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Yoga and Mental Health

Having been introduced to my first yoga class in the 1970’s, it was my subjective opinion that my level of stress and anxiety were noticeably reduced. I considered this to be a life- altering event and would pursue the practice for decades to come. I did not need scientific proof as my intuitive self spoke to me loud and clear. Clearly at that time yoga was not widely practiced and the benefits were anecdotal and shared among practitioners.

Unbeknownst to me there were studies being conducted back then seeking evidence that the practice of yoga and meditation might have the potential to be used as a technique for stress reduction. In the Harvard Medical School Newsletter (2009), it cites “ studies suggest that this practice modulates the stress response”. In previous decades, this article declares, studies were small and poorly designed. But beginning in 2009, there were a growing number of randomized controlled trials. Such studies are regarded as the highest standard for proving effectiveness. As well as being useful, results demonstrated that yoga is a supportive, low cost, life long disciplines that can help manage mild to moderate depression, anxiety, PTSD. Several such studies would be conducted world wide as yoga would finally emerge as an essential tool in maintaining a healthy mind and body. More recently, the use of brain scans display detailed images clearly revealing the positive changes of asana, pranayama, and meditation. The message being: your brain’s gray matter can change for the better.

Yoga’s life changing potential, while a self reported path to recovery, has been contained in ancient Indian literature for centuries. Solace of the restless mind is recognized as a significant behavior-modifying practice. As the gifts and benefits of yoga practice have been popularized, current evidenced based studies offer convincing proof that yoga and meditative practices offer powerful stress reduction.

In an age of speed, intense competition, and lifestyle stresses, the wisdom of ancient Indian literature helps us to understand and acknowledge the mind/body connection. Scientific study of yoga reveals this connection between mind and body is not only closely related, but essential to improving overall health. If tension leads to psychological stress and physical illness, then self -soothing techniques can be used to lower heart rate, ease respirations, help clear and ease the mind. Those just beginning- you can experience reducing the impact of the stress response if new to yoga. The results are immediate and you will want to maintain a practice several times a week and reap the benefits!

Come experience the nurturing environment and dedicated practitioners at Joy Yoga Center and find that in the quest for peace of mind, it’s as close as the rhythmic sound of your breath.

Barbara Taylor Strax

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