How Does Yoga Work?

How Does Yoga Work

It is well accepted that yoga is a great tool for countering stress. Yoga helps calm the mind body down and de-stress it. But how does it work? To understand this we need to know what Biofeedback is.


Biofeedback is a technique that is used to train people with conditions such as high blood pressure, headache, migraine, chronic pain, and urinary inconsistence. Biofeedback is generally used to control bodily processes that are not normally in our voluntary control. Electrodes are attached to our skin to measure heart rate, brain waves, skin temperature, skin moisture, stress in muscles, etc., The information collected by the various instruments is processed and displayed to the patient as a signal, usually on a monitor. This signal usually represents the stress levels of a patient. The patient is asked to mentally work towards moving the signal in a particular direction that indicates lowering of stress level. Biofeedback allows the patient to understand her current stress levels and figure out what thoughts and actions increase it and what lower it, allowing her to voluntarily control her stress levels. When this happens blood pressure reduces, muscles relax and chronic pain subsides.

Biofeedback shows that it is possible to voluntarily reduce stress levels by countering its effects.

Impact Of Stress On Us

Here is what stress does to us:

1. It makes our muscles tense.
2. It shortens our breath making it shallow and quick.
3. It puts our mind in a tizzy of circular thoughts of worry and anxiety.

This means that if we counter each of these effects of stress, we should be able to trigger a response from our body that de-stresses it.

Does It Really Happen?

The fact that meditation triggers relaxation has been scientifically established since the past 40 years. This effect is well known as the “Relaxation Response”. If we interrupt the constant flow of thoughts in our heads by repeating a single thought or phrase for 20 minutes, our body triggers a “Relaxation Response”. This causes our body to relax muscles, lower blood pressure, slow down breathing, and de-stress.

The following effects have also been tested and scientifically established to various degrees:

1. If we stretch our muscles for 20 to 30 minutes then this triggers a response in our body that is equivalent to de-stressing.
2. If we breathe consciously for 10 to 15 minutes to slow and elongate our breath then this too triggers a relaxation response in our body and de-stresses it.

Yoga’s Triple Whammy De-stressing

Yoga is an extremely powerful de-stressor because it takes advantage of all three mechanisms to counter stress:

1. Most of yoga’s postures involve stretching various muscle groups. By systematically stretching muscles we send a strong biofeedback signal to our mind-body to relax and de-stress.
2. While practicing yoga postures the breath is deliberately slowed down and elongated. A specific technique of breathing known as “Ujjayi breath” (Throat Breath or Ocean sounding breath) is used to accomplish this. And it provides a great biofeedback signal for our mind-body to relax.
3. Yoga practitioners are asked to focus all thoughts only on breath and movement. Advanced practitioners are required to have a “focused gaze” known as “Drishti”. All this ensures that the mind is not wandering while practicing yoga. By breaking the cycle of circular thoughts of anxiety and worry the body is put in a relaxed state.

Because yoga uses all three powerful techniques at the same time, it provides a strong biofeedback for our mind-body to relax and de-stress. The effect is usually so powerful that yoga practitioners attest to feelings of floating, peace, and calmness after the practice is over. Yoga is currently the only known mass used technique that allows a systematic way to counter chronic stress. Since chronic stress is the underlying cause of so many of our physical and mental ailments, the effects of yoga are so “magical”.

Yoga Cautions

Smoking is extraordinarily dangerous and it slowly kills us. But many of us are unable to kick the habit because smoking is addictive. Similarly stress too is extraordinarily dangerous for us and chronic stress is a silent killer. But just as it is difficult to kick the habit of smoking, it is also difficult to counter chronic stress because it too is addictive.

So, as we do yoga to counter the effect of stress, many of us somehow reintroduce stress in our lives in various forms. It is important to recognize this and counter this tendency. This is why the larger practice of yoga involves simplification and slowing down our lives. The benefits of yoga can easily be lost if we do not look at the big picture of our lives.

Sometimes we do not have to go too far to see how the dilution of the benefits of yoga is accomplished. This is done within the yoga practice itself. Yoga is sometimes practiced as a “fast workout” incorporating fast music. As we have seen the benefits of yoga happen by:

1. Stretching muscles not contracting them.
2. By slowing and elongating the breath, not shortening and quickening it.
3. By focusing our thoughts and calming down the mind, not exciting it.

Please make sure that your yoga practice delivers to you its main benefit: de-stressing of the mind-body.

