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18 Amazing Benefits of Yoga, According to Science

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Yoga is becoming more mainstream in western cultures as those who practice it realize the numerous physical, mental, and emotional benefits that come with the ancient art.

Science has proven that yoga can have a transformative effect on the body, resulting in everything from lowered blood pressure to disease prevention. Here are some of the many health benefits of yoga, as proven by science.

1. Regular Yoga Practice Relieves Stress and Anxiety

Almost every benefit that comes from regularly practicing yoga stems from the activity’s proven stress-reducing properties.

Stress has become the norm in our everyday society. With high-pressure careers, children’s demanding schedules, and little time to focus on self-care, more adults than ever are experiencing dangerously high levels of stress.

Those who experience frequent stress and anxiety are at a higher risk for clinical depression, high blood pressure, chronic disease, insomnia, and a host of other problems. When the body becomes regularly anxious or stressed, it may never get the signal to return to normal functioning.

This can lead to a prolonged ‘fight or flight’ response that is incredibly draining on the body and the mind.

Preliminary research shows that practicing yoga can have the same stress-reducing effects as exercise and relaxation techniques, which makes sense because it is essentially the combination of the two.

The controlled breathing that is inherent in practicing yoga is probably the biggest factor in reducing stress. When focused on breathing, participants have little room to engage in irrational fear, worry, or other obsessive thoughts, many of which are contributing to their stress levels.

Yoga also helps increase mindfulness and the focus on gratitude, both of which help to ease anxiety.

When we take the time to practice yoga, we are taking time to care for ourselves. This has taken a back seat in our current culture, and yoga can teach us to get back to basics.

Focusing just 20 to 30 minutes a day on the self-healing practice of yoga can then lead to other beneficial activities. It can be a gateway to a more calm, focused life.

Bottom Line: Yoga can help reduce stress and anxiety by focusing on breathing and increasing mindfulness and focus on gratitude.

2. Practicing Yoga Improves Cardiovascular Health

Heart health is crucial to our overall wellness. Hypertension and coronary blockage leads to hundreds of thousands of deaths every year.

Relaxation is incredibly helpful when it comes to heart health as it relaxes the blood vessels and reduces blood pressure while increasing blood flow to the heart. Because of its combination of breathing, meditation, and slow controlled movement, yoga is one of the most relaxing exercises on the planet.

Yoga, especially the more energetic forms, also increases the heart rate. This makes it as beneficial to your heart as any other form of exercise. In fact, yoga may actually lower the risk of heart disease as much as traditional exercise such as brisk walking.

Those who are interested in the cardio benefits of yoga should try out the more active forms such as ashtanga yoga, which provide more of a bump in heart rate than other forms. They might also consider pairing a vigorous form of yoga in the morning with a relaxing form in the evening to provide more stress-reducing and sleep benefits.

Individuals who have suffered a heart attack or are recovering from other heart-related issues also benefit from yoga. Because they are unable to perform more strenuous exercises such as jogging or bicycling, the low-key and less strenuous poses of yoga give them the exercise they need without taxing their already strained heart muscle.

In addition, those who have suffered a cardiac event also benefit from the stress-reducing effects of yoga. Having a life-threatening heart attack or stroke can induce acute emotional stress, which continues to have a negative effect on the heart even after the event is over.

Those who have heart-related illnesses often have to face the fact that they have a life-altering condition. This can often cause grief or depression, both of which are proven to be eased by yoga.

Bottom Line: Yoga improves cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure, offering relaxation benefits, and increasing blood flow to the heart. It’s also beneficial for those recovering from a heart attack.

3. Yoga Strengthens Brain Activity

As we age, our brains change. Certain parts, such as the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, shrink. Because these areas are crucial to our learning, memory, planning and other mental activities,

This can lead to frustrating memory lapses, inability to focus, and a struggle to retain new information. In extreme cases, in can even lead to neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Not surprisingly, yoga promotes a more focused, calmer mind through its controlled breathing and focus on relaxation. What may come as a surprise, though, is that yoga can actually change the physical makeup of your brain matter.

Using MRI scans, scientists have detected more cells in certain brain areas of those who practiced yoga regularly. Yoga practitioners had larger brain volume in their somatosensory cortex, visual cortex, hippocampus, precuneus and posterior cingulate cortex. These areas are in charge of visualization, concept of self, and directing attention.

Scientists attribute these benefits to the focused breathing in yoga, which maximizes oxygenation and blood flow to the brain. These benefits also led to fewer depressive symptoms and increased memory performance in practitioners.

The happier and more positive thoughts that flow from yoga can also help change the chemical composition of the brain and ‘rewire’ it to focus more on positive thoughts.

When we break the habit of reacting to stressful events with anxiety and negative thoughts, which yoga helps us do, we encourage the mind to embrace more beneficial thinking. This helps us embrace the present moment and let go of harmful anxiety.

Bottom Line: Yoga helps increase brain matter in various areas of the brain, leading to better memory, less depression and more focus. It also helps rewire the brain for positivity and promotes a calm mind.

4. Practicing Yoga Can Lower the Risk of Cancer

Cancer remains one of the leading causes of death in the United States. In fact, one of four deaths in the U.S. can be attributed to some form of cancer.

Practicing yoga may prevent the genetic mutation from expressing in those who have a family history of cancer. This means that it can have powerful cancer prevention properties. It can also help reduce fat stores in the body, which reduces the likelihood of cancer developing and spreading.

Chronic stress, which yoga helps to reduce, weakens your immune system and leaves you more susceptible to diseases like cancer. It can also enable cancer cells to grow and spread as it increases negative hormones and certain growth factors.

The stress-busting quality of yoga can boost your immune system and regulate hormones, both important cancer-fighting tools.

In addition to cancer prevention, a regular yoga practice with the soothing music from yoga DVDs can also help those who are battling cancer by lowering inflammation, boosting energy, and lifting the mood. One study showed that regularly practicing yoga for three months was effective in improving thenegative moods of those undergoing treatment for breast cancer.

Cancer treatments can also cause fatigue and zap strength in those undergoing them. Yoga has proven beneficial in combating these symptoms and can improve range of motion in patients and help them stay limber and active.

