Breathe.  Relax.  Let Go.

If you have ever spent time in a Yoga class or watched a Yoga DVD, it is quite likely that you’ve heard this or similar sentiment.  Moving into thread the needle the other night, I experienced something for the first time:  Letting go.  In most postures, there is a conscious intention to hold the posture.  This time, however, there was no holding; the body moved into the pose and then simply stopped moving.  There was no holding because there was nothing to hold, nothing to do, the posture simply was; complete, whole, steady and easy.

What’s the big deal about, “Breathe.  Relax.  Let go.” anyway?  Yesterday I skimmed through an article, Tame Your Stress, written by Kelly McGonigal.  In this article, Ms. McGonigal references two research studies investigating the effect of Yoga on stress levels.  The first study was in 1997 at Newcastle University in England and it compared a group of “healthy but sedentary adults” and split them into two groups.  One group was placed on an aerobic exercise program and the other practiced yoga for 90 minutes twice a week.  Both groups followed their programs for six weeks.  At the end of the study, the participants’ heart-rate variability was measured.  Those in the aerobics group showed no significant change.  Those in the yoga group “were reported to have higher heart-rate variability (and a lower resting heart rate, another indicator of well-being).”  Heart-rate variability measures the heart-rate increase during inhalation and the decrease in rate during exhalation.  Higher variability indicates that one is better able to respond to stressors and is less likely to become over stressed.  Low variability indicates the opposite and can lead to cardiovascular disease.

The second study conducted at the University of Schleswig-Holstein in Germany in 2007 focused on the impact of attending just one 90 minute Yoga class.  Heart-rate variability increased during the class and the impact of the class persisted after the class ended.  “This study provides promising evidence that a yoga practice can prepare you to meet life’s challenges, not just recover from them.”

Is your Yoga practice just exercise or is it something much more?

Jai Bhagwan!