So, Yoga… What is this mysterious art of postural change and body contortions?
Well, the answer is not so simple.
In theory, Yoga is a very simple practice. Become one with your mind, with your being, and with your soul. It is a lot more than moving your body’s to produce some sort of physiological pain alleviation, and is more than just sitting there for some peace & quiet.
Achieving that is tough, and it takes lots of time and persistence. I’ve only done yoga 3 times, and I have experienced more pain than pleasure (mainly because I am not proficient at many positions), however I always left feeling a sense of clarity, and peace, especially at the end. It was that feeling that made me try it again, and it is something I will chase every time I do a session.
It derives from the Hindi word Sanskrit, literally meaning union, and began over 5,000 years ago in Northern India.
“Sleep is the best meditation.”
I feel that one of the holiest men on earth puts it into great context here… and from my interpretation, yoga is a way to connect with your subconscious, and possibly your unconscious. With minimal distractions, your brain is allowed to stop focusing on superficial troubles and stressors, and is fully able to function on a more creative and deeper level.
What you won’t see here, is me suggesting what types of yoga you should do. Everyone is different, and this clearly is not a science, so do your homework and give it a bash.
Now, the research.
I have tried to identify three key areas that journals and anecdotal evidence seem to find benefits:
- Academic Performance;
You could link one and three together, but I have separated academic performance. This is because there are children involved, which I think is so important when trying to develop a well-rounded human being. Practices like this need to start at an early age.
1. Mental benefits
Tons of research regarding yoga, has focused on potential mental benefits it may bring. The general consensus is that these mental benefits can be broken down into:
- Mental health (anxiety, stress etc);
- Cognitive ability.
Gururaja et al. (20011), studied a group from the elderly Japanese population. There is a large proportion of senior citizens in Japan, and with mental illnesses like Alzheimer’s and Dementia so rife today, it is important to seek solutions.
It is important to note that yoga did not eradicate these illnesses, however they found that the yoga intervention reduced both trait and state anxiety. As a group, they concluded that yoga may have both short and long-term benefits regarding these types of anxiety, and found that the participants generally ‘felt better’ after each session.
Oken et al. (2006) admitted that while yoga may not induce miraculous cognitive improvement, it provides several different benefits such as:
- Improved quality of life;
- Mood improvements;
- Physiological improvements (as I will mention).
Khalsa et al. (2012) added to this, stating that an intervention of yoga with kids at school, aided with anger control, increased resilience, and induced lower rates of fatigue. Better moods were also a bi-product. Not all of their results were significant, as the scales used for their outcome measures were very subjective and relied on the participants’ own judgement.
Make of that what you will.
2. Academic Performance
A study was performed by Kauts and Sharma (2009), in which they observed kids in a school. They categorised them as either “high stress” or “low stress”, as per their Stress Battery (A test/examination of stress level).
There was a control, and a yoga group, and the results were promising:
The students with “low stress” achieved much better academic results than those with “high stress”, without any yoga intervention. I.E. your level of stress and academic performance have an INVERSE relationship.
Yoga’s inclusion was found to have aided academic performance, too. This finding is in tune with other studies, so it may have some reliability!
They concluded that, “that meditation, practiced over long periods, produces definite changes in perception, attention, and cognition.”
“Meditation, practiced over long periods, produces definite changes in perception, attention, and cognition.”
3. Physical benefits
Mandanmohan et al. (2003) conducted a study observing any physiological improvements as a result of performing yoga.
Their findings were interesting, and fairly out of the box. One might assume that your flexibility/suppleness might improve, however they found that the subjects’ inspiratory and expiratory muscle strength was greater after the yoga intervention.
They put this down to the fact that the yoga posture “Mukha-bhastrika”, forces powerful strokes of exhalation, and therefore the diaphragm and abdominal muscles were heavily utilised.
It is shown below, and in the hyperlink above.
Bhole et al. (1970) also found that yoga helped with improving vital capacity in both men and women.. This is a black & white indicator of someone’s lung capacity, so it is always good to try and improve that.
Interestingly, Birkel et al. (2000) furthered this, but stated that yoga also helped the VC’s of those with lung disease, asthma, and in those that smoke. GOOD TIMES.
Moreover, something to add to your party-trick armoury, Madanmohan et al. (1992), found that yoga can help increase your ‘breath holding’ time. I am one of those people amazed by people who can hold their breath, so if you’re good at it, come and wow me.
In terms of strength, both of Madanmohan et al’s studies showed that yoga improved grip strength. I was also perplexed as to why this is important, but according to their work, grip strength is a good way to measure nutritional status and muscular functions.
As a rugby player, my body takes a battering every weekend. I am definitely not the only one to admit that I need loosen up after a physically taxing match, where every bloke and their dog wants to run you over. Athletes, this is where joining a yoga class may be perfect for post-match/exercise recovery.
For those that don’t play sport. Yoga is a perfect way to break up your day, and a way to tell your brain you are being productive both physically and mentally. It is extremely liberating, and as mentioned above, has numerous benefits.
However, lets not be fooled. Yoga is hard. Very hard at first. Yet, with consistency, you will reap the benefits of it. Give it a try, and don’t be shy to let me know how amazing you are doing because of it!