The Big Idea
We all know that yoga is associated with wellness and meditation – its praises have been sung by many, beauty bloggers and youtubers alike. Yoga isn’t just a bit of stretching and breathing however, it actually has mental and cognitive benefits as well as physical.
We asked Leigh Laramy to help us to understand more about the benefits – and to separate the myths from the reality. Leigh was perfect for the job as she described herself on our live as “a real yin and yang” – by day she has a big and usually quite stress filled job as a head of supply chain leader for a consultancy and has a team of 70 people – but she has also been a yoga teacher for over 20 years – and is renowned in both parts of her life as a straight talker!
It seems fairly obvious that frequent yoga will be beneficial for you physically, by toning and strengthening your muscles, whilst increasing your flexibility. However, most of us don’t really appreciate the reasons why it is so beneficial for us beyond that.
Leigh and Dr Iain did a great job of convincing Dulcie to give yoga another go – she had found in the past that her brain wandered, finding that it was all a bit dull!
Have a look at some of the ideas we shared – either by watching us back (where Leigh gives a live demonstration and Dulcie and Dr Iain stop talking for a whole 3 minutes!) or read – and the science behind them here! Maybe it could persuade you to give it a go…
Got it…What’s the Science
Multiple studies have shown that practices used in yoga can decrease the secretion of cortisol, the primary stress hormone, as well as bring on the sense of calm that is associated with increasing ‘vagal tone’ associated with breathing (#Tip5 And Breathe!). When we explored this tip, it was apparent from our guest and expert Cathy Hart, that breathing is a very under valued and all too often thing that we do badly – all of the time. Being more deliberate and practiced with breathing, especially when pulling some moves, means we are also practicing for when breathing is more difficult in say stressful situations. Working with elite athletes to clinicians we know that this is part of a very useful tool set to deploy in everyday life too. Practicing means that the pathways and confidence in the techniques become a lot easier to actually do when we most need them. By increasing breathing and oxygen to the brain’s prefrontal cortex (PFC) we are also making creative thinking more possible. A bit like military or emergency service personnel, deliberate practice means that the skills are there for when they are most needed. This can mean that we come to slowing things down, to smooth them out and ultimately do them faster and so ultimately better. Slower means noticing, being more fluid, more creative, more in control, more able to see the wood form the tress – especially when under pressure. The US Navy Seals famously have a mantra “slow is smooth, smooth is fast” – for this very reason. By the way, using breath control is useful in all sorts of life activities from diving to getting to sleep…
In yoga and similar and associated disciplines like pilates and mediation, by deliberately focusing on body areas we begin to become more aware of them. This can sometimes manifest in us feeling the warmth of energy ‘flow’ into and through our bodies. From a science point of view this probably perception brought about by the bioelectric activity of our nervous system. Others would argue that there is more ‘tuning in’ to the Universe going on. When we looked at (#Tip39 Keep Your Feet on the Ground) we also referenced that ‘grounding’ may well have it’s ‘scientific’ place here too. We are after all bioelectric beings interacting with other physical energies – in energy terms we are not islands.
One of the other great benefits of activities that yoga and pilates give most of us is exercise with a low risk of injuring muscles and ligaments; a balanced activity of opposing muscle groups; a non-competitive, process-oriented activity and ultimately limitless possibilities for growth in self-awareness. It is this practice of balance that arguably brings balance into our bodies and life off the yoga mat. The amazing multitude of stretch receptors in our bodies helps us become even more aware of a body-map that we have in our brains – if you were do draw a line connecting your ears over the top of your head, this sits towards the upper surface and just behind this central line (the somatosensory cortex). Research from minute electrical stimulation of human brains of patients by scientists published by Wilder Penfield and Edwin Boldly back in 1937, led to the idea of a Penfield Homunculus. This map is ‘accessed’, added and maintained each and every day. This means it is in itself ‘plastic’ as in neuroplastic. If you have a limb amputated, then this is reflected by a change in the map (if you are interested in this read and watch more by Prof. Vilayanur Ramachandran). This electrical stimulating process is still used by neurosurgeons like Rahul Jandial (author of Life Lessons of a Brain Surgeon) as they map areas to avoid in surgery, especially to do with movement and language.
Combined the mediation aspect of yoga, breathing, mindfulness and concentration can help the synapses in your brain to strengthen which is especially useful for your mind as well as your body to relax, ‘re-centre’ as well as prepare – giving practitioners resilience and the ability to go slow to go fast.
Watch our #Tip48 on the Instagram Live Recording….
With Dulcie from her VW camper, guest Leigh Laramy in her car and Dr Iain from his studio
16 Benefits of Yoga That Are Supported by Science – online magazine article
Why You Should Try Yoga – University of Rochester Medical Centre
13 benefits of yoga that are supported by science– magazine article
The bottom line is that multiple studies have confirmed the many mental and physical benefits of yoga, and incorporating it into your routine can help enhance your health, increase your strength and flexibility (if that’s something you’re interested in) and even reduce symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety. Finding the time to add yoga to your routine just a few times a week may be enough to make a noticeable difference to your wellbeing. This is another where science is catching up with ancient wisdom.
Watch this space… Why not tell us some of your yoga or slowing it down stories here…
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