Yoga—good exercise, yes, stress reliever, yes, yes

Opinion posted March 28, 2013 in News by Ashley Rufo

            I’m sitting on my bed, feeling somewhere in between ready-to-cry or about-to-vomit.

             It’s 6 a.m. I spilled coffee on my bed just before realizing I have a test in three and a half hours that I haven’t studied for. Add to that a five-page paper that my computer didn’t save from the night before.

            It’s over. 

            There was no way I could rewrite my paper from memory and prepare for my test by 9:30. I decided that I would fail both. That’s all.

            I gnawed at my nails until I could taste the blood. Right then I pushed away my books, computer and papers, and I breathed.

            Inhale. Exhale.

            I recalled the words of my yoga instructor from class: “We have the power to control our thoughts, our reactions to life.”

            I had heard those words many times, but it was not until that moment, about a year ago, that I realized how. I used the lessons from my yoga practice and meditation to help me get through that stressful time.

            Weekly yoga classes have helped me to overcome anxiety which comes along with college, and it has helped me deal with stressful issues and focus on the present.

            Yoga is becoming a popular form of physical activity. It has proven to be a remedy for physical and mental ailments; a way to relieve physical pain in the joints, back and neck; and a treatment by people suffering from depression and anxiety disorders.

According to the United States Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a federal agency for scientific research on diverse medical and health care systems and practices that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine, the positive psychology associated with yoga can be used for therapeutic reasons.

“Mindfulness” in yoga is the process of letting go of thoughts and allowing the mind to be at peace, which leads to a greater sense of emotional well-being and balance. The connection of the body movement and the mind in yoga allows the two to perform in sync.

Yoga is now used in centers for eating disorders as a form of therapy. A study in Psychology of Women Quarterly, a peer-reviewed journal focused on women’s studies and psychology, showed that mind-body exercises like yoga can be used to increase body satisfaction and decrease eating and anxiety disorders.

            Studies have recently shown that yoga can be used as an alternative medicine for anxiety, depression, and stress-related disorders. A 2010 study done by Boston University School of Medicine showed a correlation between practicing yoga and increased levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), an inhibitory neurotransmitter that regulates excitability in the nervous system. Low GABA levels are associated with depression and anxiety disorders.

            The study compared the GABA levels of healthy individuals who practiced yoga with those of healthy individuals who walked for the same amount of time per week. Yoga was proven to increase GABA levels, while walkers remained the same.

            I began my practice of yoga in eighth grade in a church basement because my mom didn’t want to go alone. I continued with it off-and-on through high school, and began to practice more regularly in college.

It began as a form of exercise, but I slowly began to incorporate the practice into my daily life. I use uji breathing – a form of detoxifying, meditative breath – in stressful situations. I use meditation to calm my nerves and sporadic anxiety. Yoga helped me to remember to remain in the present, letting go of regrets or future worries.

Yoga involves an active process of letting go. I now practice yoga for about five hours a week, and my stress level has been greatly reduced. It is an active process of letting go.

Yoga is slowly entering mainstream fitness, but its use as an alternative medicine is not new. In 2002 a Florida State University medical educator, Richard Usatine, said in ScienceDaily that he recommended yoga practice for physical and mental health because “yoga can be as important as any medication.”

Yoga is an exercise that can be practiced every day, and it increases bodily health, unlike some high-impact exercises that can cause injury or discomfort for joints.

            Yoga has helped me to better control my mood and my negative thoughts.

            Since that day a year ago, I have learned to incorporate the yoga mindset into daily life. I know that I have the option of choosing my mood. I no longer bite my nails or let stress eat away at me and control my entire day.

Now, whenever I am feeling irritated or sad or forget an assignment, I stop, breathe, and remember that I have the power to decide how I will act and feel.