Bottom Line: Yoga can help prevent cancer by reducing fat stores and preventing genetic mutation expression. It can also assist those undergoing cancer treatments by keeping them limber and boosting energy.

5. The Deep Breathing and Poses of Yoga Improve Digestion

Devotees of yoga believe that all health begins in the gut. If we are digesting food, air, water, and energy properly, every other part of the body and mind suffer.

Yoga improves our body’s internal rhythms, which assist in how we digest and detoxify. Even if you don’t currently suffer from any outward signs of impaired digestion, increasing our body’s ability to remove toxins is extremely beneficial.

Many people suffer from poor digestion and constipation. Not only is it uncomfortable, but it can also lead to colon cancer and other diseases.

Still others have developed chronic digestion disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease. These disorders can have a serious impact on our quality of life.

Relying on laxatives or other interventions is not a good way to combat digestive issues, and many find that a high fiber diet is not enough to resolve their issues. That’s where yoga can come in handy.

Deep breathing, the cornerstone of all yoga practices, is like a mild massage for the digestive tract. Breathing brings life force into the body, and helps cleanse it of dangerous toxins.

There are also a number of different poses, such as the peacock and nauli, that are designed specifically to get waste moving through and out of your body. Many of these are best done in the morning on an empty stomach and after a glass of warm water with lemon.

In addition to being helpful for improved digestion on its own, the practice of yoga also encourages individuals to take care of themselves with a healthier diet, more rest, and fewer processed foods and beverages.

The increase in self-care helps not only with digestion, but with feeling good as a whole.

Bottom Line: Yoga helps move toxins through the body with deep breathing and specific poses aimed at improving digestion.

6. Those Who Practice Yoga Are More Aware of What’s Going on in Their Bodies

The term ‘body awareness’ can take many forms, each of which can be enhanced by the practice of yoga.

As we grow into adults, most of us start losing touch with our bodies as matters of the mind take over. We focus so much on our thoughts and feelings, we forget about the mind-body connection and how powerful it is.

This can lead to a reduction in the enjoyment of simple pleasures such as the feel of the sun on our face, or the warm breeze across our skin.

It can also lead to a disconnection between ourselves and our bodies. As we age, this disconnection becomes more pronounced, which is why we often hear of seniors experiencing more falls and accidents than their younger counterparts.

When we’re aware of and connected to our bodies as we step into our yoga pants, we’re able to better enjoy the present moment and understand what impact it has on us both physically and mentally.

Yoga brings body awareness to the forefront. Each pose is focused on one or more body parts and as we breathe in and out, we are only only aware of that breath but also of the part of the body we are currently stretching.

Yoga is also based on being aware of what your body is and is not capable of. Because no pose should be forced, those who are practicing yoga must listen to their body and make adjustments based on what it is telling them.

Bottom Line: Yoga helps increase the mind-body connection. This enhances enjoyment of the present, and also encourages us to be more in tune with how our bodies move.

7. Yoga Practice Lowers Sugar Levels in the Blood, Decreasing Diabetes Symptoms

Diabetes is an epidemic that is becoming quite common in the United States. A condition that is triggered by high blood sugar, either due to lack of insulin production in the body or the body’s lack of response to insulin, diabetes can lead to a dependence on medication, amputations, or even death.

Type 1 diabetes tends to develop in childhood or early adulthood and is usually genetic while type 2 diabetes usually develops in adulthood and is often a product of an unhealthy lifestyle.

Along with lowering blood pressure and keeping weight in check, yoga helps with diabetes by reducing the levels of sugar in the blood, all of which help slow the rate of progression and lessen the severity of complications.

Though it’s a more gentle form of exercise than most people are used to, yoga still provides a workout. The boost in heart rate experienced by yoga practitioners can improve glucose metabolism and increase insulin sensitivity, both beneficial to diabetes sufferers.

Cravings for sweets is a common symptom of diabetes, and the ensuing consumption of sweets only aggravates the problem. Deep breathing, yoga positions, and meditation can help reduce these cravings.

When we become more aware of the mind-body connection through the practice of yoga, we can identify what our bodies really need and make healthy decisions about what we put in our body.

Bottom Line: Regular practice of yoga can decrease blood sugar levels, keep weight in check, and reduce stress, all of which help improve diabetes symptoms.

8. The Practice of Yoga Can Help Regulate Your Adrenal Glands

Adrenal fatigue syndrome can cause lack of energy, disrupted sleep, anxiety, and a number of other symptoms that are triggered by a sustained ‘fight or flight’ response in the body. This can result from prolonged levels of stress, a traumatic event, or a stressful living situation.

When your adrenal glands are not functioning correctly, too much cortisol is released into your body and it compromises your immune function. Those who have adrenal fatigue syndrome get sick more often and have a lowered level of energy to deal with the sickness. They are also more susceptible to osteoporosis and high blood pressure, and tend to gain more fat in the abdomen area.

Mastering the breathing that is the center of all yoga practices is a key element in managing stress levels. Because high stress is the main contributing factor to adrenal issues, it makes sense that this type of breathing will lower cortisol levels and lessen the symptoms of adrenal fatigue syndrome.

When we practice yoga, we also give our minds a chance to quiet down and take a break from any negative our repetitive thoughts that often take over when our adrenal glands are overwhelmed.

This can be a beneficial time to check in with ourselves and identify how we’re feeling. Those experiencing high stress often put themselves last, which only leads to more stress.

Yoga encourages us to to take some time for ourselves. When we look deep, breathe, and practice self-care, we can often deal with negative emotions and the situations that are causing them.

Bottom Line: The regular practice of yoga can reduce stress and lessen the release of cortisol, helping to combat the symptoms of adrenal fatigue syndrome.

9. Yoga Strengthens Bones

Weight-bearing activities have long been known to strengthen bones, which is why many of those who are at risk for osteoporosis are encouraged to begin a strength-training workout regimen. Yoga training, with its many positions that  put pressure on different body parts, can be considered weight-bearing and has shown the ability to build bone mass in scientific studies.

