Keeping her eyes steady on her reflection in the mirror as she plants her hands firmly on her yoga mat, she inverts her body to form the perfect headstand in a hot yoga room all while focusing on her deep breathing technique. Arm inversions and headstands are only two of the hundreds of yoga poses that are practiced around the world. Contrary to popular belief, yoga is not just stretching. It is a combination of cardio exercise, strength training, core conditioning, meditation and cleansing. Practicing yoga is a challenge both mentally and physically, and can be one of the most demanding workouts if it is practiced in the proper manner.
The ancient Sanskrit root word for yoga means “to join.” In Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism yoga is a spiritual discipline. The Eastern practice of yoga began in India and has been practiced all over the world for thousands of years. What began as a form of community, meditation and mindfulness has developed into an alternative healing process and an exercise regimen.
Yoga is not only a demanding physical workout, but it is also mentally challenging and cleansing, and helps participants attain balance in all aspects of their daily lives. Yoga focuses on releasing toxins through deep breathing exercises known as “ujjayi.” This breath extension allows the yogi, or person who practices yoga, to release unwanted toxins from the bloodstream in exchange for fresh oxygen. This meditative breathing exercise is considered a pose in itself.
Yoga vs. dietary supplements and spinal manipulation
In recent years, the yoga trend has exponentially grown, and it is not uncommon to see many women sporting their trendy yoga couture at the grocery store or around town. This recent health fad is now a regular exercise recommended by many health professionals including physicians.
A recent survey found this trend to be beneficial among practicing yogis. An analysis of data from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) found that: “Yoga users reported higher rates of all the self-reported wellness-related health outcomes than users of dietary supplements or spinal manipulation. More than 80 percent of yoga users perceived reduced stress as a result of practicing yoga. Nearly two-thirds of yoga users reported that as a result of practicing yoga they were motivated to exercise more regularly, and 4 in 10 reported they were motivated to eat healthier. Yoga users were more likely to affirm feeling better emotionally than users of dietary supplements or spinal manipulation as a result of using that approach.”
Yoga vs. walking
Yoga is found to decrease anxiety by releasing the neurotransmitter GABA. GABA is the grandfather of the brain signaling inhibitors. Anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines work by increasing the release of GABA to produce calming effects on the central nervous system.
According to a study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine: “The 12-week yoga intervention was associated with greater improvements in mood and anxiety than a metabolically matched walking exercise. This is the first study to demonstrate that increased thalamic GABA levels are associated with improved mood and decreased anxiety.”
In the Western world, most people practice yoga in a private yoga studio or at their corporate gym, but upon mastering the yoga poses, known as “asanas,” a person can practice yoga anywhere: in the living room, in a park or even at the beach.
Yoga is your practice — your practice to meditate, decrease anxiety, increase physical fitness and to become balanced in all aspects of your life. The Sovereign Health Group has many locations nationwide and is a leader in the treatment of mental health, substance use and co-occurring disorders. Sovereign Health incorporates meditative treatment strategies such as yoga. For more information, call our 24/7 helpline.
Written by Kristen Fuller, M.D., Sovereign Health Group staff writer