Fitness Magazine

Yoga and the Mind-Body Connection

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Ram

Yoga and the Mind-Body Connection

Succulent Plant with Blossom by Melina Meza

Both the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali provide several references to how a sound mental health helps to achieve a stable physical body. According to these texts, the goal of any human activity is to achieve a state of perfect understanding, clarity, and renewed strength that can be achieved only from a strong mind-body connection.The mind-body connection uses our thought process to minimize the negative effects and positively influence our body’s physical responses. Thus, positive qualities (including happiness, appreciation, selfless service, and so on...) help to relax the mind, which in turn strengthens the physical body.
The mind-body connection is described as follows in both the above mentioned texts:
“vita raga vishayam va chittam – Verse 1.37 Yoga Sutras (see here)
indriyanam hi caratam, yan mano 'nuvidhiyate
tad asya harati prajnam, vayur navam ivambhasi
Chapter-2 Verse 67, Bhagavad Gita  (see here)

Continuous thinking about the objects of senses creates attachment which leads to desire, and when the desire is not fulfilled, one gets confused. That in turn leads to delusion and loss of memory. The loss of memory causes destruction of reasoning due to which an individual loses his physical balance and is ruined. As a boat on the water is swept away by a strong wind, even one of the senses on which the mind focuses can carry away a man's intelligence. Contemplating on having a mind that is free from desires, the mind gets stabilized and tranquil.
Studies have shown that when you just think of a past traumatic experience, your mental and physical responses to that experience are similar to the responses you would have exhibited when the event actually happened. For example, if you recall a painful/agonizing experience, you will notice that your heart is beating faster, you may start to sweat, and your hands may become numb, cold or clammy. Thus, mind-body connection means that you can use your thoughts to positively influence your body’s physical responses. It is imperative that we minimize the negative thoughts and maximize the healthy, healing aspects of our mind-body connection.
So powerful is the mind-body connection that a new model of understanding human behavior and health has been put forward by leading psychologists and psychiatrists. The “biopsychosocial model,” requires that a healthcare team address the biological, psychological and social influences upon a patient's functioning for treatment of any diseases. In essence, the biopsychosocial model states that the stability of the physical body depends on the status of the mind, and the mental strength in turn depends on the physical stability. Poor mental health can weaken the physical body and puts an individual at risk from several physical ailments. According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, an estimated 40 million adult Americans suffer from some form of mental disorder. Treating these disorders costs the US more than $42 billion a year. When you are feeling stressed, anxious or upset, you tend not to take good care of your health. Thus, health is best understood in terms of a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors rather than purely in biological terms. This concept is now widely used in the medical field to address health and disease, especially chronic diseases.
How do we stabilize the mind and improve our mental health? Some of the simplest ways are:
  • Try to reflect on your emotions and understand the causes that triggered these emotions
  • Sort out the causes
  • Express your feelings in harmonious ways and make changes to your lifestyle to improve your mental health
  • Live a balanced and harmonious life
  • Focus on the positive things in life
  • Let go of events/things in your life that overwhelm or stress you
  • Create a place of joy at home or your workplace
  • Calm your mind and body
  • Exercise your brain just like you exercise your physical body
There is now scientific evidence to support some of the above mentioned claims, especially the latter ones. According to a recent study, twenty minutes of yoga is better for boosting brain activity than vigorous exercise for the same amount of time. Researchers report that a single, short session of hatha yoga improves memory, speed and focus, more so than regular workouts. The study involving 30 female undergraduate students focused on seated, standing and supine yoga postures followed by a brief meditation and regulated breathing (pranayama). The students also completed an aerobic exercise session where they walked or jogged on a treadmill for 20 minutes. At the end of the yoga and exercise sessions, the students were all asked to take a short survey that tested their cognitive skills. The researchers were surprised to see that students showed more improvement in their reaction times and accuracy on cognitive tasks after yoga practice than after the aerobic exercise session. Nearly all of the participants were better able to focus their mental resources, process information quickly and more accurately and also learn, hold and update pieces of information more effectively after a yoga practice than after performing the aerobic routine. The researchers believe several factors could explain the results including but not limited to (1) enhanced self-awareness and mental clarity that comes with meditational exercises and (2) reduction in anxiety and stress after yoga, meditation and breathing exercises which may improve scores on cognitive tests.
An earlier study also found that regular yoga sessions can help fight off depression as it boosts levels of a chemical in the brain which is essential for a sound and relaxed mind. Researchers found that the levels of the amino acid GABA are much higher in those who practice yoga than those who do the equivalent of a similarly strenuous exercise such as walking. This suggests that yoga could serve as a safe therapeutic treatment for disorders such as depression and anxiety disorders that feature low GABA levels. (See sciencedirect.com and ncbi.nlm.nih.gov for more information.)
A week ago I wrote about the benefits of yoga in curbing inflammation and inflammatory diseases in my post Chronic Inflammation and Yoga. Together with today’s article, it appears that yoga can be adapted as a safe and effective therapy for inflammatory diseases and mind-body problems as well. Now I have a couple of choices to ease the rheumatic pain in my joints and reduce the fear in my mind. Either I choose the NSAID or I go for my mat.  The yoga mat in the corner of the room is beckoning me, so you may have recognized my next move: GOT YOGA!!!

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