In contrast to other, more intense cardio exercises like jogging or weight training, yoga does not damage cartilage or stress the joints. Instead, it lengthens and holds muscles, which creates tension on the bone. This helps to build bone strength.

The release of cortisol, the hormone triggered by stress, is another factor in osteoporosis. Yoga, with its relaxing and stress-calming nature, can reduce the amount of cortisol that is released and therefore lessen the impact it has on the bones.

As few as a dozen yoga poses held for 30 seconds each, if done on a daily basis, can be enough to ward off osteoporosis and strengthen bones in the spine, arms, and legs.

Bottom Line: Performing weight-bearing exercises, including various yoga poses, can reduce calcium-destroying cortisol and build bone density.

10. The Healing Powers of the Breath Aid in Improved Respiration

Yoga is all about harnessing the healing powers of the breath. Though all of us must breathe to live, most of us do not breathe efficiently.

Experts agree that to feel your best, you should breathe approximately 5 to 6 breaths per minute. However, most of us take anywhere from 14 to 20 breaths per minute, which is three times faster than what is healthy.

Breath changes depending on emotion, and vice versa. When we get panicked, upset, or angry, we tend to breath more shallowly and at a faster rate. When we get used to breathing this way because of chronic stress, our body gets used to it and we develop the habit of breathing quickly even in normal circumstances.

When we breathe at a slow and relaxed pace, we are signaling to the brain that it can rest and that no dangers are present. This reduces stress hormones, turns off danger warnings, and allows our body to recover.

Not only do we turn off the ‘fight or flight’ response of our nervous system when we breathe deeply, but we also increase chest wall expansion and lung volumes. This is beneficial to all who practice yoga, but can be especially important for those dealing with a respiratory illness or condition such as asthma.

Everything in yoga is based on the breath. Pranayamic breathing exercises can be performed anywhere when you are in need of stress relief or relaxation. Make sure the air quality in your practice environment is good, however – consider getting an air purifier if that is not the case.

All other forms of yoga, from the extremely gentle restorative yoga to the more intense vinyasa and ashtanga practices, also rely on a basis of breathing deeply and being aware of how your breathing affects every part of your body and mind.

Bottom Line: All forms of yoga are based on breathing. The regular practice of yoga teaches us how to pay attention to the breath and can improve lung volume and chest capacity, helping those who deal with respiratory issues.

11. Chronic Pain Can Often Be Managed Effectively with Yoga

Chronic pain, whether caused by a disease like fibromyalgia, an accident, or a side effect of treatments for other conditions, can easily impair quality of life. If bad enough, it can also trigger brain structure changes that are linked to impaired cognition, anxiety, and depression.

The regular practice of yoga can help those with chronic pain manage it on a number of levels. If pain is due to muscle or joint issues, such as the case with arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, or back pain, the simple act of regular stretching with a yoga ball chair and range of motion exercises can be enough to significantly reduce pain.

The increased flow of oxygen to brain and muscle tissues that results from the breathing and movement of yoga also help improve energy levels and general feelings of well-being, making it easier to deal with physical pain.

This breathing, combined with the physical movements of yoga, can help release muscle tension held in your body. This often decreases pain or, in some cases, relieves it entirely.

The benefits of yoga as it relates to pain management do not stop there, however, Yoga also appears to increase gray matter in your brain through a process called neurogenesis. There are also indications that it can strengthen white matter connectivity. Many researchers believe that reduction of gray matter and weak connectivity are the most significant factors in chronic pain.

Yogis dealing with pain can also benefit from the stress reduction and decrease in cortisol release the practice brings. This not only helps with tension, but can also help them cope with the anticipation of pain. Instead of having a ‘fight or flight’ reaction to pain, those who have practiced yoga may be able to form a more gentle reaction that does not trigger additional stress.

Bottom Line: The breathing and movement associated with yoga can help those suffering from muscle or joint pain. Regular yoga practice can also trigger changes in the brain that can help chronic pain sufferers deal with and lessen pain symptoms.

12. Those Who Practice Yoga See Fewer Allergy Symptoms

Do you deal with the misery of itchy eyes, scratchy throat, fatigue, and congestion that comes with allergies? Millions of people suffer from allergies brought on by pollen, grass, dust, pet dander, or other substances to the point that it affects their work, their social life, and their sleep.

How do allergies develop? Many scientists have studied the phenomenon and found that an allergic reaction occurs when your immune system over-responds to an otherwise harmless substance. Your body mistakenly treats this substance like a dangerous invader and releases histamines.

Histamines are a faulty immune response, and they can condition the body to display symptoms that start to resemble a disease. Many argue that, to be susceptible to allergies, sufferers may have a compromised immune system, weak digestive system or be experiencing toxic overload.

Yoga addresses many different levels of wellness that can lead to a reduction in allergy symptoms. Stress is a leading cause of a poor immune system and digestive problems, and can also be a toxin that makes the body weaker.

As we’ve already addressed many times in this article, the regular practice of yoga is one of the best stress reducers on the planet. Of the many benefits of stress reduction, an improvement in allergies is just one.

Kriyas, or cleansing practices, are another element of yoga that can help with allergies. These practices range from rapid breathing exercises to gentle cleansing of the nasal passages with salt water, which can remove viruses and pollen from the nose.

Studies have also found that regular yoga practice may reduce inflammation in the body. Another harmful effect of stress, inflammation can worsen allergies and cause attacks to be more severe.

Bottom Line: Those who practice traditional yoga or engage in cleansing kriyas can reduce their susceptibility to allergies and also improve the symptoms associated with them.

13. The Increased Blood Flow and Reduced Stress Associated with Yoga Can Increase Fertility

Couples who have struggled with conceiving a child often turn to fertility drugs or even more intensive measures of in vitro fertilization to realize their dreams of having a baby. Before turning to costly and sometimes side-effect laden treatments, couples should first explore the more gentle treatment of practicing yoga.

Yoga enhances fertility in the ways one might expect: by reducing stress that can often harm the chances of conceiving. Stress can lead to the release of an enzyme, called alpha amylase, which can impact a woman’s fertility. Many women who have problems conceiving are stressed to begin with, then become more stressed as they fail to conceive. This can lead to a vicious cycle where stress continues to increase each month, making it more and more difficult to get pregnant.

