You are in your biweekly evening yoga class. Your mind is cleared from the clutter of your busy day; you’re calm and there is an equal boost of energy with every pose and breathing exercise. Finally, you lie down into savasana and the weight of the world you thought you had on your shoulders is gone. You come out of that class feeling mentally and physically healthy, peaceful and strong enough to take on the world — or at least a long night of studying.

Many people go to yoga classes hoping to get a toned physique through countless vinayasas, stretches and even inversions. But yoga goes far beyond just a way of getting your daily exercise. It is a lifestyle deep-rooted in history that is meant to heal the body and mind. The purpose of every pose, or asana, is to help the mind and body inch closer to health and well-being.

Dr. Sachin Deshmukh, a Panel Expert and consultant for the Integrated Wellness Center of America, gave an overview about the foundational aspects of yoga.

“Yoga is a way of life and it is based on universal principles which are beyond religions, cultures and gender,” Dr. Deshmukh said. “It emphasizes interdependence of the mind and body, and asserts that mind has a far more profound influence on body than that of body on mind. Some traditionally recognized benefits of yoga are that it improves concentration and creates self-awareness.”

Yoga heavily impacts the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which are part of the autonomic nervous system. ANS regulates daily bodily processes, such as urination, digestion, salivation and sexual arousal. The ANS controls the fight-or-flight response, an automatic reaction to a harmful effect on the body and maintains homeostasis.

Manoj Joshi, Founder and Director of Wellness By All Means, said that yoga uses body channels as sources of energy. Ida Nadi is associated with left nostril breathing, while Pingala Nadi is associated with the right.

“Yoga mentions Nadis, subtle channels of prana or life force or vitality. The Ida Nadi and Pingala Nadis are associated with the left side and right side of our sympathetic nervous system [respectively],” Joshi said. “With the balanced breathing techniques it is possible to bring balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and activate the central nervous system. This creates a state of homeostasis or state of equanimity and a balanced state of mind.”

When you activate the PSNS and SNS, your brain and body feel the effects. Slow, deep movements, holding poses and deep breaths benefit the PSNS to overall reduce stress in the body. During PSNS activation, the mind and body are relaxed; you become aware of stress-inducing thoughts and respond to them better. On the other hand, vigorous exercises, such as sun salutations or deeper stretches, activate the SNS. Yoga that incorporates stretches and breathing techniques to first activate the SNS and then the PSNS is the best for a more well-rounded and balanced practice.

Yoga increases blood flow to the organs essential for survival and helps to remove toxins. When the body is cleansed the neurons and other cells function better.

The American Heart Association and Mayo Clinic say that practicing yoga can reduce or even treat the effects of cardiovascular disease. The American Medical Association suggests that it could help with carpal tunnel syndrome, and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine are investigating its affects on lower back pain, multiple sclerosis, insomnia and other chronic diseases.

So, next time you are in savasana and practicing your mindul breathing, think about peace replacing the stress and hectic years that have injured your body. Live the yoga lifestyle to achieve utmost health and well-being.


A version of this story appeared on page 7 of Wednesday, January 29, 2014’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.