As a yoga fanatic, I thought of organizing a research paper on the health benefits of yoga, explaining my reasons for practicing this wonderful meditation exercise. Thank you for reading!
Originating from Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism religious culture as a spiritual and physical discipline thousands of years ago, yoga continues to impact the future wellness and psychology. As meditative flow of movement, yoga deviates from the common man’s gym routine by combining athletically and cognitively challenging exercises. Unlike typical meditation methods, yoga stimulates the mind in discipline and revitalizes through the embodiment of powerful expressions. Expanding beyond the spiritual elements, yoga is a psychologically and physically empowering exercise that can influences mood and behavior, specifically combating anxiety and stress within modern culture.
Aside from benefits of flexibility and spirituality, yoga combines physically and mentally challenging disciplines to impact brain stimulation. In 2013, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign published a study in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health measuring the relationship between yoga on cognitive performance relative to the average workout, finding that “reaction times were shorter and the accuracy was significantly greater after an acute bout of yoga for tasks requiring greater amounts of executive control, indicating improvements in inhibition and working memory”1. From the study’s conclusion, researchers found that participants performed at a stronger mental capacity after 20-minutes of yoga, compared to jogging on a treadmill. In addition to shedding pounds off your body, yoga promotes brain function by utilizing stress management exercises, like controlling the flow of breath and relaxing the mind in meditation. By releasing tension and anxiety through the flow of breath, an established stress management tool for slowing and regulating heart rate, you become sharper and mentally agile. Beyond the physical stress relief, yoga’s meditative properties also have an impact on the mental perspective to break from an uneasy mind.
Now, that we have established Yoga as a stress management tool, we can move forward with yoga as a form of managing happiness. While the modern work routine builds anxiety and accumulates tension, yoga combats overthinking by shaping a calm and worry-free environment. In the Harvard study titled A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind, researchers take a look at the human thoughts and overall happiness, concluding that “mind wandering occurred in 46.9% of the samples and in at least 30% of the samples taken during every activity except making love”2. Distractions and overthinking are common in the daily routine of modern working class society, which typically result in stress and anxiety. In our modern social culture there is an overwhelming amount of stressors such as work, social life, self-image, technology, and health. Although the Harvard research suggests that making love is the ideal approach to resolve the worrying mind, yoga is the best runner up. Mindfulness is a yodic practice, deriving from Buddhism, clearing the wandering mind from distractions —time, competition, doubt— by grounding oneself in present moment. During yoga exercises, praticioners are encouraged to practice mindfulness by letting go of exterior concerns, instead focusing on their body, mind, and breath. In becoming grounded to the present self, the worrying mind is relieved from exterior anxiety and tension. Although practicing yoga does not guarantee happiness, behavioral changes like a healthy boost of confidence and a sharper mind are definitely expected. A worry free mind is a happy mind.
Unlike the typical workout, yoga uses body language found in nature to improve confidence and self-awareness. Social psychology professor at Harvard Business School, Amy Cuddy, investigates expressions of power in found nature and their social effects within human social culture in her research, “Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance,” finding that when subjects performed high power poses experiences a “[20%] elevation of the dominance hormone testosterone, [and a 25%] reduction of the stress hormone cortisol and increases in behaviorally demonstrated risk tolerance and feelings of power”3. In Cuddy’s research, she found that even when faking these high dominance poses, subjects felt a sense of greater power. As opposed to low power poses where one is protective and shielding oneself, high power poses expand the body and taking ownership of space. Yoga utilizes human body language by mimicking dominance poses found in nature, not only as stress management tool, but as an mechanism for confidence and dominance. The Warrior I pose (Virabhadra) is a standard high power pose where you spread your arms above head level during a 90-degree low lunge.4 Aside from the empowering name, the Warrior I Pose is a high power pose that embodies strength and control. In the Warrior I pose, one can envision the strength of Atlas balancing the world on their shoulders. After a yoga session, the natural rise of testosterone and reduction of cortisol in your body will feel more confident and stronger than the titan bearing the weight of the world.
Throughout history, yoga was a religious practice and now in recent history science has caught up with the potential health benefits. In the outdated fitness culture, we are taught to run on a treadmill like hamster in a wheel. Yoga redefines the world of health and fitness, packing in flexibility, stress management, and meditative properties among other benefits into one session. Yoga is a meditative flow of motion, perfectly combining mentally stimulating and physically challenging trials. As a growing a popular fitness exercise and therapeutic method, the effects of yoga upon the body and mind are worth experiencing firsthand. In 20-minutes of yoga, you have an immediate impact upon mental agility and sharpness, imagine what you can achieve in a lifetime.
- Neha Gothe, Matthew B. Pontifex, Charles Hillman, and Edward McAuley. “The Acute Effects of Yoga on Executive Function” Journal of Physical Activity and Health. 2013, 10, 488-495
- Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert. “A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind.” Science 12 November 2010: 330 no. 6006 p. 932. PDF
- Carney, Dana R., Amy J.C. Cuddy, and Andy J. Yap. “Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance.” Psychological Science 21, no. 10 (October 2010): 1363–1368.
- YJ Editor. “Warrior I Pose.” Yoga Journal. Aug 28, 2007.
- Amy Cuddy. “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are.” TedTalks, TEDGlobal 2012 (Lecture). Filmed June 2012.
- Robert H. Schneider, MD, FACC, Clarence E. Grim, MD, Maxwell V. Rainforth, PhD, Theodore Kotchen, MD, Sanford I. Nidich, EdD, Carolyn Gaylord-King, PhD, John W. Salerno, PhD, Jane Morley Kotchen, MD, MPH and Charles N. Alexander, PhD. “Stress Reduction in the Secondary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease” Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes. 2012; 5: 750-758. PDF.
- Andy Puddicombe. “All it takes is 10 mindful minutes.” Ted Talks, TEDSalon London Fall 2012 (Lecture). Filmed Nov 2012.
- Shawn Radcliffe. “Study: Short Yoga Sessions Boost Brain Power.” Men’s Health. Accessed on November 4, 2014.
- Wikipedia. Accessed on November 4, 2014.
- Wikipedia. Accessed on November 8, 2014
- Kirkwood G, et al. “Yoga for Anxiety: A Systematic Review of the Research,” British Journal of Sports Medicine (Dec. 2005): Vol. 39, No. 12, pp. 884–91.