Yoga has long been embraced and condemned in equal measure as a religious, spiritual or cult practice. On the one hand, believers may see too much into its power, while on the other hand, skeptics fail to acknowledge the benefits of it’s practice for lack of substantial and objective evidence. Perhaps this disparity became the grounds for research into the myths and reality of Yoga in the professional setting.
Stress resilience and focus
Yogis and Gurus have long been cited to claim that Yoga improves concentration and stress management, two qualities that are highly sought after in the management setting. While stress is a great biological tool to protect and preserve the body, sub-clinical and chronic stress nags the system and fails to deliver any health benefits. In fact, recent research has indicated that low level chronic stress is a contributor to several preventable health conditions including heart disease, diabetes etc. Proof of improved pain and stress management through Yoga is evident in clinical studies associated with chronic pain and even Cancers, but the relevance of Yoga in stress resilience in otherwise healthy individuals came through a study of employees at Aetna Insurance. Employees practicing Yoga showed a 50% drop in the stress hormone Cortisol. The study also reported a 7.5% drop in health care costs of employees, suggesting a holistic improvement in health alongside appreciable increase in productivity. Thus the “myth” of improved stress management through Yoga has been supported by objective biological tests. Beyond stress management, several of the Yogi CEOs also claim that Yoga has improved their management skills.
Not just in the mind
Evidence based studies by Dr. Lutz et al at Wisconsin provide convincing support to the effects of Yoga and meditation on the brain. Dr. Lutz has studied the electrophysiology of meditation and found through functional magnetic resonance imaging that an expert meditative state mimicked a voluntary generation of compassion by altering neural circuitry. Simply put, he associated meditation with higher activation of empathy. Interestingly, subjects in this study who were naïve to meditation prior to the experiments also showed measurable changes in the activation of the brain centers. Through fascinating experiments, Dr. Lutz has also shown the meditative state induces sustained electroencephalographic high amplitude gamma band frequency along with frequency synchronization that have been linked to higher cognition and synaptic changes.
Overall, the power of meditation on the individual, as well as community is better appreciated today through the efforts of neuro-anatomists and scientists. While a round of Golf might just as easily be a great retreat for some, Yoga appears to provide a unique opportunity to improve both, physical and mental well being.