Yoga is a mind-body system that has been practiced for several centuries in the Eastern world. Tai-chi and meditation are the other mind-body approaches that have originated from the East. The mind-body approach focuses on meditation, breathing and postures for the implementation of the desired yoga effects. Yoga is considered as a system that teaches the participant to develop physical and mental relaxation by the use of stretching of different muscle groups of the body. Such activity results in total flexibility and balance of the participant.
Yoga employs a battery of stationary bodily conformations that employ isometric contraction and relation of specific muscles in the body, resulting in unique body alignments. Yoga also consists of deep relaxation exercises which are very easily learned even by senior-aged participants. It has been determined that yoga improves the cognitive ability of an individual (Saper et al. , 2004). In addition, it also generates positive influences on the participant’s mood and significantly decreases stress levels. Such results are comparable to aerobic exercise which is, unfortunately, beneficial to a specific group of people (Berger and Owen, 1992).
Yoga also teaches participants to be more aware of their body’s physiological processes, including breathing, contraction and relaxation of muscles, hence this mind-body system influences a major improvement of the participants’ attention. The lessons learned on attentional focus may then be applied to daily living, including work, driving, reading and sleeping. The effect of yoga on the improvement of an individual’s attention involves the enhancement of the capability of the central nervous system to process internal and external signals. Such improvement is also strongly associated with the psychological functioning of the individual.
Any disruptions in the normal functioning of the brain result in an imbalance in the individual’s perception of physical and mental entities. More importantly, attention is also key to the degree of alertness of an individual. Alertness is influenced by several factors including cognition, language and memory. Attention is the most important brain process and is susceptible to immediately respond to external stimuli, including psychopharmacological drugs such as cholinesterase inhibitors, serotonin reuptake inhibitors and neurotransmitters.
Yoga has been determined to enhance an individual’s alertness level by teaching techniques in sustaining attention, in concentrating, and in learning how to divide and shift attention should certain situations dictate the need for it. The exercises involved in yoga employs the frontal lobe of the brain that is involved in the functional imaging of an individual. The effects of yoga on the brain may be measured in terms of an individual’s improved capability for memorization, which is the major component that is affected in geriatric and psychiatric patients.
Alongside the improvement in alertness levels, yoga also improves the mood of an individual, which in turn, influences the individual’s quality of life. Yoga is currently gaining popularity in society, yet there is only a limited number of studies that have tried to explain the mechanisms behind the success of this mind-body system. In addition, it is still difficult to quantify the effects of yoga in terms of physiological and mental improvements.
For now, it is still safe to proclaim that yoga is beneficial to the mind and body by teaching techniques in relaxation, alertness and attention, which in turn may improve one’s quality of life and decrease stress and fatigue.
Berger BG, Owen DR (1992): Mood alteration with yoga and swimming: aerobic exercise may not be necessary. Percept. Mot. Skills 75(3 Pt 2):1331–1343. Saper RB, Eisenberg DM, Davis RB, Culpepper L, Phillips RS (2004): Prevalence and patterns of adult yoga use in the United States: results of a national survey. Altern. Ther. Health Med. 10:44–49.