In addition to stress reduction, yoga can also increase blood flow to reproductive organs, which not only improves their function but also improves hormone function.

All regular yoga practices can help with fertility, but those who are actively trying to conceive may benefit from the more targeted fertility yoga practice. This is aimed specifically at nurturing, supporting, and strengthening the endocrine and reproductive system.

Fertility yoga incorporates specific poses that re-balances the system and strengthens muscles and organs that are used during pregnancy and childbirth. This helps make for a healthy pregnancy once a woman conceives.

Bottom Line: The stress reduction and rebalancing benefits of yoga can help women who want to conceive. Those struggling with fertility issues may want to practice targeted fertility yoga that helps with both conception and a healthy pregnancy.

14. A Consistent Yoga Practice Can Lead to a Balanced Metabolism

Your metabolism is the basic biochemical process that converts the food you eat into the energy you need to live. A sluggish metabolism can mean weight gain, low energy, and problems with regularity.

Though long thought to be a practice focused mostly on relaxation and stretching, yoga can actually be a moderately strenuous workout that increases muscle, increases heart rate, and revs up the fire of your metabolism.

In addition to increasing heart rate to boost metabolism, the practice of yoga also affects digestion, circulation, and muscle tone, all of which have an impact on how efficiently your body creates energy.

With the majority of your digestive tract located in your core, the yoga positions that engage the abdomen, especially those that involve twisting or bringing the knees to the chest, can wring out toxins and encourage waste to pass through your body.

Circulation is another factor important to your metabolism. If your body has poor circulation, your organs suffer from a lack of nutrients and oxygen, which slows metabolism. The deep breathing inherent in yoga helps open up arteries and release pressure, all of which help with proper circulation.

Many people make the mistake of thinking yoga is not strenuous enough to build muscle mass. However, the weight bearing features of many of the poses target large and small muscle groups, building them in size and density.

When we build muscle, we not only increase strength, but we also burn more calories. Muscle burns more than fat, and the more calories we burn, the more our metabolism rate increases.

Bottom Line: Yoga has an effect on digestion, circulation, and building muscle, all of which positively affect your metabolism.

15. Practicing Yoga at any Time of Day Helps You Sleep Better

Sleep is crucial to our energy levels, mood, concentration, and ability to be happy and successful in our everyday lives.

Those most sleep experts recommend that adults get 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep per night, most of us get far less than this. Even if you are in bed for the necessary hours, inability to get to sleep, waking up frequently, or tossing and turning can turn those hours into less-than-quality rest.

Insomnia or reduced sleep quality can be the product of stress, underlying illness or disease, poor sleeping conditions, vitamin deficiency, or hundreds of other factors. This often makes it difficult to identify what issues are at play.

Though every person may have a different reason for not sleeping well, yoga can have a beneficial effect on everyone’s sleep quality. Because the nervous system is responsible for a restful sleep, yoga’s calming effects are especially helpful.

A calm mind leads to a calm body, both of which play a part in how easy it is to get to sleep and how restful that sleep is. Many people are bothered by a ‘busy mind’ that simply cannot shut off at the end of the day.

Yoga teaches us how to breathe deeply and disconnect from our worries and from those distracting thoughts that tend to keep us up at night. By giving ourselves the tools to put thoughts aside and instead focus on our breath, we give ourselves an excellent tool for the perfect night of sleep.

Although a regular yoga practice done consistently at any time of day will undoubtedly affect your sleep, those who really struggle may benefit from poses done at night that are specifically aimed at helping you sleep more soundly.

These poses include uttasnasanahalasana, and savasana and should be done as close to bedtime as possible.

Others benefit more from a Kundalini yoga sequence before bed that incorporates long, slow breathing and meditation. It’s best to try out both methods to see what leads to a better night of sleep for you.

The Bottom Line: The stress-relieving benefits of a consistent yoga practice can help improve your sleep quality. Those with sleeping problems can also benefit from a bedtime routine that includes specific poses or deep breathing paired with meditation.

16. All Forms of Yoga Work Wonders on Your Range of Motion

Range of motion is important to our overall quality of life, and it decreases as we age. Important for injury prevention as well as as our ability to do daily tasks with minimal discomfort, range of motion can be increased with regular yoga.

Why does range of motion decrease as we age and how can yoga combat this? As we get older, the tissue around joints tend to thicken and cartilage decreases. The knees and hips are especially susceptible to these depletions, making them more prone to injury in older individuals.

As muscle mass decreases, this also affects our range of motion as we age. Our ease of movement decreases, and general fitness levels tend to drop.

When range of motion decreases, it often triggers a snowball effect. Movement becomes more difficult, so individuals tend to move less often. This, in turn, triggers more movement impairment.

Yoga is based on controlled, prolonged stretching. This type of movement is still comfortable for those who are experiencing a lack of flexibility or injury that restricts range of motion.

Not only is yoga a practical exercise for those in this situation, but it also tends to reverse the lack of flexibility that they experience.

A daily practice of prolonged stretching that is inherent in any yoga program elongates the muscles and enables joint flexibility.

The slow, deliberate process of gently stretching muscles over a long period of time is both beneficial and achievable for those of all ages. It can be done throughout the lifetime and rarely needs to be suspended due to injury or other ailments.

Bottom Line: The gentle and prolonged stretching that makes up the core of yoga helps increase range of motion and preserve it throughout the lifetime.

17. Practicing Yoga Can Help Treat Arthritis

Arthritis is an excruciating affliction that severely impacts quality of life. Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, can occur at any age, and is triggered by a faulty immune system. Osteoarthritis, or OA, is a degenerative disorder that usually takes place as a person ages. It’s estimated that there are over three million cases of OA in the United States per year.

While medication can greatly help both those suffering from RA and OA, exercise is always recommended as well. Because arthritis is characterized by painful swelling in the joints, many forms of traditional exercise may be unbearable.

Yoga is incredibly easy on the joints and is usually a comfortable activity for even the most severe arthritis sufferers. The gentle stretching of yoga can ease joint discomfort and the focused breathing can help those in pain distance deal with the chronic distress.