The Gift Of Yoga

Yoga is an extraordinary gift. It is one of the few available scientifically proven ways of countering chronic stress. It is inexpensive, needs no fancy equipment, and is practiced safely and effectively by millions. Compared to the cost of chronic stress on our lives, yoga is safe, cheap, and effective. Let us resolve to maximize the gift of yoga by also looking at the big picture of our lives. And also let us make sure that the yoga we practice delivers on the main benefit in terms of de-stressing our mind-bodies.

Related: Five Golden Rules For Beginners

Credits:This has been written by Raj Shah and edited by Ketna Shah.

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The Fun Theory

The fun theory: “The easiest way to change people’s behavior for the better is by making it fun to do.” Watch this short video and see the power of this theory in action.

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Zuckerberg’s T-Shirt

Zuckerberg TShirt

Mark Zuckerberg

During a routine question-and-answer session Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was asked, “Why do you wear the same T-shirt every day?” While many expected a playful response Zuckerber responded with a pretty serious answer: “I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions about anything except how to best serve this community.”

The answer is revealing in many ways. It shows us two very important traits for success:

1. Focus
2. Selflessness

Successful people are able to put all their energies into what they are doing. They guard their energy jealously and are careful not to fritter it away. Even small decisions like “what should I wear?” are seen as unnecessary diversions. Zuckerberg instead has multiple copies of the same shirt so he does not have to spend time deciding what to wear. (Other successful people like Steve Jobs also had this strategy.)

By choosing to wear the same shirt everyday, Zuckerberg shows that he is capable of taking away focus from himself and instead focus on the task at hand. This quality of putting the self aside is a very important trait of success.

The two traits are related. The biggest diversion of energy is “emotional drama”. This usually comes about by putting oneself in the center of everything. Successful people avoid this by taking themselves out of the equation and instead focusing all their energy on their goal.

“The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.” Bruce Lee

Credits:This has been written by Raj Shah and edited by Ketna Shah.

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Yoga And Gunas

Yoga And Gunas

We are conscious beings. But the current of consciousness that flows through our mind-bodies is distorted by our ego.

If this distortion results in activity, passion, desire, movement, greed, and ambition then these tendencies are known as Rajas.

If on the other hand it leads to inertia, dullness, inactivity, negativity, heaviness, darkness, obstruction, and ignorance then the tendency is known as Tamas.

Between the tendency of Rajas and Tamas there is another tendency that is related to contentment, gratitude, balance, light, illumination, truth, and spiritual knowledge. This tendency is known as Sattva.

Rajas, Tamas, and Sattva are known as “Gunas”. But Gunas are not just tendencies that drive conscious beings. The entire world is woven together with the strand of these three threads. However it is only conscious beings who can try and alter the composition of their gunas in a more favorable direction.

So we have a choice. We can live our lives as captives of our inherent tendencies or we can change these. The question then arises: How can we change the three gunas and what does the movement look like?

The purpose of Yoga is to help us move away from our inherent tendencies by detaching our consciousness away from the ego. But yoga cannot magically lift us out of the ego overnight. Usually the process takes us out of Rajas and Tamas and moves us towards Sattva. So while we are still rooted in our ego, our consciousness is expressed in more balanced way. We feel more inclined towards spiritual truth and selfless activity. As we make progress in Sattva then we eventually reach a state where our consciousness is freed from all distortions of the ego. We now transcend Sattva, the final frontier, and become completely absorbed and established in the Self.

The great Yogi Sanyal Mahasaya said, “In Rajasic and Tamasic nature there is restlessness and distraction, but in Sattvic state there is concentration. Through concentration, the mind is peaceful and there is the perception of divinity in that state.”

How does the person who has gone beyond all the three states look like? This question came to Arjuna and he posed it to Krishna. The exchange is recorded in the Bhagavad Gita. Krishna’s reply (14.24-26) is as follows (Inspired by the translation by Stephen Mitchell, Bhagavad Gita, A New Translation):

He who is equally self-contained-
in pain or pleasure,
in happiness or sorrow,
content with whatever happens.

Who sees dirt, rocks, and gold as equal,
unperturbed amid praise or blame of himself,
indifferent to honor and to disgrace.

Serene in success and failure,
impartial to friend and foe,
unattached to ego’s action.
That being has gone beyond the three gunas.

Who faithfully serves God
with the yoga of devotion,
going beyond the three gunas,
is ready to attain the Ultimate Freedom.

Credits:This has been written by Raj Shah and edited by Ketna Shah.

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Make A Plan To Make It Home

Make a plan to make it home. Your loved ones are counting on you. A moment of thoughtlessness can cause a lifetime of grief for people who care about you. Please don’t drink and drive.

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