The roots of yoga lie in India, where it has been part of traditional spiritual, philosophical and psychological practice for around 3,000 years. Traditionally, yoga is not a religion and more than just a spiritual direction: rather, the original yoga is a way of life characterized by ethical and spiritual rules and advice for life, with the ultimate goal of uniting body, soul and spirit (Feuerstein 1998). Thus, the primary goal of yoga is not to perform some physical acrobatics, but to experience more presence, joy and aliveness in the moment through regular practice, awareness, concentration and self-discipline.
Since the Western world's contact with Indian yoga philosophy, yoga has become a popular means of promoting physical and mental well-being in the USA and Europe, and has also attracted the attention of health researchers.
Patañjali, as the "father of yoga", wrote the so-called yoga sutras (guidelines of yoga) and also the majority of modern yoga schools teach at least partly according to the "limbs of yoga" defined by Patañjali (Feuerstein 1998).
From the above table it is clear that classical yoga is composed of many different aspects. Nowadays and in the Western world, yoga has been modified for use in complementary and alternative medicine. In clinical settings and in yoga schools it often comes to a combination of physical postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama) and meditation (dyana), which is quite a physical approach (De Michelis 2005).
From Liem 2009: Osteopathy and (Hatha) Yoga, Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies 2011; 15 (1), 92-102.Researchers are increasingly interested in yoga as an adjunctive therapy, e.g. for lifestyle-related diseases, depression and breast cancer, as yoga combines movement and relaxation.
- Yoga and psyche
Psychological stress is accompanied by an imbalance of the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which is characterized by reduced activity of the parasympathetic nervous system (especially the vagus nerve) and increased activity of the sympathetic nervous system. In addition, stress exposure leads to an underactivity of the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).
It is believed that yoga can reduce the allostatic load in the stress response systems and thus restore optimal homeostasis by stimulating the vagus nerve, which can lead to normalization of the GABA system.
Stress plays a central role especially in the clinical pictures of depression, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic pain. Characteristic for these conditions is a low activity of the parasympathetic nervous system as well as the GABA system, which can be harmonized through yoga-based interventions. Therefore, yoga is thought to improve function in those regions of the brain that regulate threat response, such as threat perception, interoception, fear processing, emotion regulation, and defense responses.
So overall, it can be said that yoga not only enhances the flexibility of the body, but also the central regulatory systems in the brain.
The harmonizing effect of yoga on the parasympathetic nervous system is due to yogic breathing, which is used in a wide variety of yoga practices.
Our emotions significantly influence our breath. Consciously controlled breathing patterns influence the entire ANS (Streeter et al 2012).
This is now well documented by studies: Brown and Gerbarg provided evidence that yoga breathing (especially Coherent Breathing, Resonant Breathing and Ujjayi) increases heart rate variability, improves sympatho-vagal balance and promotes stress resilience (Brown & Gerbarg 2005, 2009).
Cortisol levels and GABA levels in the brain are biological markers for
Stress (Pike et al 1997). In depression, PTSD, and epilepsy, elevated cortisol levels, suggesting increased activity of the HPA axis, and decreased activity of the GABA system are found. Studies suggest that yoga interventions can reduce stress-induced allostatic load in three stress-responsive systems (ANS, HPA axis, and GABA system) (Streeter et al 2012).
- Yoga and hypertension
In addition to the drug treatment of hypertension, patients are also recommended lifestyle modifications such as dietary changes and increased physical activity. Due to its rather simple feasibility and strong emphasis on relaxation, yoga is a good alternative to conventional exercise programs and lifestyle interventions (e.g. cardiovascular training).
Already in the 1970s, Patel and North were able to show that yoga can have a blood pressure lowering effect (Patel & North 1975). However, more recent studies were not able to significantly reproduce this effect. Nevertheless, yoga interventions performed as well as e.g. stretching (Hagins et al 2014).
Studies show that yoga improves physical performance (Cramer 2015), which is why it can be recommended as a lifestyle intervention for hypertension.
The underlying mechanism of action also has to do with the regulation of the autonomic nervous system. An imbalance in the direction of the sympathetic nervous system can increase blood pressure and contribute to the development of hypertension. Such hyperfunction of the sympathetic branch of the ANS is often associated with chronic stress. As outlined above, yoga is thought to activate the GABA system and the parasympathetic nervous system, thus counteracting stress-induced overactivity of the sympathetic nervous system (Cramer 2015). It seems that the slow yogic breathing, relaxation and meditation are more responsible for the parasympathetic activation than the asanas (postures) (Markil et al 2012).
- Yoga and overweight
In a randomized controlled trial, the effect of yoga on waist circumference (primary outcome) as well as waist-to-hip ratio, body weight, BMI, body fat percentage, body muscle mass percentage, blood pressure, health-related quality of life, self-esteem, subjective stress, body perception, and safety of the intervention (as secondary outcomes) was investigated. After completion of the 12-week yoga intervention, abdominal circumference significantly decreased by 3.8cm on average for patients in the intervention group, without the use of a calorie-restricted diet. In addition, other moderate differences were observed in waist/hip ratio, body weight, BMI, body fat percentage, percentage of body muscle mass, psychological and physical well-being, self-esteem, subjective stress, body awareness, and confidence in body sensations (all significant). The researchers concluded that yoga is a safe and effective technique for normalizing body weight (Cramer et al 2016).
