Using The Science Of Yoga To Soothe Stress
Acute inflammation is an expected way in which the body responds to injury, like my now swollen toe from skiing so many days in a row. While inflamed tissues are a normal reaction to physical injury and infection, research also indicates that mental stress may trigger inflammation in the body – indicating that stress acts like a physical injury to the body. This research provides scientific evidence for the mind-body connection we attempt to attune to in yoga and meditation practices.
SEE ALSO: How To Sit Comfortably While Meditating
Daily life stressors instigate biological inflammatory responses, manifested and revealed by the body as pain, fatigue, depression, or anxiety. Chronic stress can mean chronic inflammation, but a study published last year in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience indicates that yoga and meditation can reduce a person’s stress levels by altering the body’s biochemistry, and diminishing inflammation. One way to manage stress, reduce depression and physical inflammation is with yoga, according to the study.
The paper, published last June, tested 38 individuals who participated in a three-month meditation retreat. Before the retreat, these individuals gave samples of their blood and saliva, which offered control measures of biological stress factors (like brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and circadian salivary cortisol levels). Participants also completed questionnaires.
The yoga retreat was considered as a research intervention, as participants were tested before, and then after the retreat. The retreat included physical postures, breath practices, and seated meditations. One repeated focus was on breath open awareness meditations, termed “Samyama,” as well as no thought meditations called “Shoonya.” The physical yoga practice was typically one or two hours in length daily and included a Hatha yoga practice, seated postures, mantra or chanting, as well as additional components.
Physical Effects of Yoga
In some cases, decreased inflammation was documented after the 3-month meditation retreat, as hypothesized by researchers. Surprisingly, though, certain pro-inflammatory responses, like levels of one called Tumor Necrosis Factor, increased after three months of meditating, which inspires further research questions.
Post-retreat saliva, blood, and questionnaire results indicate there were decreases in anxiety and depression, and increases in mindfulness, after the yoga and meditation retreat intervention. In addition to many other inflammatory factors tested, this study measured BDNF, a neurotrophin that affects development and survival of neurons. BDNF levels correlate with physical inflammation, mood regulation, and stress responses. Individuals with low BDNF levels have demonstrated psychiatric symptoms like anxiety, emotional exhaustion, and depression.
Likewise, chronically inflamed physical states have been associated with depression and anxiety. Meditation practice studies have been correlated with increased BDNF levels, alongside reduced inflammation. Essentially mediation seems to act like a natural remedy for certain physical issues related to stress, like inflammation.
Interpersonal stressors are unavoidable, and will always arise in modern life. Finding ways to respond to stress in healthy ways could reduce physical inflammation and depression. This study and others provide scientific evidence to support a biological mind-body connection and reminds us that yoga and meditation act like natural medicine to reduce stress, and enhance physical and mental wellness.
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