The muscle-building and energy-boosting effects of yoga can also help those with arthritis. OA and RA tend to zap energy, which leads to a sedentary lifestyle and muscle atrophy. Those who practice yoga tend to be more active, which lessens arthritis symptoms.

The psychological benefits of yoga on those suffering from arthritis are also to be noted. Those with arthritis who regularly practice yoga suffer from less depression, improved coping abilities, stress reduction and an enhanced sense of well-being.

Bottom Line: Yoga is a safe and effective form of exercise for those suffering from both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. It helps ease joint discomfort and boosts energy and a sense of well-being.

18. Practicing Yoga Leads to a Healthy Lifestyle and Enhanced Self-Care

Bad choices lead to more bad choices. A lack of exercise can easily lead into bad eating habits, which leads to weight gain, which leads to even less exercise.

A sedentary and unhealthy lifestyle results in a depressed mood, low energy levels, and an overall pessimistic attitude.

Sometimes, it just takes one thing to start turning it all around. Yoga can be that one thing.

Because it can be practiced by individuals at any age and in any shape, yoga is a practice that can be adopted by virtually everyone.

Yoga increases our awareness, which often leads practitioners to start making changes in every part of their lives. As they develop more self-awareness, they often make changes that include healthier food choices, fewer toxic relationships, and more time to take care of themselves.

Over time, these choices add up to a much healthier and happier lifestyle. The increase in overall quality of life can even equal more years on your life.

Bottom Line: Yoga increases self-awareness, which leads to other healthy choices and overall increase in wellness and happiness.

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The Science of Stress, Orgasm and Creativity: How the Brain and the Vagina Conspire in Consciousness

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“To understand the vagina properly is to realize that it is not only coextensive with the female brain, but is also, essentially, part of the female soul.”
“The more closely we analyze what we consider ‘sexy,’” philosopher Alain de Botton argued inhis meditation on sex“the more clearly we will understand that eroticism is the feeling of excitement we experience at finding another human being who shares our values and our sense of the meaning of existence.” But in his attempt to counter the reductionism that frames human sexuality as a mere physiological phenomenon driven solely by our evolutionary biology, de Botton overcompensates by reducing in the opposite direction, negating the complex interplay of brain and biology, psychology and physiology, that propels the human sexual experience. That’s precisely what Naomi Wolf, author of the 1991 cultural classic The Beauty Myth, examines in Vagina: A New Biography (public library) — a fascinating exploration of the science behind the vastly misunderstood mind-body connection between brain and genitalia, consciousness and sexuality, the poetic and the scientific. What emerges is a revelation of how profoundly a woman’s bodily experience influences nearly every aspect of life, from stress to creativity, through the intricate machinery that links biology and beingness.
Wolf writes:
Female sexual pleasure, rightly understood, is not just about sexuality, or just about pleasure. It serves, also, as a medium of female self-knowledge and hopefulness; female creativity and courage; female focus and initiative; female bliss and transcendence; and as medium of a sensibility that feels very much like freedom. To understand the vagina properly is to realize that it is not only coextensive with the female brain, but is also, essentially, part of the female soul.
[…]
Once one understands what scientists at the most advanced laboratories and clinics around the world are confirming — that the vagina and the brain are essentially one network, or “one whole system,” as they tend to put it, and that the vagina mediates female confidence, creativity, and sense of transcendence — the answers to many of these seeming mysteries fall into place.

Handcrafted vagina embroidery by artist Kira Scarlet
A pivotal player in this mediation is the female pelvic nerve — a sort of information superhighway that branches out from the base of the spinal cord to the cervix, connecting the latter to the brain and thus controlling much of sexual response. But this information superhighway is really more like a superlabyrinth, the architecture of which differs enormously from one woman to another, and is completely unique for each one. This diversity of wiring in the highly complex female pelvic neural network helps explain why women have wildly different triggers for orgasm. (By contrast, the male pelvic neural network is significantly simpler, consisting of comparatively regular neural pathways arranged neatly in a grid that surrounds the penis in a circle of pleasure.) This biological reality, Wolf points out, clashes jarringly with the dominant culturally constructed fantasy of how sexual intercourse is supposed to proceed:
The pornographic model of intercourse — even our culture’s conventional model of intercourse, which is quick, goal-oriented, linear, and focused on stimulation of perhaps one or two areas of a woman’s body — is just not going to do it for many women, or at least not in a very profound way, because it involves such a superficial part of the potential of women’s neurological sexual response systems.

