Because of certain media depictions of yoga, many people think it’s a little too esoteric for them, or they’re not thin enough to practice, or it’s simply weird! But understanding yoga from a physiological perspective reveals benefits accessible to everyone.
An Uncomplicated Look at Yoga
For a moment, let’s forget about all the typical Western things associated with modern yoga: fancy workout clothes, exotic retreats, celebrity teachers, acrobatic postures, and Instagram influencers. Additionally, set aside its Indian, Chinese, or Japanese origins, ancient Sanskrit texts, mantras, chakras, koshas, and anything else that sounds “different.”
Let’s just focus on two things: breath and movement. We all breathe and, in many instances, move a little. And that’s yoga for you. As long as you can breathe and move a little, you can do it. Most importantly, if you breathe and move a little every day, the more the practice of yoga will benefit you.
Why is this? Although it’s taken the scientific community many decades to study the positive impact of yoga, research now supports the physiological advantages of practice. These advantages manifest as better physical health, better mental health, and better mind-body connection.
How you breathe and move directly impacts thoughts and emotions because all of your “operating systems” are connected. This is yoga in its most simplistic form.
For an extremely detailed look into all the evidence-based benefits of yoga, review this explanation from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
The Importance of Mind-Body Connection
It’s not often that we celebrate ourselves as complex living organisms, but we really should try. We’ve all done it: cursing our knees for emitting pain as we go up the stairs, chastising ourselves for thinking a certain way, getting upset because we “feel” too much. Faced with what we perceive as faults, we search for an external fix to whatever ails us, instead of venturing internally.
When we’re dealing with complicated circumstances—whether they’re mental, physical, emotional, or spiritual—it’s easy to create self-separation. Various mind-body therapeutic techniques support reconnection between all systems for a healthier, whole-person existence. Instead of breaking ourselves into various pieces, we learn to understand how a gentle yoga practice, as one example, provides the space, time, and focus to not be fearful of what we might discover as we pull everything together.
When we feel as though we’re coming apart, relying on mind-body methods to bring ourselves back to center is calming. It reassures us that we’re fully involved in our physical, emotional, and mental self and have the control to direct our experiences, thoughts, and emotions.
Tap Into Your Physiological Support System
How can you learn to use yoga to calibrate your multiple systems, improve mental and emotional health, and reconnect to self? It’s a simple path:
- Learn various breathing techniques, which;
- Helps stimulate the vagus nerve, and then;
- Move in such a way to release stagnant energy and revitalize basic operations.
Let’s start with breathing exercises. In yoga, breath—known as pranayama—is considered a life force, and how we control it sends signals throughout the brain and body.
Think about the last time you felt nervous, anxious, or upset. Do you remember short and shallow breathing, and how challenging it was to calm down at first? There’s a reason why we’re often told to take 10 deep breaths when we feel this way: the measured inhalation and exhalation increases carbon dioxide levels (in this case, a good thing!) to adjust the pH balance in the bloodstream, which in turn activates the parasympathetic nervous system (“rest and digest”), and helps you calm down.
To understand how breathing techniques might help you, with your thoughts and emotions, start with these suggestions from Andrew Weil, founder of the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona.
The Vagus Nerve
Now let’s learn more about the vagus nerve. There’s a lot to know! But as an overview, it’s the longest nerve in your body, connected to many vital organs, including the heart, lungs, stomach, and intestines. Often referred to as the “command center” of the parasympathetic nervous system, the vagus nerve “influences your breathing, digestive function, and heart rate, all of which can have a huge impact on your mental health.”
One of the best ways to stimulate the vagus nerve is with controlled breathing exercises, meditation, singing, laughing, and exercise.
Which brings us back to yoga. A yoga practice, as noted above, doesn’t have to be complicated. When combined with breath, even 10 minutes stretching in a chair will promote mental and emotional stability. How can it be this easy? Because that 10 minutes allows you to create conceptual stillness with your whole self, fully present. Initially, thoughts might whiz about. You might feel a slight flutter in your chest.
But afterward, the rest of the day will be different…in a good way. This provides encouragement for how to move forward with the confidence and knowledge that you can always “pull yourself together.”
Find Your Balance at Cottonwood
The professionals at Cottonwood Tucson are strong proponents of holistic methods to create balance between all aspects of self, including thoughts and emotions. Our mental health, co-occurring disorders, and substance use disorder programs are designed to introduce in-depth and diverse treatment modalities to meet individual needs. Here’s an example of how we can help you.