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Yoga, Meditation, and Health, a Robust Blend of Vitality

Yoga and meditation are some of the most transcendental terms used. These days, we have been noticing a lot of trendy things relating directly to these practices. Yet, these are not something that millennials on Instagram have made trendy. There is so much of individual research claiming that regular yoga and meditation can help cope with simple things, from hangovers to alleviating symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, combating migraine, and so much more.

The practices of yoga and meditation have been around for centuries. Dating back in between 5000-3500 BCE, in the carvings of the temples, and then in 1500 BCE, when they first appeared in the Vedas, then. Fast-forwarding to the 1970s, the Western world caught on the benefits of Hatha Yoga practices, meditation, and mindfulness. Eventually, these practices became highly popularized in the Western hemisphere, as well. Since then, thousands of studies have been devoted to highlighting the many benefits of yoga, meditation, and mindfulness.
Since the beginning of time, humanity has been searching for ways to relieve their pain, get physically fit, and find peace. For which, many techniques have been developed in many cultures of the world, and yoga and meditation stand out among them all. Yoga is not only a practice of physical exercise that is beneficial to the body, but at its core, has a meditative and spiritual grounding. And, when we sit with eyes closed and meditate, the brain gets calmer and the heart gets rested, thus insulating us from diseases of the heart and brain.

Yoga and Meditation
Conscious breathing, conscious concentration, conscious relaxation, and a steady pose will bring you to a state of calmness—so simple and profound, something to ponder upon. According to the classic text of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, “yoga” is the complete “inhibition of the modifications of the mind”.

Multiple studies have shown that yogic practices, such as mindful meditation, can increase both cortical thickness and gray matter, particularly in areas controlling emotional regulation and executive functioning. These regions notably include the insula, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). The insula is involved with proprioception, self-awareness, and emotional regulation. The ventromedial PFC is the brain’s center for executive functioning, including planning, problem-solving, and emotional regulation. The ACC is the self-regulatory process center, giving one the ability to monitor attention conflicts and allow for more cognitive flexibility.

Meditation has been shown to increase the thickness of the left hippocampus, the region of the brain that functions in the formation of long-term memory, emotional regulation, and cognition, as well as being a critical area of the brain that plays a vital role in resilience to chronic stress and depressive states, possibly due to expression of hippocampal neurotrophic protein (brain-derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF).
Have you noticed your breathing pattern changing according to your feelings? A series of shallow and short breaths when you are angry; similarly, you take deep and long breaths when you are relaxed and joyful. The conclusion is that the breath is influenced by how we feel, even transforming negative emotions.

Physical benefits of Yoga and Meditation
“The relaxation techniques incorporated in yoga can lessen chronic pain, such as lower back pain, arthritis, headaches, and carpal tunnel syndrome,” explains Dr. Nevins. “Yoga can also lower blood pressure and reduce insomnia.”

Other physical benefits of yoga include:
 increased flexibility
 increased muscle strength and tone
 improved respiration, energy, and vitality
 maintaining a balanced metabolism
 weight reduction
 cardio and circulatory health
 improved athletic performance
 protection from injury

Why Meditation is necessary from Medical Science’s point of view?
There are a lot of reasons for meditation to be necessary from medical science’s point of view.
It is a clear fact that the heart works continuously from birth till death. Pumping blood at the rate of 7,000 liters per day, of which 70% is pumped to the brain and 30% to the rest of the body. Following a discipline, under normal conditions, the heart takes 0.3 seconds to systole and 0.5 seconds to diastole, taking 0.8 seconds to complete one cardiac cycle, thus beating 72 times per minute in normal condition.
During the relaxing phase of 0.5 seconds, the impure blood travels through the lungs and becomes 100% pure. In some stressful conditions, the body demands more blood in less time. And in such situations, the heart reduces the relaxing period of 0.5 seconds to 0.4 seconds. Thus, in this case, the heart beats 82 times in 1 min, and only 80% of blood gets purified. During more stressful phases, the relaxing time is further reduced to 0.3 seconds, and then only 60% of blood is purified. The consequences of the lesser oxygenated blood circulating in our arteries can be harmful, and here, deep breathing is the key.

*Factors responsible for the activity of the brain:
1. 25% – 30% is due to the diet we consume.
2. 70% – 75% is due to the emotions, attitude, memories, and other processes of the brain.
Thus, to calm the brain and reduce the demand on the heart to pump more and more blood, the brain needs to be given a rest. Meditation is the most useful tool to calm an agitated mind. To calm the brain and reduce the amount of blood pumping, the brain demands rest. And, meditation is the most useful tool to calm an agitated mind.
There are a lot of methods to go deep into meditation. One among the most effective and profound is Sahaj Yoga Meditation. Long-term practice of this meditation is associated with increased gray matter in the brain, according to a study published last March in PLOS ONE. The findings revealed that long-term practice resulted in growth in brain regions associated with sustained attention, self-control, compassion, and bodily awareness. Research on meditation has increased over the last two decades, especially due to growing evidence of its beneficial effect on mental and physical health. Brain imaging research has provided evidence that meditation is associated with short-term differences in brain activity and long-term differences in brain structure.