Embroidery from the series ‘Lessons from My Mother’ by artist Andrea Dezsö
Another key component of sexual experience is the autonomic nervous system (ANS) — the puppeteer of arousal, controlling all smooth muscle contractions and affecting the body’s response beyond conscious control. It encompasses both the sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions, and ensures they work in unison. Because arousal precedes orgasm, the ANS first needs to do its own work before the complex pelvic neural network can work its own magic.
Wolf writes:
For women, sexual response involves entering an altered state of consciousness. … In women, the biology of arousal is more delicate than most of us understand, and it depends significantly on this sensitive, magical, slowly calmed, and easily inhibited system.
To be sure, Wolf reminds us that it’s not at all uncommon for women to have a physiological response during rape, despite the enormous psychological pain and stress of the assault, but this response is not the same as the transcendent, dimensional orgasm that takes place when brain and body work in harmonious bliss. This also holds true in sexual situations that aren’t as violent as rape but still assault the ANS in one way or another:
If a woman’s ANS response is ignored, she can have intercourse and even climax; but she won’t necessarily feel released, transported, fulfilled, or in love, because only a superficial part of her capacity to respond has been made love to, or engaged.
In fact, the most fascinating aspect of the ANS, absolutely critical yet poorly understood, is that it is profoundly impacted by the mental landscape, steering the immutable interdependence between brain and vagina. The ANS, which serves as the translator between the psychological and the physiological, is thus particularly vulnerable to what psychologists call “bad stress.” (By contrast, the “good stress” many women experience in exciting or mock-dangerous sexual scenarios which they still control can be compelling and pleasurable.) “Bad stress” stems from the perceived lack of safety, and the presence of safety is absolutely essential to catapulting the female brain into the kind of “high” orgasm that is only possible in this disinhibited trance state.
Wolf explains:
This biological, evolutionary connection for women of possible ecstasy to emotional security has implications that cannot be overstressed. Relaxing allows for female arousal.
Just as being valued and relaxed can heighten female sexual response, “bad stress” can dramatically interfere with all of women’s sexual processes.
[…]
“Bad stress,” researchers have now abundantly confirmed, has exactly the same kind of negative effect on female arousal and on the vagina itself. When a woman feels threatened or unsafe, the sympathetic nervous system — the parasympathetic nervous system’s partner in the ANS — kicks in. This system regulates the “fight or flight” response: as adrenaline and catecholamines are released in the brain, nonessential systems such as digestion and, yes, sexual response, close down; circulation constricts, because the heart needs all the blood available to help the body run or fight; and the message to the body is “get me out of here.” Based on [research insights], we now know that threatening environment — which can include even vague verbal threats centered on the vagina or dismissive language about the vagina — can close down female sexual response.
This notion that biology conditions consciousness and vice versa, of course, isn’t new. But the research Wolf cites presents compelling evidence that “bad stress,” especially rape and early sexual trauma, can have profound biological effects:
There is growing, if still preliminary, evidence that rape and early sexual trauma can indeed “stay in the body” — even stay in the vagina — and change the body on the most intimate, systemic level. Recovery is possible, but treatment should be specialized. Rape and early sex abuse can indeed permanently change the working of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) — so crucial for female arousal; and, if she is not supported by the right treatment, it can permanently alter the way a woman breathes, the rate of her heart, her blood pressure, and her startle reaction, in a manner that is not under any conscious control.
Even more strikingly, some studies have found that elevated SNS activation is linked to a variety of health hazards seemingly unrelated to sexual trauma, including vertigo, motor control and balance issues, visual processing problems, and elevated startle response. In other words, sexual abuse alters the brain in a way that sabotages multiple body systems and damages healthy stress response. Wolf recapitulates the implications poignantly:
Understood in this way, and with this significant evidence, rape and sexual assault, with their attendant trauma, should be understood not just as a form of forced sex; they should also be understood as a form of injury to the brain and body, and even as a variant of castration.
Demonstrating just how strong the connection between mind and body is, Korean researchers discovered that stress and sexual trauma actually affect, on a biological level, the very functioning of the vagina. Studying female rats, they found that “chronic physical stress modifies [sexual behavior] through a mechanism believed to involve complex changes in sex hormones, endocrine factors, and neurotransmitters.” What’s more, they were able to identify the precise biological mechanism responsible for this deep-seated interplay:
Evidently nitric oxide (NO) and nitric oxide synthase (NOS) play important roles in vaginal and clitoral engorgement — helping the smooth muscle of the vagina relax and the vaginal tissues swell in preparation for arousal and orgasm — and these chemicals and their actions are inhibited when females are negatively stressed.
The researchers found that the stressed-out female rats were less receptive and more hostile to their male partners, displaying measurable aggression and irritability, and ultimately refusing to copulate. Stress, it turns out, diminished the female rats’ ability to reach arousal by greatly impairing their genital blood flow. The scientists concluded:
In animal model studies, mental or physical stress increases the level of serum catecholamines, thereby causing vascular contraction, which in turn reduces blood flow and leads to sexual dysfunction. . . . Since stress is concomitant with an increased output of catecholamines in blood . . . it is reasonable to assume that blood flow to the genital organs reduces during periods of stress. . . . [W]e measured norepinephrine as an indirect index of catecholamine level and found that it increased in the stress group and decreased in the recovery group. This result indirectly supports the suggestion that stress affects female genital blood flow.
Most ominous of all was the projection that if such stress levels were sustained over time, the physiological changes they cause would eventually affect the vaginal tissue itself. Indeed, researchers tested those tissues after the female rats were dead and found “biologically measurable changes.”
Women, of course, are not rats, but this only means that the effects of such stress are even more profound. Wolf argues that besides impairing women’s ability to reach orgasm, “bad stress” also affects the overall capacity for joy, hopefulness, and creativity. Unlike rats, humans are also susceptible to forms of abuse beyond the physical — Wolf cites the tragically prevalent cultural tendency to deride the vagina and its owner, embedded even in the slang we have for female genitalia.
She writes:
The role of manipulating female stress in targeting the vagina should not be ignored. This behavior—ridiculing the vagina—makes perfect instinctive sense. These acts are often impersonal and tactical—strategies for directing a kind of pressure at women that is not consciously understood but may be widely intuited, and even survive in folk memory, as eliciting a wider neuropsychological “bad stress” response that actually debilitates women.
She cites one particularly unsettling example:
In 2010, male Yale students gathered at a “Take Back the Night” event, where their female classmates were marching in a group, protesting against sexual assault. The young men chanted at the protesters, “No means yes and yes means anal.” Some of the young women brought a lawsuit against the university, arguing that tolerating such behavior created an unequal educational environment. Ethically they are in the right, and neurobiologically they are right as well. Almost all young women who face a group of their male peers chanting such slogans are likely to feel instinctively slightly panicked. On some level they are getting the message that they may be in the presence of would-be rapists — making it impossible to shrug off immature comments, as women are often asked to do. They sense there is a wider risk to them that is being threatened, and indeed there is, but it is not just the risk of sexual assault. If they are stressed regularly in this way, they will indeed depress the whole subtle and delicate network of neurobiological triggers and reactions that make them feel good, happy, competent, and as if they know themselves.
One study termed the complex and lasting effects of such stress, an increasingly recognizable medical pattern, “multisystem dysfunction” — and it can effect such a wide array of physical health issues as higher risk of diabetes and heart disease, hormonal imbalances, and fertility problems. But the most damaging consequences of these physical changes, Wolf argues, are cognitive and psychoemotional:
The female body reacts in the same way to “bad stress” whether the context is the birthing room or the university or the workplace. If the female brain senses that an environment is not safe, its stress response inhibits all the same organs and systems, regardless of setting. Many of the signals that either stoke or diminish female desire have to do with the female brain’s question: Is it safe for her?
So if a woman goes to work or to study in a sexually dangerous or threatening atmosphere day after day, she risks — because of the cumulative, long-term effect of that “bad stress” — having the letting-go, creative “relaxation response” inhibited even outside her work or school environment.
[…]
If you sexually stress a woman enough, over time, other parts of her life are likely to go awry; she will have difficulty relaxing in bed eventually, as well as in the classroom or in the office. This in turn will inhibit the dopamine boost she might otherwise receive, which would in turn prevent the release of the chemicals in her brain that otherwise would make her confident, creative, hopeful, focused — and effective, especially relevant if she is competing academically or professionally with you. With this dynamic in mind, the phrase “fuck her up” takes on new meaning.
[…]
The vagina responds to the sense of female safety, in that circulation expands, including to the vagina, when a woman feels she is safe; but the blood vessels to the vagina constrict when she feels threatened. This may happen before the woman consciously interprets her setting as threatening. So if you continually verbally threaten or demean the vagina in the university or in the workplace, you continually signal to the woman’s brain and body that she is not safe. “Bad” stress is daily raising her heart rate, pumping adrenaline through her system, circulating catecholamines, and so on. This verbal abuse actually makes it more difficult for her to attend to the professional or academic tasks before her.

