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Mind, Body, and Brain: Yoga’s Impact On Our Daily Lives

The autumnal equinox is here, and that means winter is on the way! As we head into the days of less sunlight and longer sleeves, it’s a great time to consider bringing harmony and balance to our lives, no matter what the season.
At Urban Wellness Clinic, yoga therapy is one of the primary tools we use to help our patients (and ourselves) move more easily through the world. Now that it’s officially jacket season, let’s consider how yoga can help us thrive during the cooler months ahead.

Restorative Body Yoga Poses

Yoga and the Body
We live in an always-on, 24/7 world in which email comes in at any time and work always beckons. Since our bodies aren’t able to distinguish these stressors from scary things like being chased by a bear, our flight-or-fright reactions are being tested nearly constantly.

Our nervous system, which reacts swiftly to frightening events and cools us down when the scary part is over, is constantly out of balance as a result of our modern lifestyles. Fortunately, studies have shown that yoga helps restore balance to the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, bringing us back to a state of restoration and healing.

When our parasympathetic nervous system is in effect, our heart rate slows while circulation to our endocrine glands and digestive organs increases. Our bodies are able to absorb nutrients and more effectively eliminate toxins. Most importantly, we are able to find a moment of calm in the midst of the frenetic action of the real world.

Yoga Treatments for the Body

Yoga and the Brain
A daily dose of yoga also correlates with a drop in cortisol, a hormone that is associated with stress and memory loss. A 2013 study offered yoga as treatment for depressive symptoms. Compared with a group of patients whose depression was treated only with medication, patients who practiced yoga reported fewer symptoms of depression, as well as a drop in cortisol levels. Another study found that just 20 minutes of yoga was found to make a significant difference in our ability to retain information.

Yoga also aids our neurotransmitters, the chemicals that transmit signals in our brain from one neuron to another. Even when compared with other forms of moderate activity, such as taking a nice walk, yoga is shown to increase ?-Aminobutyric acid, the principal inhibitory neurotransmitter also known as GABA. The good news here is that an increase in GABA correlates with less anxiety and better moods.

Yoga Poses for the Mind

Yoga and the Mind
Just as it brings balance to the body and the brain, yoga brings harmony to the mind. Techniques like pratyahara (the turning of the senses inward) and dhyana (meditation) helps get the thinking mind out of the way and taps into the therapeutic benefits discussed above.

As we mentioned in Zen and the Art of Tennis, trouble arises for us when we react to the thoughts in our mind rather than objective facts around us. Dhyana and pratyahara help us gain some reprieve from our near-constant flow of mental chatter. By building space between our thoughts, we can gain clarity in our impressions of the world around us and begin to see our habits for what they are.

Yoga practitioners see the body and the mind as two integrated systems. The practice of yoga, therefore, serves as a conduit by which we might shed the stresses of day-to-day life in order to live a more integrated life. Through daily practice of yoga, we can transcend the habits of our past — both mental and physical — and begin to meet the myriad possibilities that lay before us.