June 19 2015
In this personal piece, yoga advocate and TV presenter Anjali Kusre (pictured left) champions the avowed benefits of Yoga ahead of United Nations International Yoga Day on Sunday (June 21) and join her in a special session…
ARE YOU ONE OF THOSE suspicious people who at the slightest mention of yoga tosses it into the camp of spiritual woo-woo? If you are, you’re not alone. We live in an age where we want to see hard scientific evidence of something before we’ll give it our full attention. Yoga is no exception! Even though it has been practised for centuries and thousands of people swear by it, for some that is not enough.
I remember when I first started practising yoga. I had just read the book, “Perfect Health”, by Deepak Chopra while I was studying for my final exams at university.
I would follow his morning routine, which included yoga practice. It helped me to manage the stress of study by connecting me with something far deeper than my life circumstances. It was like I was stepping out of myself, out of a dream. While everyone else was panicking, I felt grounded and sure. It can be hard to believe that putting your body into various postures can have such a profound impact on your psyche. I realised there was far more to yoga than simply a physical workout.
Recently, I was asked to host United Nations International Yoga Day at Alexandra Palace, London, taking place on Sunday (June 21). I felt inspired to learn more about yoga, and created a wonderful opportunity to talk to leading experts, including holistic health expert and bestselling author Deepak Chopra, and spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of the Art of Living Foundation.
Deepak Chopra shared: “Yoga practice can not only help to prevent disease but in many cases can reverse chronic illnesses such as arthritis, asthma and many other disorders connected to inflammation.”
He went on to tell me: “Yoga allows awareness to localise in different parts of the body and brings about self-regulation which is the activation of the healing processes.”
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar told me: “Yoga is powerful because it works on the deeper levels of our existence not just superficially; uniting the body, breath and mind in a rhythm.”
He said that the reason many of us lose our physical well-being and balance is because “…we do not have a balanced lifestyle; balance between activity, rest and exercise. We do not eat in a balanced manner and we seldom attend to our stress levels.” He advocates yoga meditation as the solution.
While I have personal experience of feeling the benefits of practising yoga, my logical left-brain still questions it and wants to understand what’s really going on under the surface. I hate to use these words, but “where’s the proof?” I spoke to psychotherapist and yoga researcher, Heather Mason, from The Minded Institute, to dig a little deeper.
Is there scientific evidence to support claims that yoga is beneficial for us?
There is a great deal of emerging scientific evidence. For quite a while the research studies were not particularly strong, numbers were small, and the trials were not rigorous, however, things are starting to change.
Currently, there is mounting evidence for the use of yoga in the complementary treatment of various mental health disorders including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic-stress. The use of yoga for those in treatment for cancer also shows promising results, as well as reducing metabolic disorders, increasing memory, enhancing emotional resilience, supporting brain functioning, and respiratory measures.
Who are some of the key people behind this research and what have they discovered?
One of the big wigs is Dr Chris Streeter, director of the Boston Yoga Research Center. She discovered yoga increases GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) levels in the brain, which helps us reduce stress, anxiety and depression. Drugs such as valium enhance GABA access in the brain so yoga is a natural way of increasing mood and reducing stress.
Dr Luciano Bernardi, professor of internal medicine at Policlinico, University of Pavia, Italy, found that slow yogic breathing activates a part of the brain known as the insula that is involved in self-perception. The findings indicate we can alter our self-image for the better just through slow breathing!
Dr. BN Gangadhar, Professor of Psychiatry at the National Institute of Mental Health and NeuroSciences (NIMHANS) in India, has found that yoga increases BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), which means the brain is being primed for change. It indicates an ability to see people from a new angle. He also found that yoga increases hippocampal volume in an older population. The hippocampus plays a role in memory and tends to decline in volume with age. To find that yoga can increase its volume in later life is very exciting.
Is it true that there is research suggesting that yoga may help slow down ageing?
There a is a study revealing that yoga increases telomerase. Telomerase is an enzyme that is necessary to create telomeres at the end of DNA strands. Telomerase levels are correlated with longevity. The length of telomeres indicates how long the cell will keep dividing. Additionally a very recent paper by Chantal Villemure, Researcher at the US National Institute of Health, found that yoga reduces age related decline in the brain. It keeps us sharp, self-aware and cognitively youthful into later life. Yoga also increases measures of cardiovascular health such as reducing blood pressure and reducing heart rate, while increasing heart rate variability, which is correlated with greater life expectancy.
How does yoga help someone suffering from depression or anxiety?
Yoga reduces depression and anxiety in so many ways. It increases GABA, and also increases resiliency in the autonomic nervous system which is the part of us that primes us for flight or fight, or relaxation. Flexibility between these two parts heralds much greater wellness. Yoga also offers a viewpoint of compassion, self-acceptance, and trust.
Could yoga actually reverse chronic illness?
Yoga does seem to have positive effects on chronic illnesses such as fibromyalgia, other chronic pain states, diabetes, and autoimmune conditions, but it cannot necessarily heal them. Emerging studies, however, do find that yoga reduces biological markers of inflammation, which are found in almost all chronic illness.
Anjali Kusre is a TV presenter, actress and voice over artist. She hosts Zee Companion on Zee TV (Sky Channel 788) and is hosting United Nations International Yoga Day on Sunday (June 21) at Alexandra Palace, London. Follow her, Anjali Kusre
If you feel inspired to discover what yoga could do for you, come along and take part in United Nations International Yoga Day on Sunday, June 21st in the beautiful grounds of Alexandra Palace, London. Yoga experts from all across the country are coming together to offer free workshops, classes and meditations. Register online at www.iyd.yoga.
The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of www.asianculturevulture.com