worries. By focusing on the breath and body, through different asanas, and pranayama (reglation of life force through breathing techniques – mostly kumbhaka) we really can improve our psychological and mental well being. By doing this we can discharge tension and stress, and can keep us free from such negative elements.
Consisting of activities such as relaxation and meditation, yoga has been proven helpful in reducing anxiety and depression. When we practice yoga, we are helping to regulate our stress response system, by doing this, we lower our blood pressure and decrease the heart rate, while also improving respiration. Yoga provides us with the means to deal with and resolve anxiety and depression without having to resort to prescription medications.
Through the practice of physical postures and breathing, we can also boost our memory and improve concentration. Dharana, otherwise known as the practice of concentration, is the perfect way to clear your mind and calm your senses. As you remove the chatter in your head, and focus your mind, you will find that you are able to remember things, concentrate on tasks or thoughts, and perform much better overall.
By practicing meditation, postures, breathing, relaxation, bringing your attention inward (pratayahara), and bringing yourself to the present moment, you can really bring many positive changes into your life. This can help to improve your mood and behavior by having more control of your anger, improving resilience, enhancing mindfulness, and relieving stress in the mind. We can also calm and center the nervous system, which can help us to feel overall “centered”.
Yoga has been shown to increase the level of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical in the brain that helps to regulate nerve activity. In those who have anxiety disorders, gaba activity is low. The “relaxation response” is what brings all of the benefits I have previously mentioned. This is a deep psychological state of rest induced by such practices, and it brings an immediate positive change to those practicing. The deep state of relaxation takes place on a neurobiological level. By concentrating on carrying out the specific body posture and alignment of a pose, and then holding it as you breathe, the body starts to shift from a state of biochemical arousal and tension, to being calm and relaxed. Relaxing yourself deeply into a yoga pose through deep breathing, lowers the brain’s response to threat.
Practicing yoga really does improve quality of life. As you grow in your ability to sense the relationship between your mind and body, you become more aware of not only yourself, but the dualities that exist in experience. The practice of yoga brings you to the awareness that there is a relationship between two ends of one phenomenon. You are body and mind. You are ego and spirit, tension and relaxation, pain and ease, love and hate, and separateness and unity. There is never a point where you are just one or the other, and you begin to make choices that nurture and support your whole being.
The physical benefits of yoga can be quite obvious, we may not be completely aware of all the mental and psychological benefits yoga can bring us. We must dive deeper, and be open to these positive changes. Health is really a state of complete harmony of mind, body, and soul. When one is free from physical limitations and mental distractions, the soul will open and unite with the Divine…and THAT is Yoga.