It's the start of a new year, a time for making resolutions. I’m not interested in you becoming yet another statistic in 2013, such as the one that tells us that 80% of people fail at the resolution by January 20. Together, let’s do it differently this year. Think different, as Steve Jobs famously said. And if you want to make—and keep—one resolution this year, I urge you to consider the most powerful change a person can bring into their daily routine. Know what it is?
If you practiced yoga daily, you wouldn’t need so many doctor visits to help you feel optimized. Yoga will change your life, for the good, but only if you’re ALL IN. You cannot proceed casually and expect transformation. Part of my job is to provide evidence to you - evidence that, in this case, yoga heals and transforms. What follows is the science supporting yoga for sucky moods… for anxiety, depression and adrenal burnout--conditions that affect 98% of you, according to my surveys.
As I march through the science in a way that I hope feels compelling, please also keep in mind the wise words of BKS Iyengar: “Words fail to convey the total value of yoga. It has to be experienced.”
Feel anxious? All of us do at one point or another, but increasingly, men and women are truly distressed by it, help back from their greatness. Of course, there exists a broad spectrum from a little worry to the more debilitating problems such as obsessive thinking, insomnia, migraines, panic attacks, rumination, shortness of breath, and palpitations. Excessive worry even blocks healing.
Bring on Nature’s Valium.
Simple tools such as belly breathing
can help, or alternate nostril breathing. Deep, slow breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system and releases the body’s own valium - GABA (short for gamma
Generally, we know that yoga increases our GABA levels. Other scientific evidence? Studies show that yoga is as or more effective than tranquilizers such as Xanax or Ativan. In Germany, a group of 24 women with anxiety were randomized to two 90-minute yoga classes per week for 3 months or a wait list. Significant reductions in both anxiety symptoms and salivary cortisol levels were found in the yoga group. Also interesting was that the women who reported headaches or back pain noted marked relief from pain.
Feeling Low? Glass Half Empty?
Don’t co-opt the message from your conventional-only doctor that the answer to your sluggish mood and lack of joy can be found in a little pill once-a-day. Here’s the science: (1) A randomized trial from UCLA of 28 women with mild depression were treated with yoga twice/week compared to a control group placed on a waitlist. The yoga group had significant improvements in mood and anxiety after only 2.5 weeks in class. (2) Another study of 80 people found that yoga for 3 to 6 months was as effective as an older treatment for depression—a tricyclic antidepressant (TCA), imiprimaine. Both yoga and the TCA raised serotonin and resolved symptoms, and while yoga took a little longer to have a significant effect, the effect lasted longer when patients stopped the therapies. Another randomized trial of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction showed it cut the recurrence rate for depression in half.
And NOW… for the Burned Out Among You
If you have high cortisol levels, yoga has been shown to lower cortisol. High cortisol can cause depression, bone loss, poor memory, and thick waistlines. Yoga activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which balances your chronically-activated sympathetic nervous system, or “fight or flight.”
Other Bonus Prizes….
Some studies have suggested that yoga may have a positive effect on learning and memory. Other researchers have been studying whether yoga can slow the aging process, increase a person's sense of self-acceptance, or improve energy levels.
Some potential benefits of yoga may be hard to study scientifically. For instance, yoga has been said to increase spiritual awareness. Nevertheless, there is an abundance of anecdotal claims for what yoga can do. Go to any yoga studio and listen to students after class. Some will even tell you that yoga can help improve marriages and relationships at work.
Go for the Long View (Not the Easy Fix)
Many of us look for a quick fix for depression, anxiety, fear, insecurity, stress, relationship problems, memory issues, feeling numb, and even emotional immaturity. Go with the long view: figure out what's not working for you and slowly manifest what would suit you better. Yoga helps you cultivate joy, peace, radical self-acceptance and vibrant health. It's proven.
If all these proven benefits weren't enough, also think about what these experts say about the easing into yoga:
Yoga is invigoration in relaxation. Freedom in routine. Confidence through self control. Energy within and energy without. ~ Ymber Delecto
The most important pieces of equipment you need for doing yoga are your body and your mind. ~ Rodney Yee
Don’t take my word for it. Take a page out of BKS Iyengar’s book, and try it for yourself. That’s the most persuasive argument of all.