Yoga is a Sanskrit word that means “union or coming together”. Dating back more than 5000 years, it is a powerful practice that can create synergy between mind-body complexes. This synergy is important to maintain a healthy, happy life. Yoga postures or asanas are the most well-known aspect of yoga, but it also consists of breathing exercises, meditation and knowledge of ethical living practices, all these can help with mental and physical well-being.

In today’s world, if there is an omnipresent phenomenon that affects people from all nationalities, ages, gender, and races, it is stress. Stress has slowly become a part of the current human experience. Stress can be triggered by an unpleasant conversation with a coworker, an impending deadline, traffic, family pressures, worry about the future, or just by listening/reading the news. Chronic low-level stress is a way of life for most adults. Chronic stress keeps the sympathetic nervous system active and depresses the para-sympathetic nervous system. This imbalance creates a multitude of health problems like insomnia, high BP, cardiovascular issues, obesity, mood disorders, digestive disorders, and even cancer. According to a WHO report, these non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are responsible for 41 million deaths, which is 71% of all deaths globally. NCDs are difficult to manage/cure with just western medicine. More and more people are now turning towards the holistic techniques of well-being, and in those yoga is amongst the most popular. In 2015 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) found that 9.5% of the US adults, or 21 million used yoga as a complementary health approach. This number has grown since then as thousands of people are discovering the benefits of yoga each day.

Here are six ways in which yoga can change your life :

1. Yoga reduces stress: Yoga has been shown to increase Heart Rate Variability. Increased HRV is a sign of increased relaxation and reduced stress. Yoga has also been shown to reduce cortisol, the hormone indicator for stress. The components of stretching, deep breathing, and meditation relax the body and calm the mind. They bring one to the present moment and moderate the incessant flow of the thoughts that create stress. Pranayama and breathing techniques like Sudarshan Kriya have been shown to reduce stress significantly.

2. Yoga helps you sleep: With the constant pressure to manage responsibilities and to be “on” at all times, most of us have trouble sleeping. Many illnesses and health problems are associated with insomnia including cancer, chronic pain conditions such as arthritis and fibromyalgia, and depression. Several studies have been conducted on the impact of yoga on sleep, including at Harvard Medical School. Yoga has been shown to improve sleep, impacting the onset, duration, and quality of sleep. Simple techniques like savasana and yoga nidra are highly beneficial for sleep.

3. Yoga makes you look younger: A recent study published in JAMA Dermatology showed that practising face yoga postures for 20 weeks made women look three years younger. The good news is that yoga also makes you younger at a deeper level than your skin. Yoga has been shown to reduce inflammation and improve circulation. These reduce the ageing process in the body.

4. Yoga makes you happy: Yoga makes you happy, not just because you feel you did something good for yourself and feel calm and peaceful, but it also impacts the neurochemical pathways of happiness. Researchers at the Boston University Medical School found higher levels of the amino acid GABA in people after practising just one hour of yoga, and with regular practice as well. People who suffer from depression and anxiety have very low levels of these amino acids in their bodies. Yoga is also shown to release oxytocin — which is an essential hormone for social bonding and happiness. When oxytocin levels are high, one feels a greater sense of connection with others and us. A study in India showed yoga also increases levels of serotonin, the hormone responsible for feeling happy and regulating our mood. Yoga impacts our brain in wonderfully positive ways and makes us healthy and happy.

5. Yoga keeps you mentally and physically healthy: The amazing thing about yoga is that it is highly customisable. There are postures and breathing techniques specific to help with different conditions like diseases, pregnancy, and even increasing creativity and focus. A good yoga teacher can help you tailor your practice to focus on areas that are important to you. Current research has also found yoga to be an effective tool to reduce depression and anxiety. Yoga has also been shown to increase endurance for pain. Numerous studies have shown the benefits of yoga in managing NCDs like diabetes, obesity, BP, and even cancer. In an increasingly stressful world, yoga is an easy, effective and economically viable way to keep oneself healthy.

6. Yoga makes you smart and creative: Yoga has been shown to activate the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in our body and is the command central for Para-sympathetic Nervous System. Stress and anxiety suppress vagus nerve activity. When the vagus nerve is not active we tend to react rather than respond and act from a fearful, fight, or flight state. We tend to make more mistakes and take rash decisions. Yoga activates the vagus nerve, thereby allowing us to access the parts of the brain responsible for creativity, higher cognition, and logical thinking. Yoga relaxes the body and the brain, allows us to take actions from a calm space, and brings forth the hidden talents in us.

A beautiful and effective combination of yoga postures, breathing exercises, and meditation can be found in the Art of Living Happiness Program. Taking a few minutes to practice these effective yet easy yoga techniques can truly transform your life.

The author is the Executive Director of Sri Sri Institute for Advanced Research (SSIAR) which is the research wing of the Art of Living.

Yoga postures or asanas are the most well-known aspect of yoga, but it also consists of breathing exercises, meditation and knowledge of ethical living practices—all these can help with mental and physical well-being.

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