- Yoga and chronic pain
In a meta-analysis from 2013, it was shown that yoga has a positive influence on lower back pain. 10 studies with a total number of participants of about 1,000 patients were included in the analysis. Yoga showed both short-term and long-term effects on pain and functional limitations (Holger et al 2013). Yoga as an isometric form of exercise can thus counteract musculoskeletal pain. What distinguishes yoga from other movement therapies is the conscious execution of the asanas without letting the mind run free. Rather, yoga also involves the mind in the practice by consciously noticing muscle tone and joint positions. This trains one's awareness (or interoception) of one's own body, which helps to notice and correct misalignments outside of the time spent on the mat, thus counteracting pain. In this way, yoga can contribute to an increased acceptance of pain (Cramer 2017).
- Yoga and cancer and fatigue syndrome
Due to the positive effects on stress and psychological strain, yoga is increasingly used in the accompanying cancer therapy. A high-quality review by the Cochrane Collaboration was able to show that yoga can promote quality of life and improve fatigue syndrome. Data from approximately 2100 patients with breast cancer were evaluated (Cramer et al 2017).
Yoga and osteopathy
Although historically there are many differences between yoga and osteopathy, there are also great overlaps. Probably the most significant commonality is the assumption that body, mind and spirit form a unity and that the access to this unity is the body.
While osteopathy is a manual treatment concept with a focus on promoting health in the organism, traditional forms of yoga (Hathayoga and Yoga according to Patanjali) are based on the individual experience of awareness and transcendence. This is to be fostered through regular practice, responsibility and insight on the part of both teacher and student. In osteopathic treatments, patients tend to remain passive and the responsibility lies with the person treating them (Liem 2009).
For one's own inner growth it is essential to deal with the formative factors of physicality in order to understand, accept and integrate them.
These include, among others:
- Pre- and perinatal worlds of experience
- Health condition of the parents
- physical and neurobiological mechanisms of action
- the family, emotional, historical, cultural and social environment and the biosocial environment in which we grow up and live
- Birth experiences and especially the first years of life
- Illnesses, accidents, psychological trauma
- Learning and working conditions
All these factors influence our body and its physiology, our way of feeling, thinking and our perception of the world. In addition, patterns of feelings, thoughts and beliefs also manifest themselves in our body. Depending on the experiences we have had, each person shows very specific physical characteristics, postures and tensions.
tensions. Correctly applied, yoga and osteopathy support the organism in deconditioning abnormal chronic body tensions and malpositions by gently integrating limiting emotional, thought and belief patterns.
In yoga, this happens through the combination of asanas with conscious breathing and inner focus, which activate the inner resources and allow you to deal with life more flexibly. In an osteopathic treatment, dysfunctions are found and treated, which not only has an influence on the body. Potentially associated energy-consciousness patterns are also treated and integrated.
For these reasons, yoga as a system of self-awareness is a valuable asset to osteopathy as a medical treatment system (Liem 2009).
More in-depth information about the relationship between osteopathy and (Hatha-)Yoga can be found here: Osteopathy and (Hatha-)Yoga
Which form of yoga is right for me?
Here is a brief overview of some of the types of yoga practiced in the West:
- Exact body alignment in flowing movement sequences (less dynamic than Vinyasa flow) are taught with a life-affirming Tantra philosophical orientation.
- Each lesson begins with a short lecture.
- Suitable for beginners and advanced.
- Here a sequence of 26 postures are practiced at high room temperature (38-40 °C).
- Coordination, stretching, strength, concentration and detoxification through sweating are promoted.
- Suitable for healthy people who want to challenge themselves physically, practice awareness and sweat.
- Techniques of Hatha Yoga start at the body (asanas) and then continue through the breath (Pranayama) to the mind (meditation).
- From the original teachings of Hatha Yoga, just about all other styles have evolved.
- Suitable for beginners, as mostly slow and relaxed exercises are performed.
- The focus here is on the practice of very precise static asanas.
- Aids such as blocks and straps are often used.
- Pranayama is also used.
- Suitable for people who are looking for precise bodywork.
- Exercise series for certain
- A form of yoga in which chanting, breathing exercises, meditation and asanas are combined and taught in a varied way depending on the lesson.
- Mantras and chants and religious background originate the tradition of the Sikh, an Indian religious community.
- Suitable for people who value a spiritual component.
- Besides asanas and pranayama, meditations and teachings with a Hindu religious background are usually taught.
- The physical exercises are not very dynamic; the Rishikesh series, which consists of twelve fixed asanas, is often used.
- Suitable for beginners who are attracted to Hindu philosophy.
Trauma oriented yoga
- From specially trained yoga teachers for traumatized people or people with post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Similar to Yin Yoga, the focus is on deceleration, relaxation and calmness.
- Suitable for traumatized or very stressed people.
Vinyasa Flow or Power Yoga
- Dynamic yoga form in which the movements are synchronized with the breath
- Challenges the body and calms the mind
- Only small meditation part
- Suitable for people who are looking for a challenging, dynamic and powerful yoga practice.
- Therapeutic yoga, in which very individual attention is paid to the individual.
- Mostly taught in private lessons or small groups.
- Slow yoga, in which asanas are not considered a style of yoga, but rather an adaptation of the yoga practice to the goals and possibilities of the individual practitioner.
- It includes individually adapted asanas, as well as breathing exercises and meditation.
- Suitable for people with less fitness and physical limitations.
- Asanas are held for several minutes in very quiet execution and with hardly any muscle tension, in order to sustainably stretch connective tissue and muscles, to learn deep relaxation and to train the mind. Very calm execution
- Often practiced as a balance to dynamic yoga movements.
- Suitable for beginners and for relaxation and balancing dynamic yoga practices.
Basically, if you want to start with yoga, it is advisable to look for a teacher with many years of experience or an established studio. Many health insurance companies offer certified introductory yoga courses, for example.
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