The Science Behind Yoga: Does It Really Do Anything?

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When I think of yoga, my mind tends to think about stay-at-home moms who drop their kids off at school, go to yoga class, and then go out to brunch with their girl friends. The concept of yoga has introduced itself into society as the “cool” way to get a workout and relax all at the same time. But what if it’s really all that it’s cracked up to be? Of course, going for a run or swimming laps in the pool have great benefits, but for us slightly less athletic and less coordinated people, there’s good news: yoga has its benefits, and they don’t just include weight loss of that pesky freshman ‘15. Yoga has amazing effects on our body as a whole, from managing stress to boosting our immune system to curing addiction.

Yoga has been around for nearly 5,000 years, and everyone that has practiced it has felt its benefits, but why? What is the mechanism behind why yoga makes us feel better and calmer?

Our brains are so complex that scientists haven’t even begun to tap into their power, but one thing that scientists have been able to figure out, though, is the connection between our brain chemistry and yoga.

According to Uplift, we have two “sides” to our brain, the emotional brain and the logical brain. The emotional brain’s job is to initiate stress and the response to stress which causes adrenaline and cortisol to soar through our bloodstreams. (These are not good things to have in our bloodstream, but I’ll explain that later.) Then we have the logical brain, which tries to turn off the emotional brain’s stress response. People who are very logical thinkers have a very easy time turning off and managing their emotional brain, but for those of us who are ruled by our emotions, if feels like there’s no end in sight when it sets off. This is where yoga can come in: We can physically manipulate our brains’ responses to situations by practicing yoga on a regular basis.

We have these sort of “pressure points” throughout our body, which can be triggered or signaled depending on how we stretch our body. When we bend forwards to touch our toes, or backwards to see behind us, these “switches” in our neck turn on our stress response signal, or our emotional brain. Our logical brain, then, has to overcome this stress in order to stay balanced. The more we train our logical brain like this, the easier it will be in the future for our logical brain to take over our emotional brain in times of stress and help us calm down.

According to Stephen Cope, the head the program “Yoga and the Brain” at the Institute for Extraordinary LIving, yoga can also help our nervous system. The nervous system, responsible for the “fight or flight” response to stress produces the hormone cortisol, “which not only fuels our split-second stress reactions,” but can cause severe damage to our bodies when we are continually stressed. Reducing cortisol has it’s many benefits, including lower stress levels and a healthier immune system.

Among helping our nervous system and controlling our stress, yoga has countless other benefits as well, including reducing inflammation, helping with and sometimes even curing addiction, and enlarging the number of our brain cells, according to the Art of Living. According to Paula R. Pullen, yoga has the ability to positively influence the smallest of molecules which can help later in on in diagnosing the risk for many serious diseases.

For those of us who thought yoga was only for stay-at-home moms, we need to re-think this type of exercise and relaxation. The benefits are numerous. Not only does it just help with managing stress, but it can also helps heal countless other ailments.

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6 thoughts on “The Science Behind Yoga: Does It Really Do Anything?

  1. Jennafer Palmer

    I really loved this post. I am going to take a yoga class in the spring and I’m really excited about it. I have an auto immune disease that causes horrible inflammation of the joints and I heard that doing yoga does wonders for the joints and immune system. In my theatre class we would have movement once a week that involved yoga posses that helped make the body relax. It was fun and I can’t wait to get back into doing it. I also think this will help me ease back into working out regularly, which is also very important. What’s also interesting is the spirituality of Yoga—-> here’s a link: http://www.yogananda-srf.org/what_is_yoga,_really_.aspx#.V9HmAJMrLwc

  2. Anthony Michael Calligaro

    I was excited and disappointed as I read this post. Don’t worry, I loved the post, but I was disappointed because I wanted to write a blog post on this exact idea. I wanted to see if yoga actually decreases stress or whether taking the time out of your day to do a recreational activity is what reduces the stress. On the other hand, I was excited to read about your findings without having to do the research myself. I must say, I’m disappointed as I couldn’t believe yoga actually had the numerous benefits that everyone claimed it did. However, after I read this post and this article, http://www.yogajournal.com/article/health/count-yoga-38-ways-yoga-keeps-fit/
    by Timmothy McCall about all of the health benefits of yoga, I have changed my opinion.

  3. Mary M. Brown

    Even though I’ve never consistently practiced yoga (I’ve been to maybe a total of six classes in my life), my mom regularly goes to yoga classes and has been trying to convince me to tag along for years. The irony in our exchanges is that my excuse for never going usually consists of “being to stressed to take the time,” when in fact going to yoga with her would most definitely relieve some of my stress! I know a lot of people who knock yoga because they think it’s not as good or as satisfying a workout as going to the gym to lift or do cardio, but this study conducted in San Antonio shows that yoga can be just as beneficial as any treadmill run or outdoor exercise!

  4. jap5827

    I really loved this post. I am going to take a yoga class in the spring and I’m really excited about it. I have an auto immune disease that causes horrible inflammation of the joints and I heard that doing yoga does wonders for the joints and immune system. In my theatre class we would have movement once a week that involved yoga posses that helped make the body relax. It was fun and I can’t wait to get back into doing it. I also think this will help me ease back into working out regularly, which is also very important. What’s also interesting is the spirituality of Yoga—-> here’s a link: http://www.yogananda-srf.org/what_is_yoga,_really_.aspx#.V9HmAJMrLwc

  5. Sabrina Chan

    For the longest time, I actually scoffed at the idea of yoga providing any mental health benefits. It all seemed so hippy to me. However, my mindset changed after I became a camp counselor recently. Every morning, we would start the day off by doing yoga with the kids. The yoga instructor would peacefully remind us to breathe in and out rhythmically–and to my surprise, I found that my days were much calmer than usual! I know this isn’t very scientific, but this personal experience has changed my mind about “hippy” yoga.

    This is also making me rethink meditation, which I still can not fully take seriously (I know, I know…I’m a judgmental person). This article here ** http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/19/meditation-benefits_n_5842870.html **, written by Kristine Crane, speaks about the benefits of meditation. According to her, meditation reduces stress and helps you concentrate. These are both aspects of my life I would like to improve, as I am constantly on edge and have the attention span of a squirrel.

    Maybe I will find myself a situation in which I must meditate, and I’ll change my mind about it, just as I did with yoga.

  6. Margaret Marchok

    I have never really tried yoga before. I am just about the least flexible person I know and I fear I would make a complete idiot out of myself if I did ever try it. However, I really and truly do see the befits of it. I have some friends who do yoga, and they rant and rave about how good and at peace they feel afterwards. I think it is a great idea to find something that can help you relax in this crazy world! The closest I have ever come to yoga was doing craniosacral therapy. My aunt does it for a living and she has worked on me before. It is basically using pressure points and small movements to reset your bodies rhythm. You feel AMAZING after- you should definitely give it a try if you like yoga! Here is some more information about it- https://www.craniosacraltherapy.org/Whatis.htm

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