Updated: Jun 12, 2019
For centuries, overt conflicts have arisen between science and spirituality. However, while spending time upside-down in headstands has many spiritual benefits, it has proven scientific ones too. It’s time to turn a traditional, spiritual view of yoga on its head.
The origins of yoga
Yoga is an ancient practice, originating in India circa 3000 B.C. While having physical benefits, it was practiced for mainly spiritual reasons working to unite the heart and soul on the path to true enlightenment. Yogis (a term for someone who is proficient in yoga) then travelled to the West in the late 19th and early 20th century. They introduced yoga to their occidental counterparts and its popularity has grown ever since.
In the 1960s, The Beatles raised the international profile of yoga when photographed visiting Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India, and now… well there’s everything from beer yoga to nude yoga and, yes, even goat yoga! However, it still remains a spiritual practice with millions of people around the world putting their heart and soul into it.
A neuroscientist’s brainwave
While individuals still participate in yoga for its spiritual benefits, scientific research into the yoga boom of the late 20th and early 21st century, explain why yoga is imperative for the mind as well as the heart and soul.
Using MRI scans, a study published in the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience showed the brain activity of individuals who practice yoga. The results showed that yoga protects the brain from a decline in grey matter as we age. After practicing yoga and mindfulness the density of grey matter in areas of the brain associated with fear and stress decreased, whereas its density in areas that govern memory, self-awareness and compassion increased. People who practiced yoga regularly had brain volumes that were typical of a much younger demographic. Indeed, some 50-year olds were even found to have the grey matter of 25-year olds. In short, yoga could stop your brain from shrinking.
Yoga is good for the heart and soul. Mind you, don’t forget about the grey matter…
“Yoga is not about touching your toes. It is about what you learn on the way down.” – Jigar Gor.
Gor could not speak truer words in light of this scientific revelation. Yes, yoga undoubtedly has a positive effect on the spirit. In fact, 87% of people who practice yoga feel better when leaving the studio. But just remember, next time you’re practising goat yoga (go on, you know you’re intrigued!), while your practice is spiritual, it could also be protecting your mind too.