Cartoon by Emily Flake from ‘The Big Feminist BUT: Comics about Women, Men and the Ifs, Ands & Buts of Feminism.’ Click image for more.
Yet despite the compelling scientific evidence, the most moving and encompassing point Wolf makes is an anthropological one:
The way in which any given culture treats the vagina — whether with respect or disrespect, caringly or disparagingly — is a metaphor for how women in general in that place and time are treated.

Vagina: A New Biography is absolutely fascinating in its entirety. For a less scientific but no less pause-giving take, complement it with The Big Feminist BUT: Comics about Women, Men and the Ifs, Ands & Buts of Feminism, then revisitSusan Sontag on sex.

Found @ http://www.brainpickings.org/2013/09/23/naomi-wolf-vagina/

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Tantric Meditation: Practicing Sensory Awareness

Tantric Meditation: Practicing Sensory Awareness

“In just fifteen minutes every woman can become orgasmic,” the PDF promised. It was part of a press kit for a new book about sex called Slow Sex: The Art and Craft of the Female Orgasm by Nicole Daedone. That the PDF told me all kinds of other things about the book, its philosophy and practice and its author, didn’t matter, all I could do was groan.

I’ve become weary over the years of advice writers, self-help gurus, and authors who capitalize on sex by perpetuating messages that further hinder the enjoyment of our bodies instead of helping us. You’ve seen me rail against the lie-detector techniques perpetuated by AskMen.comGQ‘s sex-for-chores barter system and even this new craze with the 40 beads. I worry because these suggestions focus on sex in a way that makes it about everything but sex.

They make it a goal-oriented exercise. Or they make it a bargaining tool. Or they make it an obligation. None of them address the real issue many of us face: that we are dissatisfied with our sex lives. None of them equip us with tools or even ideas as to how to begin making sex more satisfactory.

The last thing I needed was someone else promising women they could become orgasmic in 15 minutes, so we can feel like we’re broken if, after said time, We find no orgasm is forthcoming. But, with the exclusion of the bead thing, I am not one to jump to conclusions without giving anything some serious thought, so I scheduled an interview for the next day, downloaded Daedone’s book and sat down to read.

 

 

This is slightly unusual in a person, but I really like being wrong. Unlike the press materials I’d skimmed, Slow Sex refused to let me skim. Any sex educator who can stand up to a publisher and get them to approve — in what is essentially a sex manual — a first chapter that talks about cooking with grandma is a force to be reckoned with.

When she was a teenager, Daedone’s grandmother taught her how to cook. It didn’t come easy — in fact, it all started with Daedone’s grandmother flat out rejecting a dish Daedone had cooked for her during home ec. Her reason? That young Daedone had killed the meal with the recipe. Thus her grandmother undertook the task of teaching her granddaughter how to cook, really cook, not by following instructions, but by going with instinct. Cooking as an art. This, Daedone says, is what sex should be about.

“When I went to the publisher,” Daedone would recall later when we were speaking on the phone. “One of my tasks was to make sure this was one that’d understand that I didn’t want to write a recipe book: I wanted to teach people how to actually cook good sex. There are so many recipe books out there for sex, with all these weird positions and necessary ingredients, and that’s fine to enjoy, but no one tells people the basics, and they need to know the basics before they get to the variations. There are all kinds of things you can include in sex, but all these elements are really high-level and we need to handle the fundamental thing first, which is ‘do I really know how to feel?'”

What happens, for example, if the recipe calls for toys and sexy movies and lingerie, to be mixed to taste until they result in two orgasms, but only one is had?

What happens, she says, is that sex starts looking like a problem.

“Because we’re human and we exist in a paradigm of wrong, we are trigger-happy when it comes to identifying problems,” Daedone writes in Slow Sex. “We are always on the lookout for someone or something to blame. We think there is something wrong with us, or with our relationship, or with our partner. The artsy-ness of sex, its frustrating refusal to abide by the laws of mechanics, puts us into the difficult position of wondering why things aren’t going the way they’re ‘supposed’ to be going.”

Men often go at like they’re fixing something, she says. Women, on the other hand, tend to become concerned with making their sexual encounters look the way they think they’re supposed to look, as dictated by Hollywood, or Porn Valley, or vampire fiction novels, or the stories shared by their girlfriends. Much of the time, when we think this way, we get stuck on the destination instead of enjoying the journey.

“There is no solving the problem of sex,” Daedone recounts telling a class. “If there’s no solving the problem of sex, they must wonder, why on earth are they here? They want solutions. They were promised a technique. They want to know how any woman can be orgasmic in 15 minutes — did I not read my own marketing materials?”

Her answer to their questioning glances: Sex is not a problem.

Sensory Awareness

Slow Sex does provide exercises and guidelines but it also manages to stay true to its message that it is not a recipe book for perfect sex (or any kind of sex), by focusing its exercises and guidelines on something else completely: sensory awareness, what Daedone calls “orgasmic meditation.”

