Cultivating Clarity of Mind
For thousands of years, yogis and meditators have attested to the benefits of their practices, recommending a regular yoga and meditation practice as an effective treatment for stress, relationship problems, addictions and more. Yogis say that their practices lead to peace of mind, greater well-being, more focus and creativity, and better relationships. They tell us that when practiced together, yoga and meditation strengthen the mind-body connection, improve overall fitness and well-being, and help cultivate clarity of mind.
This is all well and good, but as Westerners many of us often want to see “hard evidence.” The good news for skeptics is that modern science is now reporting significant evidence supporting many of yoga and meditation’s claims.
Reshaping the Brain
According to neuroscientists, as individuals continue to meditate and engage in meditative body-mind practices such as yoga, the brain actually begins to reshape itself. Studies have shown that yoga and other mindfulness-based practices can reduce stress and anxiety, and improve physical health by activating the parasympathetic nervous system which allows an individual to relax. Over 160 of these studies have shown that meditation had a positive effect on improving anxiety and stress, and research with people who had clinical levels of anxiety found that 90% of those studied experienced significant reductions in their anxiety.
Other studies have shown that yoga and meditation can lower blood pressure and boost the immune system. A regular yoga and meditation practice helps to reduce stress responses in your body, and reducing the inflammatory response to stressors on your body may help reduce your chance of stress-related conditions including high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.
Meditation Lowers Blood Pressure and Improves Immune System
Many Americans have sedentary jobs or lifestyles which can lead to reduced fitness and flexibility. Office work or spending significant time on our electronic devices can also increase neck and shoulder strain. The physical aspects of yoga focus on stretching, lengthening, and relaxing the muscles, and on building strength and flexibility. Increased strength and flexibility help us with daily movements such lifting a heavy suitcase, bending to pet the dog, or carrying a load of folded laundry up the stairs. And the relaxing aspects of yoga help our bodies feel at ease.
Research also indicates that meditation and other mindfulness practices can improve our interpersonal relationships and increase personal happiness. Both yoga and meditation improve mental focus and provide a general feeling of well-being. A 2012 control study found yoga participants more happy, peaceful and upbeat in contrast to the control group. We might say that because yoga and meditation practices help people become more comfortable within, they then become easier to get along with, are more pleasant to be around, and that they also find it easier to accept others as they are.
Meditation Improves Relationships!
Studies also suggest that practicing yoga improves body and other forms of awareness. The mindfulness cultivated by yoga and meditation can lead to better habits and a healthier life style. Some people ask, “Do I have to give up cocktails or meat to practice yoga?” The answer is no, but you might find that you start to want these things less as you practice yoga more. Yogis and meditators often find that a consistent practice moves them towards releasing habits and patterns of behavior or thinking that no longer serve them; creating room to incorporate new habits, behaviors, ways of thinking, and indeed ways of being that do serve them – helping them lead a life with more joy, meaning, purpose and fulfillment.
Kathy Du Vernet is a certified advanced / experienced yoga teacher (E-RYT 500), yoga therapist (CYT), and Yoga of 12 Step Recovery facilitator with a master’s degree in counseling psychology and three decades of experience in the healing profession and movement arts. Kathy works from a heart centered approach, meeting her students wherever they are on their yoga journey. She is committed to helping people connect to their inner wisdom so that they can explore new and healthier ways of being, and put what they learn on their yoga mats into practice in their everyday lives. Kathy draws on a wide range of tools for guiding students into the experience of self-discovery and inner peace that is yoga. Her playful yet meditative classes concentrate on the breath, stretch, strengthen and balance the body, quiet the mind, open the heart, and nourish the spirit. To connect with Kathy you can email her at email@example.com