Increasingly health providers are acknowledging the importance of the mind-body connection to overall wellness, rather than just focusing on the physical machinery. Yoga and meditation are practices that can contribute to good mental and physical health.
Yoga & Wellness
The health benefits of yoga have been recognized anecdotally for thousands of years, but now there is a growing body of research supporting this ancient wisdom.
Yoga is a multi-limbed practice that combines physical postures (asana), breathing (prana) and focused concentration.
Not only can yoga help keep healthy individuals physically fit, improving strength, balance and flexibility, research has uncovered empirical evidence that it can also provide some relief for such conditions as: chronic back pain, anxiety, depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, menopause, stress, asthma, obesity, heart disease, and cancer.
In a 2010 review of 81 research studies collected from core scientific and nursing journals conducted at the University of Maryland, Ross and Thomas concluded “in both healthy and diseased populations, yoga may be as effective as or better than [other forms of] exercise at improving a variety of health-related outcome measures.”
There is also evidence that yoga can improve thinking. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health concluded that “cognitive performance after the yoga exercise bout was significantly superior (ie, shorter reaction times, increased accuracy) as compared with the aerobic and baseline conditions for both inhibition and working memory tasks.”
As with anything in life, the practice of yoga is not without risks. If you have a medical condition, it is best to consult your physician before engaging in a new routine of physical exercise. Working with a certified and experienced yoga instructor will increase the odds that you are practicing safely and correctly. Proceed cautiously and listen to your body – even the most advanced yoga practitioner can suffer an injury if we push too far or ignore our bodies signals.
How Meditation Can Help
Meditation is a practice that helps focus attention, quiet and sharpen the mind. There are many specific types of meditation, but some of the simplest forms involve being mindful of the present moment or noticing and following the breath. The effects of meditation have been studied on psychological wellness, blood pressure, respiration, muscle tension, pain, cognitive abilities and motor skills, anxiety and stress, as well as substance abuse across subjects of different genders, ages, races, cultures and religious beliefs.
A 2010 review of the research on the neurological correlates of meditation showed an increase in alpha waves in the brain which are associated with relaxed mental states as well as theta waves which are associated with quiet wakefulness. They noted reductions in the relapse rates of chronic depression, reduced blood pressure, and decreases in substance abuse in various populations. Finally, the researchers concluded that “long-term meditation practice is associated with an enhancement of cerebral areas related to attention”.
Other studies have shown that meditation induces the body’s relaxation response, inhibits the sympathetic nervous system while activating the parasympathetic nervous system, reducing the stress response which can in turn decrease inflammation. Some suggest that meditation stimulates “flow”, which is a state of absorption in optimal performance of an activity.
A nice way to start meditating if you have no previous experience is to engage in a guided practice. This can be done using an application (yes, there’s an app for that), guided meditation audio recordings or attending a local guided meditation like the ones that occur every day at Unity Temple on the Plaza here in Kansas City. Zenhabits.net has a great article on meditation for beginners. Keep in mind that it can be a challenge when you first start out and the most profound and long lasting benefits come from a regular, sustained practice. Having the guidance of a seasoned meditator can help you get through the early challenges.
If you are interested in learning more about how yoga and meditation can improve your mental health, feel free to visit www.mindfulkc.com or give us a call at 913-735-5566 to inquire about how we may be able to help.