Dr John Lilly once said: “Yoga is the science of the East. Science is the Yoga of the West”
While he was referring to the direct experiential methodology of consciousness change that comprises yoga, a kind of science of the self, I thought it might be of value to see what our Western science says about this science of the East.
It seems to me there is a fair bit discussed about how meditation and yogic practices are good for one’s health (or more to the point, these practices can act to keep one in optimal health), but I thought some peeps here might want to know a bit more on the science of this area to back up some of these claims.
There has been a fair bit of research to date on meditation, and some also on yogic practices and pranayama, or controlled yogic breathing exercises. The science states that all these practices are potent stress relievers and activators of the parasympathetic nervous system, and lower blood pressure. The bulk of research has been on meditation practices, and research has found that meditation can increase immune system function, increase focus, and reduce stress, depression and anxiety to name just a few things.
It is important to distinguish between Transcendental/mantra style meditation, and mindfulness (predominantly breathing) meditation, the two meditation practices on which the vast bulk of research has been conducted to date. Both have positive and overlapping benefits to some degree but they are also quite distinct in the effects they produce.
Research on pranayama has tended to focus on yogic cross breathing, or nadi shodhana, also known as alternative-nostril breathing. This is a very simple pranayama technique to perform, and is held in very high regard by a number of yogi’s. Practice of this technique has been found to result in greater hemispheric symmetry and greater activation of the parasympathetic nervous system.
Yoga has a variety of different limbs, and it seems that the asanas or body positions are to assist in preparing one for pranayama, which in turn is a preparation for meditation. However one can do pranayama and meditation and still gain benefit. For any interested, I’d highly recommend experiment with a pranayama technique like nadi shodhana, or bhramari (humming bee breath). Both practices are simple and safe to do (this does not apply to all pranayama techniques it seems and an experienced teacher is recommended for some), and both have a great synergy with meditation if one goes straight into this afterwards.
In my experience thus far I’ve found pranayama to synergise well with meditation if done right before this. And in this way, one is likely to maximise and augment the benefits of both practices.
I’ve attached some scientific review papers if people want to read up on this at all, also included are clear instructions on how to undertake mindfulness meditation and alternate-nostril breathing/nadi shodhana pranayama (the latter being in the attached review paper).
Sengupta, P. (2012) “Health Impacts of Yoga and Pranayama: A State-of-the-Art Review” [i]International Journal of Preventative Medicine,[/i] 3, (7).
Abraham, B. (2014) Effects of 8-week Nadi-Shodhana pranayam training on cardio-pulmonary parameters. [i]Reviews of Literature,[/i] 1, (6).
Ankad, R.B., Herur, A., Patil, S., Shashikala, G.V. & Chinagudi, S. (2011) Effect of Short-Term Pranayama and Meditation on Cardiovascular Functions in Healthy Individuals. [i]Heart Views,[/i] 12, (2), 58-62.
Brown R.P. & Gerbarg P.L. (2009) Yoga breathing, meditation, and longevity. [i]Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences,[/i] 1172, 54-62
Domínguez-Alonso, A., Ramírez-Rodríguez, G. & Benîtez-King, G. (2012) Melatonin increases dendritogenesis in the hilus of hippocampal organotypic culture. [i]Journal of Pineal Research,[/i] 54, (4), 427-436.
Harinath, K., Malhotra, A.S., Pal, K., Prasad, R., Kumar, R. Kain, T.C., Rai, L. and Sawhney, R.C. (2004) Effects of Hatha Yoga and Omkar Meditation on Cardiorespiratory Performance, Psychologic Profile, and Melatonin Secretion. [i]The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine,[/i] 10, (2), 261-268.
Hariprassad, V.R., Varambally, S., Shivakumar, V., Kalmady, S.V., Venkatasubramanian, G. & Gangadhar, B.N. (2013) Yoga increases the volume of the hippocampus in elderly subjects. [i]Indian Journal of Psychiatry,[/i] 55, (3), 394-396.
Hӧlzel, B.K., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S.M., Gard, T. & Lazar, S.M (2011) Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain grey matter density. [i]Psychiatry Research,[/i] 191, 36-43.
Joshi, A., Singh, M. Bharat Bhushan Singla, B.B. & Joshi, S. (2011) Enhanced Wellbeing amongst Engineering Students through Nadi Shodhan Pranayama (Alternate Nostril Breathing) Training : An Analysis. [i]School of Doctoral Studies (European Union) Journal,[/i] 3, 112-120.
Nidich S.I., Rainforth, M.V., Haaga, D.A., Hagelin, J., Salerno, JW.., Travis, F., Tanner, M., Gaylord-King, C., Grosswald, S. & Schneider R.H. (2009) A randomized controlled trial on effects of the Transcendental Meditation program on blood pressure, psychological distress, and coping in young adults. [i]American Journal of Hyptertension,[/i] 22, (12), 1326-1331.
Pal, G.K., Velkumary, S. & Madanmohan (2004) Effect of short-term practice of breathing exercises on autonomic functions in normal human volunteers. [i]Indian Journal of Medical Research, [/i]120, 115-121.
Ramírez-Rodríguez, G., Vega-Rivera, N.M., Benítez-King, G., Castro-García, M. & Ortíz-Lόpez, L. (2012) Melatonin supplementation delays the decline of adult hippocampal neurogenesis during normal aging of mice. [i]Neuroscience Letters,[/i] 530, (1), 53-58.
Ross, A. & Thomas, S. (2010) The Health Benefits of Yoga and Exercise: A Review of Comparison Studies. [i]The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine,[/i] 16, (1), 3-12.
Singh, S., Gaurav, V. & Parkash, V. (2011) Effects of a 6-week nadi-shodhana pranayama training on cardio-pulmonary parameters. [i]Journal of Physical Education and Sports Management,[/i] 2, (4), 44-47,
Tooley, G.A., Armstrong, S.M., Norman, T.R. & Sali, A. (2000) Acute increases in night-time plasma melatonin levels following a period of meditation. [i]Biological Psychology,[/i] 53, (1), 69-78.
Wallace, R.K. (1970) Physiological Effects of Transcendental Meditation. [i]Science,[/i] 167, (3926), 1751-1754