As a yoga teacher in Essex I’ve long known the benefits of yoga and meditation on our mental health. So, you can imagine my excitement when invited to the Yoga & The Brain Conference at UCL, London. Scientists, Drs, psychiatrists, medical as well as yoga practitioners, from around the world have been conducting extensive research and experiments on the effects of yoga on our mental health and this was our chance to hear the results. And wow what results; blew my mind actually. And what I loved the most is that it proved what yogis have been saying for years. But we love a bit of science in the West right? We love to prove things.
First, let me give you an idea of the need. Depression, stress and anxiety are positioned as the THIRD biggest global burden. Get that!!! Simply, this is the cost of all of those suffering with any mental health issue from generalised anxiety and depression to OCD and phobias. Think about it; this is a HUGE problem, which costs the world billions in medication, time off work and treatment. Plus the findings show that it’s only set to increase. Anti depressants and anti anxiety drugs just aren’t fixing it. Additionally, if we estimate that 1 in 4 people in the UK alone – that’s 25% of our population or around 16 million people (and that’s only the reported stats, what about all those who don’t even know they are depressed/anxious?). On top of this, the results show that people suffering like this are more likely to struggle with physical illnesses, such as heart disease, cancer and such like. For want of a better word; pretty depressing huh? But my friends there is an answer and now the science proves it – practice meditation and yoga.
The first thing they found is that it’s all about the breath man! Many statistics were shown indicating that as much as ONE THIRD of the population have an “over driven, catabolic metabolism,” and this can be attributed to the fact that they “over breath” every day (e.g. short fast breathing, many up to 20 breaths a minute). What we don’t realise is how damaging this is for our health – it can mean the body stays permanently in a fight, flight or freeze state, which means the rest of our system quite frankly shuts down, such as our immune system, or our digestive system – this amounts to no end of problems. Our bodies can’t get the oxygen they need and are left full of carbon dioxide. So, it makes sense that stressed/anxious or simply overly busy people get sick. Therefore, if all a yoga teacher does is teach you how to breath SLOWLY, into the belly without tension (ideally a count of 6 in, 6 out) you are well on your way to becoming a healthy, happy person. It’s this long, slow breathing that’s key – ultimately aiming for 5 breaths per minute. Interestingly for yogis, what most of the speakers got excited about was the influence of yoga’s UJAYI breath (where we constrict the throat), specifically on the exhale. What their experiments proved is that this breath stimulates the VAGUS nerve. This is the nerve that stimulates our parasympathetic nervous system and puts us into a “total health” / relaxed state (the optimum state for us to be healthy and happy). Much time was devoted to the holy grail that is the vagus nerve and the many breathing techniques that affect it. This is also why yoga is so much better than just exercise; you aren’t getting the breathing that goes with yoga in exercise; equally look out for an experienced teacher also. Come & let us show you the way – the yoga way!
Namaste, Jess, Founder Wellbeing Yoga Brentwood Essex