The Science behind Yoga (and other exercise programmes)

The Science behind Yoga (and other exercise programmes)

I recently shared an article about science and yoga.  It was interesting as it focused on changes within the brain brought about through yoga practice.  What I found most interesting was that these changes are brought about by the focusing of the mind rather than the performance or achievement of yoga poses.  This means that the benefits can be gained by any mindful exercise programme which encourages you to focus on breath, link your mind to your body and gain relaxation. 

Much of the benefit yoga is proven to provide is associated with the management of stress.  The article claimed that 90% of all the illness we suffer is stress related.  I haven’t been able to verify that figure but stress certainly has a big impact your health and your ability to recover.

Do you suffer any of these basic symptoms of stress:

  • High resting heart rate.
  • Repeated headaches.
  • Stiffness in your neck and/or tight shoulders.
  • Back pain.
  • Periods of fast shallow breathing.
  • Increased perspiration (e.g. sweaty palms)
  • Repeated stomach upset, nausea and/or diarrhea.
Or any of these which are more likely to develop over a longer period:
 •             You’re often off sick
•              You have high blood pressure
•              You suffer chronic neck, shoulder, or low back pain
•              You suffer reflux disease or IBS
•              You have low fertility, problems during pregnancy, or painful menstrual periods.
•              Your arthritis, asthma or other chronic conditions worsen
•              You have skin problems such as acne and psoriasis.

If any of these sound familiar then the regular practice Yoga, or a programme with the same benefits, could certainly help you to better health.

The main elements in Yoga that have been found to improve a person’s stress levels are: breath, movement, mindful attention and relaxation.

Breath is a particularly powerful tool and can be used to control the stress response of the body. By filling the lungs, taking fewer breaths, making them deeper and longer you control the breath and lower blood pressure and stress response.  By focusing your mind on each breath, you regulate your thoughts, give yourself space and empty your brain.  In research, focus on breathing has been shown to change the way in which the brain (prefrontal cortex) behaves. Particularly in reducing depression and changing behavior to be more positive.  Neurotransmitters work more effectively and the interbrain links are improved giving a variety of benefits to the body.

By combining breath, movement, mindful attention and relaxation we can change how we feel and in time even change how our bodies behave.

In fact you can get all these benefits from most of our classes at the Studio.

·        In IMF Pilates we spend time training our brains to consciously connect to different muscle groups and to identify and engage specific muscles we want to work.  This connects the mind to the body in a practical way.  By having to concentrate on each position the mind is forced to empty other thoughts.  In this way you can achieve relaxation and stress relief through simple movement.

·        In Yoga For Healthy Backs we use the power of breath and relaxation techniques to reduce specific back pain.

·        In All Woman IMF Pilates we additionally focus on the relaxation of each part of the body. This helps you to connect more fully with your body and to enable complete relaxation.  Brilliant for pregnant clients, particularly useful through labour, and menopausal women suffering from stress and anxiety.

·        In Janey’s Yoga, using classic poses, she has an approach she calls ‘help yourself to find yourself’. She positions herself as a facilitator to help you find yourself rather than a teacher of Yoga,  The article I mentioned earlier used the line ‘Use yoga to find out who you really are’, this is clearly aimed at the type of Yoga Janey practices.

The image of yoga, often shown by the media, and presented by Yogis themselves is of skinny flexible, capable people adopting difficult and complicated positions.  In reality, the benefits can be obtained by almost anybody.  If you are busy, stressed, unfit, overweight, inflexible, not used to exercise or not sure about joining a class, whatever your age, we can still help you.  None of these are a valid excuse for doing nothing.  Movement is vital if you are to improve any of the above conditions.

Come into your body and reconnect!


Yoga:- Religion? Life Style? Extreme Exercise, Relaxing Exercise? Just what is Yoga?

In fact it can be any of these things, and more besides.  For an understanding of Yoga it is necessary to look at the history and development of this ancient art.


Before we start I must point out that I am not a Hindu, neither do I teach nor practice any of the true forms of Yoga. I am not an expert in this field, but am offering a simplified insight into the many meanings of the statement I do Yoga. and what might be involved in a Yoga session.


In the beginning.

We can start with the Vedas.  These are the four collections forming the earliest body of Indian scripture, which codified the ideas and practices of Vedic religion and laid down the basis of classical Hinduism. They were probably composed between 1500 and 700 BC, and contain hymns, philosophy, and guidance on ritual.


It is the Vedas that are the common link between Hinduism and Yoga and which form their very foundations. Yoga is in fact one of the 6 main branches of Hindu philosophy.

The word Yoga means Union some say union with God, others union with self. This union can be perceived through a variety of methods including, but not limited to, control of the mind and senses, meditation and caring for the body through asanas, pranayam, cleansings, and detachment from worldly objects. Yoga directs us towards a righteous path of living; it is the remover of our identification with our physical body; and the aid to achieving moksha (liberation) in this lifetime.


So Yoga is religious and part of Hinduism?

Yes, but not necessarily!  Even from quite early in the development of Yoga and Hinduism it seems to me that Yoga could and did stand separately from Hinduism, as well as being an intrinsic part of it.  Yoga was originally a way of life but over time, it seems, a variety of elements from the whole have been extracted, each with specific benefits, and each called Yoga.  Confusing isnt it.


And now?

There are many forms of Yoga, some are named (e.g.  Hatha, Vinyasa, Kundalini, Ashtanga, Bikram, Iyengar, Anusara, Restorative, Jivamukti, to name but a few) whilst others are just Yoga.  Each focuses on a set of targets or beliefs drawn from the Yogic teachings.


What does this mean for me?

When you attend a Yoga class you might find you spend your time relaxing and meditating.  Or, you could find yourself attempting to achieve extreme positions.  The class might be constructed to be accessible for any age or ability, or the session could expect a high level of fitness, stamina, strength and flexibility.

There is no doubt that there can be huge benefits to be gained by the practice of Yoga however it is also clear that Yoga can also be physically detrimental.

When you consider the history of yoga you can see that it was not invented as a remedy for back pain or other injury. If this is your aim you need to seek form of exercise with a more physiological remedial basis.


How can I know what I am letting myself in for?

I would strongly advise that you contact the person running the sessions and ask them specifically what the aims of the class are, what their qualifications are, and make sure that their answers match up to your own targets and expectations.  In any case be extremely wary of any class that expects you to push past the pain.  Pain is the bodys protection mechanism and you should only be working through pain in closely controlled circumstances with specific goals.

The Studio News 02.12.13

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