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From distress to de-stress: the power of yoga

Photo of Dr. Shirley Telles.

Dr. Shirley Telles is a formally trained medical doctor with a PhD in Neuroscience who became fascinated by the traditional sciences of her country, yoga and Aryuveda. Using her clinical training in research, she now works as the Director of Medical Research at the Pathanjli Yogpreeth University, having published over 150 scientific publications on the physiological benefits of yoga. Even the National Hockey Team of India regularly practices here.

Yoga, from Sanskrit, means to bind, join, attach, and yoke (yuz). It is an art which brings an incoherent and scattered mind to a reflective and coherent state and expands beyond the basic postures (asanas) we typically think of. The principle of threes is a common pattern in nature. While yoga attempts to balance the forces of mind, body, and spirit, many other examples are among us. In science, the balance of metabolism (the speed of chemical reactions in the body) is comprised of anabolism, building up, and catabolism, breaking down.

The basic philosophy of yoga is that balance is pivotal to well-being. Researchers like Telles are now beginning to explain physiological benefits unique to the exercise form of such a practice using medical science. Balance is an important component of understanding human physiology. For example the autonomic nervous system is responsible for unconscious control of our organ systems: things like internal digestion of food and breathing. These are activities we don’t have to remember to do; our body controls them on a sub-conscious level. The sympathetic system is activated by stress, dilating our pupils to see the enemy, stopping unnecessary processes like digestion and flooding blood to our skeletal muscle to run from that bear. However, prolonged sympathetic activation is poor for our health. This system is directly counteracted by the parasympathetic, stimulated by relaxation, activating restorative and regenerative chemical processes. These systems can be balanced through a practice of altnerate nostril breathing, or “Nadi Sodhana”. Telles told the audience, these nerves can be traced from the nasal mucosa directly to their regulatory centre in the brain, a region called the hypothalamus.

Group from the Patanjali

The main types of yoga include Raj yoga (conquering the internal self, enlightmentment), which includes a practice of ashima, or non-violence, typified by Mahatma Ghandi. Bhakti yoga (prayer, devotion, mantra), Karm (action), and Gyana/Jhana (philosophy, knowledge). The postures (asanas) we typically think of enhance yog by stabilizing the body in strenuous positions and becoming relaxed through control of the natural tendencies of the body and through meditation on the infinite. In doing so, we can train ourselves to remain calm in such situations of stress or dilemma, even outside the yoga studio. Attaining such a balance requires intense focus and requires the yogi to clear their mind of other invasive or negative thoughts.
Thus, another benefit is the development an attuned sense of the body’s physical state and well-being or lack thereof. Telles explains that this is the advantage of yoga over other forms of exercise. “There are three essential ingredients which differentiate yoga from other forms: relaxation, awareness, and an emphasis on breathing. While running your mind may still be wandering and you are thinking of something else, but in yoga this is an “absolute no-no”.” The maximum impact, comparatively, would be on a mental level, with the breath as a bridge between the body and the mind.” While this effect may be negligible, mental illness is one of the most difficult ailments for Western medicine to treat and is a barrier to a healthy lifestyle, depressed patients find it very difficult to find motivation to exercise.

Beyond yoga, aryuveda is a traditional form of medicine practiced in India for the past 5,000 years. Telles has spent a great deal of her career studying this form of medicine and provides some tips for the beginner. “There are lots of books and resources. But nonetheless, be careful on the net, instead get in contact with a trained physician. Self reading can be damaging. You may think you are a particular aryuvedic type but some changes in diet or lifestyle that are inappropriate for you.”

In our modern day world, productivity is higher and the pace of life is faster. Yoga provides a mechanism for us to remain in control and at peace with our inner selves.

To take your yoga practice to the next level, Telles suggests to visit any organization,
Pathanjali Yogpeeth offers it free, look for is trained instructors and something more than just physical postures because yoga is so much more than that.

Here are some additional resources to find a way to bring balance to your life:

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