“It started with standard meditation,” Daedone told me when we spoke. “I had a siting meditation practice and yoga practice, but I’d never seen these concepts applied in the domain of sexuality. Then I met someone who introduced me to the concept of sex as a meditation practice. I had such a profound experience. That’s what orgasmic meditation is, the basic principles of meditation applied to orgasm. I have made some modifications to what I have learned to tailor it to a woman’s body, because it’s important to have the practice made for a woman’s body, rather than have the woman’s body try to accommodate the definitions for the practice.”

Like meditation, the sensory exercise that Deadone has developed is about simplicity. By learning to focus and reconnect with our sensory data and our bodies, we enable ourselves to find the place where orgasm is possible.

But those who practice orgasmic meditation are not chasing after orgasm. This is an exercise looking to experience the whole spectrum of sensation.

So what is it? In short, orgasmic meditation is a lights-on 15 minute session between a woman and her partner that involves the woman reclining with her legs spread and her partner stimulating her clitoris. After the time is up, both partners share a brief description of a memorable moment of sensation during their session.

It may not seem like much. Or, it may seem terrifying to recline with our legs wide open and the light on, and our partner focused completely on the continued stroking of our clits. But it inculcates three core elements that are fundamental to fulfilling sex.

Stripping Expectations

This, as I’ve said, isn’t about climax. It’s about sensation. It’s about becoming aware of our bodies. To do this, the most important thing to do is let go of our expectations. There is no goal. No climax, no fireworks, no great transcendental union between you and your partner.

“Most people find it baffling that I want to remove the goal of orgasm, especially when so many women are frustrated because they have a hard time achieving it,” Daedone said. “The problem with a goal is that working exclusively towards it takes a woman outside of herself, so instead of the experience being about her sensations, the goal of orgasm becomes more important. Of course she’s going to lose touch with what she’s feeling!”

By extension — and because orgasmic meditation requires a single position to be maintained — there is no need to cater to any image we have about what sex is supposed to look like.

“Our poor little orgasms can’t stand under the weight of all these expectations and things we put on top of it!” Daedone told me laughing. She’s so right.

Starting with Sensation

“The main event is sensation,” Daedone reiterated during our talk, a message she expresses in the book again and again. This is journey sex, not destination sex. While it may or may not include a climax, it is so closely tied to sensation that it becomes a more pronounced sexual experience than the race many of us have come to know as sex.

Here, when we consider what we feel, we part with emotion. Too often, by using the word “feeling” so loosely, we confuse emotions with sensation. This is not about emotion. This is about the sensory experience. Try a little experiment and see how it goes: the next time you have sex, focus on the experience in your genitals.

“Isn’t that what we do when we have sex, we feel our genitals?” Daedone asks in the book. “If you’re like most of us, you’ll discover the surprising truth that you have been spending most of your sex life thinking about everything but the feeling in your genitals.”

This is why orgasmic meditation is central to Daedone’s philosophy. In order to get to a place where we are ready to experience incredible sex, we need to be able to experience. And perhaps this is why “orgasmic meditation” might not be the right term for it. It’s more about allowing yourself to experience the sensory symphony of your own body under someone else’s touch.

Even so, it is very much an exercise in meditation, as it’s not enough to pay attention: sensory awareness requires focus on both the part of the person stroking and the person receiving. This focus is something that must be cultivated, and that requires as much discipline and practice as any other form of meditation.

Open Communication

This is the hardest item on the list: you have to talk to your partner about what you really want.

“I don’t know if it’s some massive conspiracy or what, but somehow over the growing-up process women receive little positive reinforcement for speaking our desires,” Daedone writes. “We’re cautioned every step of the way not to voice our sexual desires, for fear of looking like a ‘bad woman,’ appearing too needy, stumbling down the supposedly slippery slope toward promiscuity, or — this is a big one — permanently damaging the supposedly fragile male ego. Whatever the reason, the result is that we women fall into patterns of pleasing others, especially during sex. By the time we’re adults, and we actually want sexual satisfaction enough to ask for it, we find that a sort of desire paralysis has set in. We’ve kept our desires so well hidden that we don’t even remember where we put them.”

Here, too, the exercise of orgasmic meditation with a partner offers a way for those who practice it to reconnect with their desires: following each session, both partners are to reflect and discuss in descriptive terms what they experienced during those fifteen minutes of meditation. But self-exploration extends beyond that — Daedone suggests keeping a journal and giving yourself eight minutes on a regular basis to concentrate on what your sex wants and writing it down.

“Start off with, ‘what my sex wants right now is…’ and let your desire do the talking from there,” she says. “Try not to censor yourself — if your sex wants to get fucked, if it wants to be naughty, if it wants to do things your conscious mind would never have thought to do, let it have its say. You’re not responsible for anything it says or does; your only job is to give it space to roam — and to take notes. If your desire takes you to a place that doesn’t feel comfortable to you, never fear. You are not agreeing to actually act on this list — all you’re agreeing to do is to write it down.”

You can incorporate your partner on this exercise as well, by having him write in his own journal, then reading out loud what you’ve written and asking him to share one sensation he felt while you read. You can then invite him to read his own entry out loud to you while you pay attention to the sensations the words evoke in your body.

Central to orgasmic meditation is the idea that a couple is exploring themselves in a new way, which makes discussion of what one wants easier, and enabling one’s partner to view it as separate from their usual sexual experience, though the sessions have a tendency to inform the former, even if at first only in a subconscious way.

Of course, orgasmic meditation is not just about a woman receiving caresses from her partner. Daedone does believe in reciprocity and includes an appendix in the book about how to engage in orgasmic meditation with a man. But she also believes that women are at the end of a lot more negative conditioning about sex and they need the energy of this practice to focus on them first, to do away with their inhibitions, fears, shame and guilt.

Starting with the women first also enables men to explore the female body in a way they may never have explored it, allowing them time to become more in tune with it and their partner’s responses. As a result, Daedone often tells a couple to focus orgasmic meditation on the woman for at least six months before switching up the roles between the partners.

Want more? You can watch Nicole Daedone address the audience of TEDx San Francisco about her book and purpose below:

 

What do you think of orgasmic meditation? Would you try it with your partner?

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