A researcher at Harvard has found that practicing yoga reduces cardiovascular health risks at rates comparable to aerobic activity. This finding is based on 37 clinical trials involving almost 3,000 people with an average of 50 years. The trials were as short as 12 weeks to as long as 12 months. Some yoga participants were compared to those who did no exercise. Other yoga participants were compared to people who did aerobic activity. The positive findings compared similarly to those who had only done aerobic exercise. Both systolic and diastolic blood pressure dropped. Bad cholesterol also dropped, good cholesterol rose and resting heart rate dropped.
A typical yoga class begins with closing your eyes and bringing your attention to your breath while either sitting tall or lying flat on your yoga mat. With the breath as a link between the mind and the body, you are instructed to bring the mind to areas of the body and use the breath to relax those areas. You are encouraged to “be present” or “in the moment” to “block out distractions” and as many times as your mind wanders away from the breath to bring it back. Use of the breath to relax the muscles continues throughout the more physical aspect of the class. The class always ends with “savasana” or the relaxation, meditative portion of the practice. Using the mind and the breath to relax the body greatly benefits our physical and mental health. It’s the meditation aspect of yoga that benefits the heart.
Other researchers at Harvard Medical school found that practicing relaxation and meditation on a regular basis produces more “disease fighting genes”. Genes that protect from high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis and infertility were active in the practitioners of relaxation techniques. The study continued by asking the control group of non-relaxation practitioners to begin practicing relaxation techniques for a short time every day. After two months their bodies began to change. The genes that reduce inflammation and blood pressure began to turn on.
The state of relaxation is linked to higher levels of “feel good” hormones such as serotonin and to the growth hormone that repairs tissue. Stress on the body is linked to high levels of cortisol and adrenalin which, over time will elevate blood pressure, weaken the immune system and lower fertility. Stress creates inflammation. Inflammation is linked to heart disease, arthritis, asthma and skin disorders. It was found through a study at McGill University, that by turning off the stress response through meditation, skin disorders such as psoriasis could also be greatly reduced. Want to reduce stress and improve your health? Give meditation a try. Daily. Namaste