In Part 1 of this article, we touched on how a regular yoga practice can not only help to maintain a healthy body but can also be important for stimulating the brain and nervous system to alleviate stress or psychological tension.
The nervous system is an extensive network of communication made up of long fibre-like cells. These nerve fibres carry chemical impulses to and from various parts of the body, relaying the signals through its major control centre: the brain and spinal cord – which are nothing more than bundles of the same kind of cells. The net physical and chemical interactions of your nervous system, therefore, are experienced as thoughts and feelings, propensities and moods.
Not only are the poses designed to stimulate the brain and nervous system, but the workout demands calm, careful, and focused attention.Yoga has developed over time to engage the entire nervous system. Located mainly in the various joints (limbs, hips, vertebrae, etc.), small bundles of nervous fibre serve as relaying and maintenance stations for signals and impulses. By targeting some of these key nerve centres, yoga poses stimulate the whole system, clearing communication lines and generally straightening the wires, so to speak. Since the physical nervous system directly affects the mind, this kind of regular exercise can be instrumental not only in clearing away the mental cobwebs that build up over time, but also in treating some psychological and emotional disorders.
But the mind is a complex thing and interactions work both ways. While it may be influenced by the physical body, the mind has the capacity not only to affect the body in turn, but itself as well. That we even have documented cases of the placebo effect stands testament to this fact. And to those who practice yoga for its psychological benefit, the power of the mind may be yoga’s most important aspect.
Regular, habitual practice of yoga will help train your mind and regulate emotional responses.
In yoga, great emphasis is placed on focus and self-awareness. Deep rhythmic breathing directs thoughts inward, preoccupying the mind with considerations of posture, balance, muscle tension and joint orientation. Fuelled by your breath, you calmly attend to your body, its limits and extensions. Now, this is not a mindset you have to get into in order to do yoga; it is a mindset brought about by practicing yoga. It’s unavoidable. The effect is that the world and its concerns dim slightly as your thoughts are calmly redirected inward. Free of external stress, the mind has time to regroup and reorganize, allowing you to walk out of yoga a little more stable.
While this short-term calming effect is a great perk, the yoga mentality has more valuable long-term psychological benefits. Regular, habitual practice of yoga will help train your mind and regulate emotional responses. In this respect, the brain is like a field of tall grass. Each thought, intuition. or feeling you experience treads a path through the grass. And like any such field, the more traffic a path experiences, the more worn and easily traversed it becomes. To put it simply: the more you think a thought, the more likely you become to think that thought. Over time, therefore, the yoga mindset becomes self-reinforcing. Your mind, already regularly acquainted with tools for its own maintenance, will begin putting those tools to work in everyday life.
While it may be seen as a predominantly physical workout, it is undeniable that yoga can have a profound impact on your mentality as well. By both physically maintaining your brain and nervous system and mentally positioning yourself against stress, yoga helps ease emotional tension. With both immediate and long-term psychological benefits, including yoga in your life yoga is a comprehensive and effective way of tending to your mental health.