Many non-practisers, may think of yoga, as a kind of light gymnastics for agile women, alternatively, a leg-bending practice of Indian yogis dressed in loincloths, somehow related to fakirs resting on beds of nails. While yoga could be both of that, it is also much more.
Essentially yoga is a spiritual philosophy and way of living, combined with practices encompassing postures with stretching (asanas), controlled breathing exercises (pranayama), meditation and contemplation (gyana yoga). These exercises are highly beneficial for improving stress management, self-control, associative thinking and the creative insight.
Like other kinds of meditation and mindfulness practices, regular yoga exercises gradually increase the ability to wilfully turn off the chattering monkey mind of constant thoughts. During a normal day as much as 6,000 thoughts pass our brains, and while many of those are mundane and repetitive, a disturbingly large proportion may be related to stressful thoughts of events in the past and worries about the future. Such thoughts tend to become engrained in our brain patterns, causing vicious circles of unhealthy physical and emotional stress.
The asanas provide a way to tune into the body with an absolute focus on the present moment, where the stressful thoughts on the past and the future have no place. When the maelstrom of thoughts is calmed down, you can be living instead of thinking about living, and being fully in the presence brings out the creativity and intuition of the right brain hemisphere. The analytical piecemeal thinking of the left brain gives way for a holistic experience, where the filters to the associative parts of the brain are tuned down, and otherwise subconscious associations can reach the conscious mind as creative insights.
The pranayama exercises (prana is the universal life force and ayama means regulating or prolonging) can, through the influence of the parasympathetic nervous system, reduce stress and anxiety, lower the blood pressure, increase the body’s levels of mental energy and put ourselves in a state of deep relaxation.
Interestingly, EEG studies have also shown that when breathing through one of the two nostrils, the opposite side of the brain is stimulated. Alternate nostril breathing, also known as Nadi Shodhana in the yogic tradition, thus allows you to stimulate both brain halves while letting yourself in a state of calm relaxation.
This blog post was inspired by: Ravi S. Kudesia. Innovators love yoga and you should too. Leader to Leader. May 2010.