Explore the Science of Yoga in 2020
As we enter 2020, a new year and new decade it seems appropriate to dig deeper into the science behind the ancient practices of yoga. The foundations of our teachings here at Evolution are rooted in the idea that yoga is a therapeutic practice. The practices challenge us to learn about ourselves and bring balance to the whole person. Yoga is the science of the self. The benefits of yoga reveal themselves with consistent practice (sadhana). Having a regular practice will allow you to understand the techniques, and experience their effects. In 2020 we challenge you to put on your yogi scientist coat and start observing the effects of yogic techniques. During each month we will explore the physiological effects of our yoga practice and some of the research into why yoga changes how we feel inside and connect with the outer world.
These ancient techniques dating back to 1500 BCE were practiced by ascetic monks in the forests and caves of the Himalayan region. They are now being studied and integrated into healthcare centers around the world. Yoga teaches us how to regulate our breath and the nervous system, bring balance to the musculoskeletal system and focus the mind. There is a growing body of evidence to support the use of yoga for managing pain and reducing disability. Researchers have found strong evidence for short term pain relief and reduction in disability and moderate evidence for long term pain relief and reduction in disability in people with chronic low back pain. Studies examining yoga for patients with cancer found that yoga interventions provided improved psychological health, and a reduction in anxiety, depression, distress, and stress. Yoga can alter the pain experience and can produce behavioral changes that influence pain. Group classes are performed in a social environment that can reduce isolation. Psychological changes can occur that improve pain acceptance and positive emotions. We know that meditation practices can alter the structure of the brain and create new neural pathways that improve our ability to process information and regulate our emotions. In Ann Swanson’s Science of Yoga book, she makes the connection between neuroplasticity of the brain and samskaras which are impressions that are made on the brain due to repetitive thinking and actions. Through yoga, you can learn to change bad habits and change the wiring of your brain by focusing on changing your thoughts (vrittis) and actions (karma). We are starting to learn through the study of neuroplasticity how samskaras work.
Although studies help us see the larger impacts of yoga, an important component of the practice is to notice the before and after effects of each technique on ourselves. I encourage you to join the Evolution PT and Yoga staff in this exploration of the Science of Yoga throughout 2020. Start this month by doing a quick mental scan of how you feel in your body, your level of energy, and how grounded your mind feels. Repeat this scan again at the end of a class or your home practice. You will start to gather a picture of the effects of yoga and how you can utilize these practices to improve your understanding of self and bring balance to your life.
Happy New Year to all of you. I look forward to joining you on this journey.
Singleton, M The Roots of Yoga: Ancient and Modern, Yoga Journal Online Feb 2, 2011
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Swanson, Ann. Science of Yoga: Understand the Anatomy and Physiology to Perfect Your Practice. DK Publishing 2019.