There is a lot of good research and new information available to us right now telling the benefits of yoga and meditation. And yes, we often take these kinds of information with a grain of salt, because as it often happens, they change the information. Remember eggs? Good for you, not good for you, now they are good for you again. It gets confusing and irritating to say the least. What are we supposed to believe or follow?!
One way to know what has something solid behind it is to watch what big business is believing. Businesses don't part with their pennies very easily, so when they do, it must be something worthwhile Recently, insurance giant, Aetna made yoga available to all it's employees. Why? Because studies find and in particular a Duke University study found that yoga substantially decreases stress levels which, in turn, decreases health care costs. Aetna wants to avoid the costs of employee absences, so it wants to make sure yoga is easily accessible to its employees.
What exactly is yoga doing to create this increased health? That's complicated and it should be. Human beings are complicated -lots of systems at work. Yoga works with many aspects of being human. It helps us regulate stress and emotions. It helps us become aware of how the body's systems are working together (or not), what reactions emotionally and physically are occurring, it teaches us to breathe, it teaches focus, it creates strength and flexibility, it teaches tension release, and so so so much more! Some of the benefits are obvious, but what growing research is beginning to understand is that the chemicals - hormones and neurotransmitters, of the body are having a huge effect on our health. This is where all of the breathing, the centering, the focusing, the awareness, and the relaxing of yoga practices are creating our health benefits. We are literally able to change the messages the brain sends to the body and the body sends to the brain, in a healthy way.
Sometimes forgotten as a part of the yoga practice is meditation. In the west, we forget that the purpose of yoga was to enhance the meditation process. In order to be able to sit and meditate for long periods, one needed physical yoga. Most often here in the states, yoga classes don't even include a short mindfulness meditation or centering time. However, as the evidence supporting the benefits of meditation pile up, this will change, I hope. Meditation improves mental health and physical health and in many ways. More ways are being discovered on a regular basis now that neuroscience and FMRI machines have gotten into the game. The benefits of meditation are clarity, focus, creativity, and contentment, to name a few. These are not just mental benefits, they equate to huge physical benefits as well.
And, these benefits could change big business. The World Health Organization estimates that stress costs US businesses about 300 billion dollars a year. I don't want big business and the bottom line to be the impetus behind what we do or don't do, but unfortunately, it seems that the almighty dollar factors in powerfully in this culture. I'd like to see that this time, our desire to save money and make money equates to truly more happiness and better health and wellness. If you haven't incorporated a regular yoga and meditation practice yet, you can't afford not to. And, if your employer or insurance company isn't making yoga a part of your health and wellness plan, then tell them they can't afford not to either. The dollar ratio estimated is that for every dollar put in to a program for wellness, the company gets $3 back in productivity, decreased absences, and general employee happiness on the job.
The bottom line here is, why aren't you doing yoga?