Yoga: For All Folks and All Faiths
As the old Beatles’ song proclaims, “All together now!” When it comes to yoga, can we say that the family that practices yoga together, stays together? Ancient wisdom and new evidence alike says we can.
But is yoga accessible to everyone? Let’s explore how it may be good for everyone. Scientists and researchers are learning that yoga is “good for what ails you,” helping you with many things, including:
- Weight management. Practicing yoga affects your blood chemistry at a cellular level. Adipose (or fat) tissue actually works against you, making it more difficult to lose or maintain your weight, by putting out inflammatory signals that cause upregulation of biomarkers for inflammation, like increases in cytokine activity (Obesity Society 2013, Fuentes et al 2013, O’Rouke et al 2013).Although this is a simplified version of what happens, just know that if you are trying to lose weight yoga can help you lose it for good by lowering systemic inflammation and therefore, the risk metabolic diseases (diabetes, obesity), heart disease, and many types of cancer (Yadav et al 2012).
- Mood management. Practicing yoga can aid in the battle of fighting depression and anxiety by, you guessed it, regulating inflammation in the body and changing the way your body responds to stress. To put it simply, yoga is proven to be better for managing your mood than even a walking program. (Streeter et al 2010)
- Yoga makes you stronger, fitter, and more flexible. Your nervous system, more specifically your neuroendocrine system, rules your brain and body. If we imagine the neuroendocrine system as a mama, then the old cliché is true. If mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy.Cortisol is one of those chemicals that is a kind of “king or queen” of the biochemical balance in your brain-body household. If your cortisol levels are dysregulated (aka wonky), then bad things begin to happen to your body. You begin to gain weight, lose energy, feel tired and foggy-brained all the time, your sleep is interrupted, and you can get sick or hurt more easily, and even be at higher risk for heart disease, and cancer (Beckie 2012).In the past, physicians and therapists alike have recommended exercise for stress management and fitness. However, a noisy, busy gym environment can be responsible for skewing your body’s response to stress. While yoga, offers the opportunity to take back control over your nervous system.Yoga offers the exact opposite of the environment we typically exist in today. It offers quiet strength, flexible creativity, and powerful potential for transformation.
- Yoga helps kids concentrate. (Birdee et al 2009, Rosenblatt et al 2011) Refer to the previous September/October 2013 issue of Carolina Salt for those details. But just remember that yoga is great for parents and children alike to practice.Imagine a calmer, focused, and more serene household. Now imagine a calmer, focused, stronger, and more serene you. Ahhh yes, I can picture it. Now exhale. Feel better already?
Om is for Everyone
But many fans of yoga report that the most important aspect of what yoga offers them is the opportunity to grow closer to their own faith and belief system. Yoga does not interfere with your spiritual beliefs or religious roots. Actually, you may be surprised to know that the yoga we practice today (physical practice of postures and breath) was historically not an accepted part of the original Hindu yoga (Singleton 2010).
The yoga we practice today is a modern and relatively new physical form, called Hatha (Hah-thuh) Yoga. Yoga evolved dramatically at the turn of the 19th century with the resurgent evolution of yoga practice after British colonial occupation.
Lineages of yoga are attributed to several teachers, including Krishnamacharya and Vivekananda, but the “take-home” message is that religious affiliation was and is considered separate from the physical practice. In other words, practicing the physical breath and postures of yoga is meant to bring you closer to your own religion or spiritual beliefs.
Good news for all of us, knowing the history and origins of modern yoga makes yoga both spiritually and physically accessible for everyone. The practice of yoga, philosopher and yoga historian Georg Feurstein states, “yoga should only deepen your own spiritual belief. It should never lead you away from your belief system.”
If you have wanted to try yoga but were afraid that it may betray your religious beliefs, you can take a big (yogic) exhale of relief. Yoga is good for everyone.
- Beckie TM. A systematic review of allostatic load, health, and health disparities. Biol Res Nurs. 2012;14(4):311-346. doi: 10.1177/1099800412455688.
- Birdee GS, Yeh GY, Wayne PM, Phillips RS, Davis RB, Gardiner P. Clinical applications of yoga for the pediatric population: A systematic review. Academic Pediatrics. 2009;9(4):212-220.e9. doi:http://dx.doi.org.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/10.1016/j.acap.2009.04.002.
- Fuentes E, Fuentes F, Vilahur G, Badimon L, Palomo I. Mechanisms of chronic state of inflammation as mediators that link obese adipose tissue and metabolic syndrome. Mediators Inflamm. 2013;2013:136584. doi: 10.1155/2013/136584; 10.1155/2013/136584.
- O’Rourke RW, Gaston GD, Meyer KA, White AE, Marks DL. Adipose tissue NK cells manifest an activated phenotype in human obesity. Metabolism. 2013. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2013.07.011; 10.1016/j.metabol.2013.07.011.
- Pro‐inflammatory macrophages increase in skeletal muscle of high fat‐fed mice and correlate with metabolic risk markers in humans. Obesity. 2013:n-a.
- Rosenblatt LE, Gorantla S, Torres JA, et al. Relaxation response-based yoga improves functioning in young children with autism: A pilot study. J Altern Complement Med. 2011;17(11):1029-1035. doi: 10.1089/acm.2010.0834; 10.1089/acm.2010.0834.
- Singleton M (2010). Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice. Oxford University Press UK.
- Yadav RK, Magan D, Mehta N, Sharma R, Mahapatra SC. Efficacy of a short-term yoga-based lifestyle intervention in reducing stress and inflammation: Preliminary results. J Altern Complement Med. 2012;18(7):662-667. doi: 10.1089/acm.2011.0265; 10.1089/acm.2011.0265.