The Role of Yoga in Meditation and Healing

yoga-neuroscienceA major consideration is the role of yoga in meditation. In some Eastern systems yoga was devised as the process of “preparing for meditation”. By this the process of relaxing the body and inducing a bodily suppleness also created a suppleness of the mind.

This aides the meditative process and especially allowed for long periods of still meditative body posture, and also for a calm mind with less distracting thoughts during meditation. Some yoga systems went on to evolve their practice to be both meditative during the bodily or breathwork focussed actions of their yoga practices.

Meditation and yoga became one and the same practice. Today we find a range of yoga systems which have varying emphasis on the bodily postures, breathing practices, and with or without meditative emphasis. Each system has its benefits.

Neuroscience has now shown how yoga is now being seen to effect brain changes at the neural pathway level. Research and a major study by psychologists found that of all the major exercise types undertaken in the West, Yoga had the most lasting benefits to both the body and mental state of the participant.

The reason was found to be that Yoga produces the highest levels of the GABA neurotransmitter in people who do an hour of Yoga versus people who do an hour of other physical exercise. GABA is the primary type of the Inhibitory class of Neurotransmitters that our body produces, and is the basis for feeling calm and relaxed.

Low levels create severe sleep difficulties, anxiousness and hyperactivity and mental racing, and low GABA is normally found in Depression sufferers. GABA is now being linked by Neuroscience to the processes that facilitate the creation of new neural pathways in the brain.

Meditation is one such process that seeks to create new information and feeling state pathways in the brain, whether done from a combination of yoga with meditation, or classic meditative practice alone.

Yoga postures are in themself significant in the healing and wellness processes of a person. Meditation emphasises the adoption of the lotus posture for meditative practice. This cross-legged, straight spine, still posture is designed to calm the “monkey mind” or fast racing thoughts that often show up in meditation.

The Autonomic Nervous System(ANS) has been found to use such a lotus posture to naturally make small adjustments to the spinal vertebrae, which is the process of Proprioception, and equates to our brains Parietal lobe noting whether we are in balance within our bodies.

The brain and ANS from this place then activates the Parasympathetic state of the ANS, and evokes a peaceful state of bodymind which is perfect for meditation practice. The body also feels light and relaxed for it is upright, at rest in a balanced state, and is centred against the effects of the G forces of gravity that are ever pressing down against us.

This evokes the equivalent state of centeredness and balance in the mind. As there are a profusion of nerves and blood vessels emanating from within and between the spinal vertebrae, the ANS can fully communicate to peripheral organs, tissues and complexes that must be relayed from the spinal complex.

This means that a healing and resetting of the stasis of the bodymind system also takes place when the spine is given the optimal postures to stop blocking signals, blood and sensation being communicated between the brain, ANS, and the peripheral sites themself.

The various yoga postures each work on opening up and freeing blocks in one or more areas of the bodymind system. Taken together as a group of postures in one session of 30 minutes or an hour of yoga, the entire bodymind system and its peripheral organs, tissues and processes will each be “unblocked” by the postures bringing conscious attention to the site of blockage.

The additional use of breathing into the block, or by resting in the tension, one will over time unblock, and allow ANS Proprioception to resume or activate. Yoga postures are not accidental or incidental. Each has a purpose, a role, and is part of a complete system.

Yoga also promotes the belief that yoga and meditation practice with the correct posture will elicit the flow of spiritual energy from the container of the base chakra deep in our lower pelvic girdle, right up the spine to other chakra sites, and up and out the crown chakra on top of our heads.

Yoga and meditation will create the basis for regular energy flow so undercharged areas are recharged, blocked or overcharged sites are released and flow back into a balance, we detoxify negative energies, and access to deeper or higher states of consciousness are possible.

Shamanism has always promoted the adoption of certain ways of holding the body in deliberate posture in order to elicit altered states of consciousness. Shamans report using deliberate postures in rituals designed to achieve such outcomes as healing, shape-shifting, transformation, spirit or soul journeys, ancestor contact, divination and initiation of new comers.

Postures are sometimes enhanced through internal and external stimulus such as humming, chanting, drumming, gonging, and music. The reasons cited for this are the alignment of the mind to the vibration of the sound energy, and the effect that the sound has on the auditory cortex in the brain, which share processes with parts of the brain that open up awareness and trance states.

The Autonomic Nervous System(ANS) also has been found to be influenced by sound stimulus and to evoke Endocrinal system secretions that promote healing and wellness as a result. A combination of gentle, mindful stretching, coupled with relaxing auditory accompaniment is a positive process.

There has been a trend within society to develop, market and promote new hybrid forms of yoga. These often combine such other disciplines as Pilates, exercise workouts, and a range of other inclusions and some have practical benefits.

Some other of these new offerings are touted as transformational but yet the combinations they offer seem to target perfectionism and appeal to the ego and Narcissism of potential attendees. The images now being crafted with these offerings are increasingly targeted at perfectionistic and rigid narcissistic people and reinforce unhealthy bodily attitudes.

If one remembers the key drivers for doing yoga are spiritual as well as physical then the flashy new forms of hybrid yoga marketed with model like images of beautiful perfect bodied men and women may create physical release and Parasympathetic relaxation.

However they may also create possibly more mental and spiritual suffering outcomes in the way of egoic pride and narcissistic attitudes, than peace, happiness or true spiritual growth. It is another example of how we put ourselves under pressure to conform to unrealistic and unhealthy stereotypes, even with a modality or activity that is supposed to be about health and wellness.

This is not surprising given our society is more secular and our sciences and psychologies continue to disown spirit and spirituality in all areas of life, and instead promotes ego driven role models for us to aspire to. When it comes to yoga we should be cautionary about overturning thousands of years of evolved and experientially developed wisdom of our bodymind, as expressed in its age old forms and disciplines.

It is one area of the healing arts that we should be cautionary about as yoga may not best be subject to major revision or “transformation”.  Some wisdoms are timeless.

Copyright 2015 Richard Boyd

Psychotherapy & Counselling

Private Therapy