Yoga: Transforming the Body and Mind

“I’ve thought of trying yoga but I’m not flexible enough!”

This is one of the many common misconceptions about yoga. Popular culture has somehow painted a picture that yoga is all about stretching. Others see it as an activity requiring the flexibility of a cirque du soleil contortionist to get into bendy upside-down postures. Here’s some news for you: it’s neither! 

Ancient Wisdom

Yoga is an ancient philosophy that is believed to have originated in India over 5000 years ago, pre-dating recorded history. Its practices include breath work, movement, sustained postures, meditation and an exploration of ethical principles. These practices aim to promote healthy balanced living. Yoga was gradually introduced to western society in the 20th century. It grew popular during the “aerobic gymnastics craze” of the 1970s, emphasizing “asana”, the posture component of yoga. While yoga postures play a small part, they do not even begin to cover the complex and rich teachings that yoga has to offer.  

Today, healthcare practitioners across the globe recommend yoga and integrate it into their medical practice. This correlates with the volumes of quality scientific studies and systematic reviews that have emerged over the last years that speak to the benefits of yoga for all sorts of health conditions. It is no surprise that a cross-sectional study in the USA by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics found that the percentage of the population that used yoga increased from 5.1% in 2002 to 14.3% in 2017! 

Let’s get physical!

From a physiotherapy perspective, yoga is the full package deal. Yoga promotes coordinating movement with breath and always listening to our body’s signals to move with ease. It fosters healthy joint mobility and range of motion, involving movements that use all parts of the body. Sustaining postures helps build muscle strength and stability.  When crossing a left body part over a right one, we train our ability to cross the body’s midline, promoting connections between our two brain hemispheres. It’s a form of “brain gym”! Yoga promotes balance, body awareness, and trains our ability to orient our body in different planes of movement, stimulating our vestibular system. Through meditation and stillness, we learn to feel where we may be gripping our body unnecessarily and relax it.  

When Modern Meets Traditional 

Modern healthcare has evolved to incorporate what the World Health Organization (WHO) calls the Biopsychosocial Model of disability. This aligns perfectly with yoga philosophy. Let’s break it down. The “bio” refers to the body and all its systems working together, the original focus of modern medicine. The “psycho” refers to mental and emotional health. Yoga addresses this through breathwork and meditation, teaching to observe the natural fluctuations of our thoughts and emotions through mindfulness.  Next, “social” looks at our participation in life and how we form positive, meaningful connections with other human beings. We are biologically programmed to seek connection with others, and yoga emphasizes the importance of community for wellbeing.  

Lastly, yoga extends to include spiritual health. In this case spirituality does not mean religion. It refers to finding meaning and purpose in life and living in balance and in line with one’s personal values. Living with persistent pain can bring up significant social and existential concerns. It can prevent individuals from participating in activities that they previously enjoyed. Perhaps they can no longer fulfil roles that contributed to their identity. This can lead to a sense of grief and loss of meaningful engagement in life that extends beyond the physical pain. Yoga can serve as a tremendous tool to help redefine one’s purpose and reconnect to the body with compassion and acceptance. 

International discussions are currently taking place to change the WHO model name to “biopsychosocial–spiritual” to include this important component.  

The extent to which a person’s subjective experience of suffering can impact all aspects of health is extremely clear. In the previous articles we discussed how our thoughts and mindset can directly change our body’s physiology. 

Yoga is an evidence-based tool that can be used to treat pain and improve physical functioning. It takes all aspects of well-being into consideration using a holistic approach. Yoga has the potential to transform one’s connection to the mind and body. It can help us to connect to others and find greater purpose in life. 

Why not give it a try? 

We’ve now covered a wide variety of topics centered around the importance of breathing. We sincerely hope that you’ve found this article series helpful and informative. 

Now go out and enjoy that fresh air! 

Intro : Dare to Breathe
1. The Diaphragm: Life and Breath
2. Breath: Supply and Demand
3. Breathing and Joint Mobility
4. The Diaphragm: A Web of Connection

5. Breath and Emotion 
6. How Stress Can Change Our Breath 
7. Breath Awareness: a Powerful Tool to Bridge the Body and Mind
8. Breath Regulation: Empower Yourself!
9. Mindfulness and Meditation: the Power of Awareness
10. Yoga: Transforming the Body and Mind

References:

Clarke TC, Black LI, Stussman BJ, Barnes PM, Nahin RL. Trends in the use of complementary health approaches among adults: United States, 2002–2012 pdf icon[PDF – 240 KB]. National Health Statistics Reports; no 79. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2015.

Clarke TC, Barnes PM, Black LI, Stussman BJ, Nahin RL. Use of yoga, meditation, and chiropractors among U.S. adults aged 18 and over. NCHS Data Brief, no 325. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2018.

Saad, M., de Medeiros, R., & Mosini, A. C. (2017). Are We Ready for a True Biopsychosocial-Spiritual Model? The Many Meanings of “Spiritual”. Medicines (Basel, Switzerland)4(4), 79. https://doi.org/10.3390/medicines4040079

Sullivan, M. (2019). Connection, Meaningful Relationship, and Purpose in Life. In: Pearson N, Prosko S, Sullivan M (Eds). Yoga and Science in Pain Care: Treating the Person in Pain. London, Uk: Singing Dragon Publishers; pp. 257-278.

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