The Beatles, a popular British Band of the 60s, and especially one of their members, George Harrison, played a key role in the making the Western World aware of this eastern spiritual practice as they sought other ways to get high.
The culture was spread through many Eastern spiritual gurus and their followers. In the US Ashrams were developed where meditation and yoga were practiced daily. Today, there are yoga studios in almost every corner of the States and millions of people have been helped to evolve in a physical and spiritual way. The practice of stretching and strengthening exercise helps unite the body, mind and spirit and it offers a truly holistic form of healing.
The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit word yuj, which means “union”. This great union of the mind with the body can be reached through exercise, meditation and breathing.
Yoga practice needs no expensive equipment nor does it need special location. It is advised that at first it is best to receive instruction from a trained yoga teacher. Classes generally last between 45 minutes to an hour and a half.
Yoga is not a religion, but a spiritual journey.
The Yoga Journal describes yoga as the use of physical postures that teach individuals how to connect the mind with the body while breathing correctly. Self-awareness is reached as attention is totally focused inward. The amount of people practicing yoga in the US today is believed to be about 21 million people, according to data published by US News & World Report.
The potential benefits of yoga:
- Stress relief
- Increased physical strength and stamina
- Increased self -awareness and self- reflection
- Healthier eating habits and a an effective form of exercise
- Improved self-image and heightened self-confidence
- Pain Relief
- Better sleep
- Increased energy levels
- Less fatigue
- Feelings of emotional well-being
Types of Yoga
There are many types of yoga to choose from depending on one’s personal goals and preferences. For those wanting to focus on meditation and breathing Ananda and Hatha are gentler versions of yoga. Aerobic and energizing exercise can be sought in Ashtanga and Kundalini yoga. Power Yoga is a new yoga method offers a more strenuous, strength based and demanding workout.
Mindfulness is a meditation technique that is used in combination with yoga in order to promote self- awareness. Concentration and breathing forms part of the process of mindfulness and when achieved one becomes aware of one’s thoughts, emotions and sensations.
Mindfulness has been linked to improved immunity and in combination with yoga it enhances positive feelings and outlooks. In a research paper published in the Journal of Counseling & Development, Volume 86(1), 2008, the authors concluded that the combination of yoga and mindfulness can provide energy, satisfaction and stability for addicts on their road to recovery.
According to the same study, the long lasting changes produced from following yoga, help maintain a healthy lifestyle and to rid one’s mind of negative emotions, depression and anxiety.
A growing body of research is backing up yoga’s mental health benefits as it also helps relieve everything from stress, muscle tension, inflammation and strain. Other noticeable results are an increased attention and concentration span while it also induces a sense of calmness.
The American Psychological Association has included yoga into its list of practice tools for psychotherapy. This is due to its proven benefits on mental health as it enhances social well being through a sense of belonging to others. It improves the symptoms of depression attention deficit, hyperactivity and sleep disorders. In combination with psychiatric therapy and medication, yoga helps improve the symptoms of schizophrenia.
People with anxiety disorders benefit greatly from yoga as it increases the level of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical in the brain that helps regulate nerve activity. Many people with anxiety disorders have low levels of GABA.
Many adults who are caregivers to individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia struggle with conditions like depression, stress, high levels of biological markers for inflammation and lower life satisfaction. UCLA’s Late-Life Depress, Stress and Wellness Research Program showed that a 12 minute daily program over eight weeks of yoga resulted in lowered inflammation levels for them.
Which Mechanism Provides the Psychological Benefits of Yoga?
The deep physiological state of rest, induced by yoga and other similar mind and body practices produces immediate positive change in the expression of genes involved in the immune system function, energy metabolism and insulin secretion.
The deep state of physiological relaxation takes place on a neurobiological level and cannot be easily achieved through other avenues. While socializing, playing tennis or even shopping with a friend can cause a state of biochemical tension; in order for the body to relax at nerve and cellular level one needs to alter the body process so as to shift it from a biochemical state of excitement and tension to a state of calm, deep rest and relaxation. This can only be achieved through yoga and other mind- body practices in combination with deep breathing.
The relaxation responses from yoga are caused as the individual concentrates on carrying out a specific pasture and holding it, while also breathing deeply. This whole process lowers the brains response to threat. The body then begins to shut down arousing nerve chemicals like adrenaline while it also stops supplying fatty acids and sugars into the blood stream. This cuts off the brain, muscle and motor energy while also ridding the body‘s cells of sodium. Nerve firing slows down thus allowing the brain, heart and muscles to relax further. The blood is now oxygenated at higher levels, while the heart rate is reduced, together with blood pressure and motor activity.
Yoga postures will strengthen and elongate the muscles, tone up glands, internal organs and spine nerves. The increased blood flow assists the digestive system to extract nutrients and the lymphatic system to eliminate toxins.
Yoga in Drug Abuse Recovery
Yoga and addiction recovery is an interesting topic. According to a National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2014, an estimated 21.4 million Americans were battling with some type of substance abuse disorder. That is the equivalent of 1 in every 12 people.
Ever more rehabilitation programs are shifting into including both traditional and alternative therapies in order to provide a more holistic approach, with yoga included in many of these. A variety of methods and tools assist in achieving, maintaining and enhancing recovery in a far more effective way than ever before.