June 21, 2023; Unhurry Expert Research Team
In This Article
Finding happiness and peace is a man’s constant pursuit. In the process, he becomes aware of both pleasure and agony, and he starts to identify himself with this sensual world. This contact breaks while he is sleeping, and he experiences the absence of both pleasure and suffering. And out of this is born a complete faith that only introversion or looking within is the royal panacea of begetting real happiness, peace, and liberation.
Yoga is the process of restraining the consciousness (Mind), with which an individual can become one with God. According to Maharishi Patanjali- Yoga is defined ‘Chittavrutti Nirodh’ – restraint of consciousness (Mind).
As we embrace Yoga, we find a harmony between effort and surrender; body movement and breath; physical body, and the subtle body. Yoga teaches us to honour our bodies and to respect our limitations. In each moment of stillness, we awaken to the infinite potential that lies dormant within us. Yoga essentially strengthens our vital force!
Yoga is the most valuable and precious offering of the Indian civilization to the world. Yoga explores the innermost depths of existence as a science of life and an art of living, and by doing so, it aids in realizing the true meaning of human existence. Given the continued interest of academics in yoga and the practice of our Yogacharyas, it is no wonder that yoga is still relevant today and that mankind is rediscovering its benefits.
The inherent strengths of Yoga are now being recognized by the world and scientific studies are able to prove that. Yoga not only provides physical benefits in terms of fitness and flexibility but also boosts mental health in a significant way. Scientific studies prove that Yoga therapy and mindfulness should be kept as part of treatment for various diseases as it speeds up the healing process.
As we celebrate International Yoga Day, let us ensure that we embrace Yoga not just for an hour or a day, but every day and in every breath.
What is Yog?
Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word “Yuj,” which means “to yoke” or “to unite” in English. Yoga’s meaning as a term is “union,” according to the Oxford Dictionary. As a result, it is the unification of the personal spirit with God’s universal spirit. Yoga is a collection of techniques that outline how we interact with the outside environment to bring about harmony. As a discipline, yoga entails:
- To engage
- To participate
- To get involved
- To connect
Yoga is the counterbalance of the vortices of feeling. It covers all facets of life. It encourages interaction with the outside world to foster harmony. It improves our physical and mental well-being and helps us connect to our true selves. Yoga is the suppression of mind changes, according to Maharishi Patanjali. Yoga affects a person’s cognition, energy, and emotional levels, fostering both physical and mental health.
Yoga boosts mental health
Yoga has been shown in scientific studies to lessen anxiety and depressive symptoms. According to research from the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), yoga and breathing techniques help reduce the signs and symptoms of anxiety and sadness both immediately after each session and cumulatively over the course of three months.
These results, which were published online in the Journal of Psychiatric Practise, imply that yoga may be a valuable adjunctive therapy for clinical depression or major depressive disorder.
The outcomes revealed that both groups’ sleep quality greatly improved after a month. According to multiple clinical scales that have been clinically verified, both groups saw considerable improvements in calmness, optimism, physical weariness, and symptoms of anxiety and sadness.
“Providing evidence-based data is helpful in getting more individuals to try yoga as a strategy for improving their health and well-being. These data are crucial for accompanying investigations of underlying neurobiology that will help elucidate ‘how’ yoga works,” said study collaborator and co-author Marisa M. Silveri, PhD, a neuroscientist at McLean Hospital and associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
According to another study by Boston University Medical Centre, Practicing Yoga, and deep breathing twice weekly plus practice at home can significantly reduce depression symptoms.
“This study supports the use of a yoga and coherent breathing intervention in major depressive disorder in people who are not on antidepressants and in those who have been on a stable dose of antidepressants and have not achieved a resolution of their symptoms,” explained corresponding author Chris Streeter, MD, associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at Boston University School of Medicine and a psychiatrist at Boston Medical Center.
According to Streeter compared with mood-altering medications, this intervention has the advantage of avoiding additional drug side effects and drug interactions. “While most pharmacologic treatments for depression target monoamine systems, such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, this intervention targets the parasympathetic and gamma aminobutyric acid system and provides a new avenue for treatment.”
Yoga and Meditation are effective in reducing chronic pain
Healing chronic pain can be greatly aided by yoga and meditation. Learning to tolerate reasonable levels of pain is a necessary part of the healing process. Patients’ perceptions of pain, sadness, and disability significantly improved because of mindful meditation and yoga. Enhancing the body’s composition and functionality can aid in the healing process.
A study published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association indicated that participants’ perceptions of pain, mood, and functional capacity significantly improved after taking a mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) course. The majority of research participants (89%) said the program had helped them find more effective strategies to deal with their discomfort, while 11% expressed no opinion.
“Chronic pain often goes hand-in-hand with depression,” says Cynthia Marske, DO, an osteopathic physician and director of graduate medical education at the Community Health Clinics of Benton and Linn County. “Mindfulness-based meditation and yoga can help restore both a patient’s mental and physical health and can be effective alone or in combination with other treatments such as therapy and medication.”
Yoga and mindfulness-based meditation can be helpful in regaining a patient’s physical and mental health, either on their own or in conjunction with other treatments like counseling and medication.
According to another analysis, doing yoga may enhance back-related function and may also lessen lower back pain symptoms slightly in the first six to twelve months when compared to no exercise. However, the benefit was consistently less than that considered to be clinically significant.
Breathing, meditation techniques, and better mental health
Specialized breathing techniques impact boost the mental health of each individual. A study was conducted on college students on how learning specialized breathing and emotional intelligence techniques helped them feel better overall and improve their mental health.
The most effective program led to gains in six areas, including depression, stress, mental health, mindfulness, positive affect, and social connectivity, according to this Yale University study.
