I´m reading a book called: “The Science of Yoga. The Risks and the Rewards.”
William J. Broad is the author, the book says that he´s being practicing yoga since 1970. That´s 14 years before I was born, “He has a lot of experience” my mind says. (Maybe you know a little bit about him because he is the one behind that “controversial” article at New York Times: “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body”. Just in case you don´t know, this article has more than 700 hundred comments for and against it in the NYT site and many well-known writers, bloggers and yoga teachers wrote public answers back to it -mainly against it. / All of this probably helped him with the sales of his book.)
In the chapter called “Moods”, Broad explore different scientific studies and research programs that started with the intention to see what´s behind that “feeling sooo goood” in the bodies of the practitioners after a yoga class.
I remember when I started my practice. I was 17 years old. I was a teenager like many others, trying to find myself (Oh! I´m still doing that!), finishing high school, thinking in what I should do with my future, and so on.
I guess I was experiencing a lot of changes -both internally and externally-. I remember after my first class, I came home really excited and tried to tell my mom about my experience during the practice: “There are some ropes on the walls and we hanged upside down at the end of the class, letting everything go! I never felt like that before!”
I guess I will never forget that feeling.
And, after that, a lot of changes started to come.
I started to feel really good, and connected with something inside of me, I started to feel more creative than ever and I guess, naturally, I was dealing much better with stress and tension.
According to the book I was experiencing how yoga lifts our emotional life.
And, for the first time in my life, I was feeling good with myself. I can see now how feeling good was the beginning of an amazing adventure!
One of the researches quoted by the book is a study that the Boston University of Medicine and the Harvard Medical School -la creme de la creme scientifically talking- made in the year 2000.
In the study they were tracking the levels of GABA neurotransmitter in the brain. GABA is the acronym for gamma-aminobutyric; as the book describes it: “a major neurotransmitter and regulator of the human nervous system. Many reports have linked depression to low GABA levels.” And then: “In general, GABA slows the firing of neurons, making them less excitable. So high levels of the neurotransmitter have a calming effect (…) GABA itself tends to promote relaxation and reduce anxiety.”
The scientific team made the study with practitioners from different yoga styles: Ashtanga, Bikran, Iyengar, Kundalini, Power and Vinyasa. And the results were that “the yoga practitioners showed an average of GABA rise of 27 percent”. AND the more time you have been practicing during your life, the bigger the increase (47 percent in persons who had done yoga for 10 years).
This is much MUCH more that go for a walk, for example.
I don´t have a scientific mind. I don´t need to understand everything that underlies in the actions I do because I believe my experiences are teaching me a lot about which things are good and which things are bad for me. But I guess I owe that awareness to the practice also. The thing is that the book is really interesting by itself but also because actually demystify many of subjects about the yoga practice and makes it clean and clear for the skeptical people (and for everyone).
You know, maybe yoga is not the perfect exercise for your body (I recommend you to read the chapter called Fit perfection) but definitely, as ancient yogis always say: Is good for your soul.
I think it´s nice that science is also now aware of it. Now, more people can understand and feel the same that Thoreau felt: “I would fain practice the yoga faithfully. To some extent, and at rare intervals, even I am a yogi.”
Maybe we all are.