Research on the effects of Sahaj Samadhi Meditation on cardiovascular health and clinical depression was awarded the best poster presentation from more than 900 presentations at the 17th Annual World Psychiatry Conference held from October 8–12, 2017, in Berlin, Germany.

This randomized controlled research showed the striking beneficial effects of Sahaj Samadhi Meditation, belonging to the category of Automatic Self Transcending Meditation (ASTM), in relieving clinical depression. While conventional treatment produced a 10% remission (or relief) rate, adding Sahaj Samadhi Meditation to patients’ treatment regimen boosted remission 53%, a 500% increase!
Further, high-frequency heart rate variability, a key factor linked with long-term heart health, and an encouraging predictor of longevity, also showed significant improvement.

Impact on Vagus Nerve
Focusing on one of the most important parts of the body, the vagus nerve, which unlike the other nerves, is that what happens in the vagus doesn’t stay there. In fact, it can have a profound impact on your overall health and wellbeing. They are the long bundle of motor and sensory fibers, running from the brainstem, and extending down the neck, chest, and abdomen. This nerve interacts with several vital organs or systems, including the heart, lungs, gut, liver, spleen, and kidneys. We can break down the functions of the vagus nerve into four key areas:
 Parasympathetic: This is responsible for bodily functions while we are at rest. Think of things like digestion, metabolic processes, and heart rate. It has also been described as the “feed and breed” or “rest and digest” system for its role in salivation, sexual arousal, digestion, and urination.
 Sensory: This processes sensory information from the heart, lungs, abdomen, and throat.
 Motor: The vagus nerve provides movement to the neck muscles that are responsible for speech and swallowing.
 Special sensory: It provides a taste sensation behind the tongue.

Due to a stressor or overstimulation of the vagus nerve, blood pressure lowers, heart rate slows, and the blood vessels in your legs widen, which can cause nausea or fainting. Furthermore, it even causes obesity, anxiety, mood disorders, bradycardia, gastrointestinal diseases, chronic inflammation, fainting, and seizures.
During an experiment in 2010, participants used Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM) as a way to positively impact their emotional health. The researchers found that when people reflected on positive social connections or worked to improve their bonds with other humans, it had a beneficial impact on vagal tone.

It is now widely accepted that deep breathing plays a core role in maintaining a healthy physiological balance. In an article reporting on a 2014 study, it is stated: “Lehrer and Gevirtz explore a wide range of fascinating reasons that heart rate variability (HRV) biofeedback works and reaffirm that diaphragmatic breathing is part of a feedback loop that improves vagal tone by stimulating the relaxation response of the parasympathetic nervous system. Notably, the researchers also report that people with a higher HRV (which represents healthy vagal tone) showed lower biomarkers for stress, increased psychological and physical resilience, as well as better cognitive function.”

Another powerful breathing technique to manually and naturally stimulate the vagus nerve is called the SKY (Sudarshan Kriya Yoga). Scientists have found that SKY&P (Sudarshan Kriya Yoga, along with the related practices of yogic asanas, pranayamas, and meditation) can be extremely effective at opening up this vital channel of energy; one such pranayam being alternate nostril breathing. Sudarshan Kriya has been scientifically proven to help cure symptoms associated with post traumatic stress disorder, provide relief for people suffering from addictions of many forms, help reduce cortisol (the human stress hormone), cut down cholesterol, improve sleep patterns, and in general, create a better sense of peace of mind and wellbeing. It also enhances brain functioning, such as increased mental focus and heightened awareness, besides improving the quality of sleep, giving you three times more deep restful stages of sleep.

The symptoms associated with impaired vagal activity in all conditions have been shown to be significantly improved through SKY&P. Research also demonstrates that the effects of SKY reach down to the molecular level, to our DNA. Dr. Richard Brown M.D., Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University, is one of the first clinicians to successfully correlate impaired vagal activity with so many different diseases. He has theorized that SKY&P contributes to a state of alert calmness by its effect on the vagus nerve, which is vital in transmitting data between our two nervous systems. Dr. Brown also suggested that other mechanisms by which SK&P works are by relaxing stress response systems, the neuroendocrine release of hormones, nitric oxide neurotransmission, fear conditioning circuits (prefrontal cortex and limbic system), and thalamic generators.

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