Changes in the brain regions that control emotional processing were seen in young individuals before and after mindfulness-based therapy, according to a study that was just published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology.
“Our preliminary observation that the mindfulness therapy increases activity in the part of the brain known as the cingulate, which processes cognitive and emotional information, is noteworthy,” says Jeffrey Strawn, MD, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neuroscience, director of the Anxiety Disorders Research Program and co-principal investigator on the study.
The study’s findings about increases in activity in the insula, the area of the brain in charge of observing and reacting to bodily physiological conditions, are particularly intriguing, according to Strawn.
“Mindfulness-based therapeutic interventions promote the use of meditative practices to increase present-moment awareness of conscious thoughts, feelings, and body sensations in an effort to manage negative experiences more effectively,” says Sian Cotton, PhD, an associate professor of family and community medicine at UC, director of the UC’s Centre for Integrative Health and Wellness and a co-author on the study. “These integrative approaches expand traditional treatments and offer new strategies for coping with psychological distress.”
What is Mindfulness?
Being mindful includes paying attention to the here and now while objectively observing thoughts and feelings. It entails keeping a kind, nurturing awareness of our thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and external surroundings from moment to moment.
Acceptance is a component of mindfulness, which means that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without passing judgment on them. For example, we refrain from thinking that there is a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel at any given time. By engaging in mindfulness exercises, we train our minds to focus on the present moment rather than the past or the future.
How and why does Mindfulness work?
So what is it that makes Mindfulness work? How is it able to show improvement in diseases, slow HIV progression, and boost health aging?
According to a study published in Biological Psychiatry, mindfulness meditation training decreases Interleukin-6, an inflammatory health biomarker, among high-stress, unemployed community adults when compared to relaxation training.
Because mindfulness meditation training fundamentally modifies the functional connection patterns of brain networks and because the brain alterations statistically account for the reductions in inflammation, there are biological health benefits.
“We’ve now seen that mindfulness meditation training can reduce inflammatory biomarkers in several initial studies, and this new work sheds light into what mindfulness training is doing to the brain to produce these inflammatory health benefits,” said David Creswell, lead author and associate professor of psychology in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
“We think that these brain changes provide a neurobiological marker for improved executive control and stress resilience, such that mindfulness meditation training improves your brain’s ability to help you manage stress, and these changes improve a broad range of stress-related health outcomes, such as your inflammatory health,” Creswell said.
Mindfulness on pain perception and brain activity
Neuroscientists have now been able to test if and how mindfulness works. Researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine measured the effects of mindfulness on pain perception and brain activity.
According to the study, practicing mindfulness meditation prevents the flow of information between the parts of the brain responsible for feeling pain and those that generate self-awareness. In the suggested process, pain signals still travel from the body to the brain, but because the person has less control over those painful feelings, they experience less pain and suffering.
“One of the central tenets of mindfulness is the principle that you are not your experiences,” said senior author Fadel Zeidan, PhD, associate professor of anaesthesiology at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “You train yourself to experience thoughts and sensations without attaching your ego or sense of self to them, and we’re now finally seeing how this plays out in the brain during the experience of acute pain.”
Researchers discovered that those who were actively meditating experienced pain that was 32 percent less intense and 33 percent less unpleasant.
The team discovered that mindfulness-induced pain relief was linked to decreased synchronization between the thalamus, which relays incoming sensory information to the rest of the brain, and certain regions of the default mode network, which is a group of brain areas that are most active when a person is mind-wandering or processing their own thoughts and feelings as opposed to the outside world.
The praecuneus, a brain area involved in basic aspects of self-awareness and one of the first regions to go offline when a person loses consciousness, is one of these default mode regions. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex is another; it has a number of subregions that cooperate to process how you relate to or value your experiences. The subject reported feeling higher pain relief as these sections were disconnected or deactivated.
Targeted and precise pain treatment through mindfulness training
Researchers isolated the changes in pain-related brain activity and pointed the way toward more specialized and exact mindfulness training by identifying pathways in the brain that are particular to pain management. A study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison that was published in The American Journal of Psychiatry identified this.
Participants can learn to respond to pain with less anguish and greater psychological flexibility by engaging in nonjudgmental, “present-centered” mindfulness exercises, which may ultimately result in a decrease in the intensity of the pain.
“Our finding supports the idea that for new practitioners, mindfulness training directly affects how sensory signals from the body are converted into a brain response,” says Wielgosz, whose work was supported by the National Institutes of Health.
Mindfulness reduces menopausal symptoms in women
Researchers found that menopausal women experiencing anger, anxiety, and sadness may find it particularly beneficial to practice mindfulness. Symptoms of menopause are lessened, according to a Mayo Clinic study.
“In this study, we found that midlife women with higher mindfulness scores experienced fewer menopausal symptoms,” says Mayo Clinic general internist and women’s health specialist Richa Sood, M.D., the study’s lead author. “These findings suggest that mindfulness may be a promising tool to help women reduce menopausal symptoms and overall stress.”
“Essentially, the first step in being mindful is to become aware that our minds are on autopilot most of the time,” Dr. Sood says. “The goal during mindful moments is not to empty the mind but to become an observer of the mind’s activity while being kind to oneself. The second step is to create a pause. Take a deep breath, and observe one’s own space, thoughts, and emotions nonjudgmentally. The resulting calm helps lower stress,” she adds.
Yoga and mindfulness have amazing benefits and they should be practiced on a regular basis, not just to heal diseases but to keep the body clean and pure. As only a stable and pure body can help purify the mind and eventually be one with eternity, which is the ultimate aim of human life. As they say, “Yoga is not about being a Superhuman, it is about realizing that being human is super!”
June 21 is International Yoga Day. All of this week, we are celebrating the positive impact of yoga on mental health. All our research articles
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