“If there was a drug that could mimic the effects of yoga, it would probably be the world’s best-selling drug.” Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences, Duke University
According to research, yoga affects more than 200 processes in the human brain and body, and studies have shown it to produce a stress-reducing response that mimics the best anti-anxiety drugs on the market today.
Minded Yoga was devised by The Minded Institute, a world leader in the development and implementation of evidence-based yoga therapy and mindfulness programmes. Minded Yoga uses particular practices - postures, movements, mindfulness/meditation, breathing and relaxation - with proven benefits to improve not only physical but also psychological and emotional health. Minded Yoga blends ancient mind-body practices with the most recent insights from neuroscience and physiology to offer simple, effective techniques to help improve wellbeing. It is a compassionate approach that honours the individual and meets them wherever they are physically, mentally and emotionally.
What are the benefits? Minded Yoga classes and Minded Yoga individual yoga therapy can help us to:
Better manage, and reduce symptoms of, stress, anxiety, depression and PTSD
Develop greater physical strength and flexibility
Develop greater mental and emotional balance
Improve mental focus and concentration
Experience relaxation and a greater sense of calm
Both individual and group Minded Yoga sessions will also provide you with knowledge about how your brain, body and nervous system work and with tools that you can use in a daily home practice or at any moment in your everyday life.
How are these benefits achieved - how does Minded Yoga actually work? Many people find that they feel simply overall 'better' after doing yoga - physically more relaxed, mentally calmer and emotionally more balanced. Some people need no more evidence for the effects of yoga than their own experience. However, there is now increasing research into how yoga works and why - that is, what physiological and neurological processes are stimulated by practicing in particular ways, and how these processes work to induce the 'feeling better' experience that so many people report. Minded Yoga Therapy and the Minded Yoga 6 Week Course is strongly grounded in this research evidence.
For those of you of a scientific mind-set (I include myself there) below is a brief outline of some of the physiological mechanisms involved (these are explained in much more detail in the Minded Yoga 6 Week Course handbook).
Physical yoga practiceis beneficial in purely physical but also in psychological ways. Yoga asanas (postures) move many of the joints of the body and stretch muscles that can become tight and stiff in our everyday lives. Keeping joints mobile and muscles supple helps to prevent against injury and against all sorts of chronic aches and pains, as well as just helping us to feel less tense both physically and mentally. Physical practice also increases muscle strength, especially of the core and of the large muscles of the lower body, and this helps stabilise our spine and hips as we move around - again helping to support good posture and protecting against injury and chronic pain, for instance in the lower back. However, developing greater strength, improved posture and a greater feeling of ease and flexibility in the body can also affect us psychologically - as the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio says, "our sense of ourselves is a body sense". The psychologist Amy Cuddy has also conducted research showing that changing our posture can quite dramatically change our sense of ourselves and, in particular, how confident we feel (watch her famous TED talk).
Physical practice can also positively affect our autonomic nervous system which is responsible for regulating many of the automatic physical processes of our body (for example, breathing, digestion, heart rate) and, via those physical processes, also has a critical role in regulating emotional states - think what happens to your heart rate, breathing and stomach sensations when you feel anxious. The autonomic nervous system has two branches: the sympathetic branch is the activating part of the system and is responsible for mobilising energy to sustain activity but also to fuel 'fight or flight' states, and the parasympathetic branch is the calming part that allows the major systems of the body (such as the immune system) to rest and be renewed. For good physical, mental and emotional health, these two systems need to be in balance. Yet many of us in modern life spend most of our time chronically stressed and in sympathetic activation and fail to get the necessary benefits of parasympathetic rest. Physical yoga practice helps to balance these two parts of the nervous system by lifting and lowering heart rate - activating and then calming the system by alternating physical activity and relaxation. This can have a very beneficial effect on our ability to regulate emotion as we are not triggered so quickly into 'fight or flight' states and can also lift ourselves out of low moods more readily as our nervous system becomes more flexible and, therefore, resilient.
Breath practices are a key way in which we can influence our nervous system and help to regulate mood. Very basically, the in-breath stimulates the sympathetic, 'activating' branch of the nervous system, whilst the out-breath stimulates the parasympathetic, 'rest and digest' part of the system. By using a whole range of different breath practices which emphasize one or other of these parts of the breath, we can directly influence our nervous system and, thereby, help to regulate our mood. Breathing is one of very few autonomic processes over which we have some conscious control so it is therefore extremely useful in everyday life to help us regulate our emotions - much easier than trying to 'think' yourself into feeling, say, calmer or more alert.
Mindfulness and meditation practices have been shown to induce positive neuroplasticity (that is, changes in the brain). For example, one study showed that mindfulness and meditation increased the thickness of the pre-frontal cortex in the brain - this is the part of the brain responsible for the modulation of behaviour and emotion and helps us get back on track when we feel emotionally overwhelmed. Some studies have shown positive neurological changes in the brains of those practicing mindfulness and meditation for only 8 weeks! Physical yoga practice, breathwork and mindfulness together have also been shown to be effective in increasing levels of a chemical called BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor) which is vital for any neuroplasticity to take place. Essentially, there is evidence that, together, yoga, mindfulness, meditation and breath practices can help us transform our brains - and our minds - over the long-term.
One of the most profoundly affecting physiological mechanisms which yoga and yoga therapy help to induce is the 'relaxation response': this is a strongly parasympathetic state of deep physical rest where breathing is slowed down, muscles relax, heart rate and blood pressure is reduced. If induced repeatedly over time, this response helps to counter the toxic effects of the stress hormone, cortisol, in the body, and can also bring long lasting changes to the way in which we respond to stress physiologically, mentally and emotionally. This is one important reason why the Minded Yoga 6 week course includes at least 30 minutes of relaxation each session.
Who is it suitable for? Minded Yoga is suitable for anyone. You might be a stressed commuter, someone with back pain (perhaps a stressed commuter with back pain!), someone trying to cope with anxiety, an older person wanting to maintain strength and flexibility, a person dealing with or recovering from cancer treatment, or you might just be curious about trying something new that can help you maintain your mental and physical health in the long term. No previous experience of yoga or mindfulness is required.