I recently attended an event on the Art and Science of Relaxation which incorporated evidence-based relaxation techniques and an introduction to psychoneuroimmunology (aka the mind-body connection).
It was fascinating and confirmed what yogis have known for thousands of years:
that the mind and body are connected and our thoughts and emotions affect our health.
As a yoga teacher, it’s so exciting to be able to explain to people that what we practice in yoga isn’t woo-woo but that it’s now proven in clinical studies to reduce anxiety, depression, sleep problems, perceptions of pain and more.
Relaxation isn’t automatic
Relaxation isn’t something that happens naturally or without us thinking about it. It is a skill that we need to consciously engage in. This is the paradox, clinically effective relaxation requires effort. Specifically mental effort to stay focused rather than ruminating over thoughts.
And the scientifically proven method to induce relaxation is through deep diaphragmatic breathing to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system or the relaxation response.
Have a look now to see if your belly is moving when you breathe. If it isn’t then you’re like most of us who only breathe into their chest or collarbones. This type of shallow breathing leads to chronic neck, back and shoulder tension and prevents us from inducing the relaxation response – basically keeping us stressed and anxious.
Even though we’ve been breathing all our lives, there is an optimal way to breathe that most of us have forgotten. Our breath can be more than a source of oxygen, done correctly it can be a source of wellbeing – physically and mentally.
Numerous studies have proven that deep breathing, using the diaphragm promotes relaxation and reduces anxiety, depression, fatigue, sleep, perceptions of pain and can improve the symptoms of other stress-related conditions. And the best news is that just 1-2 minutes each day of deep breathing can have a profound effect on our mental and physical health.
Even better news
How much are you spending on beauty treatments to appear younger?
Is that fancy eye cream working?
The really exciting research is that relaxation and meditation can increase the length of our telomeres.
Telomeres are the end pieces of our chromosomes, kind of like the plastic bit on the end of the shoelace to protect it. Our telomeres shorten over time, this is what causes aging.
The bad news? Your telomeres are shorter now than they were 20 years ago. It’s the shortening of your telomeres that is aging you.
The good news? Relaxation and meditation can not only reduce the shortening of your telomeres, they can actually increase their length.
Treating the whole
For yogis and other Eastern traditions, the mind and body were always considered together when it came to health and healing.
It’s only Western medicine that separated mind and body. This happened way back in the 17th century when the Church decided it was wholly responsible for mind and spirit and that science was responsible for the body. This scientific approach to the body was the birth of western medicine and the reductionist approach – reducing illness down to the individual symptoms rather than looking at the whole.
Now with the advent of psychoneuroimmunology, science is uncovering how our thoughts and feelings affect health and wellbeing and that our nervous system and what we think, influences our endocrine system and what we feel which in turn affects our immune system and our health.
“We are all aware of the bias built into the Western idea that the mind is totally in the head, a function of the brain. But your body is not there just to carry around your head. I believe the research findings….indicate that we need to start thinking about how the mind manifests itself in various parts of the body and, beyond that, how we can bring that process into consciousness…the neuropeptides and their receptors are the substrates of the emotions, and they are in constant communication with the immune system, the mechanism through which health and disease are created.”
“Think of (stress-related disease) in terms of an information overload, a situation in which the mind-body network is so taxed by unprocessed sensory input in the form of suppressed trauma or undigested emotions that it has become bogged down and cannot flow freely, sometimes even working against itself, at crosspurposes.”
Candace Pert, Molecules of Emotion
Learn the Art of Relaxation
Want to learn more about the mindbody connection?
Want to learn practical and easy techniques to help the mind and body to relax?
Want to discover simple stretches and poses you can do to relieve chronic tension and pain in the body?
Sick and tired of feeling tense, stressed and anxious?