What Is More Important? The Lungs Or The Brain?

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Many people are hesitant to practice yoga due to the sole fact they are not flexible enough. Walking into yoga last week, I told Doug, an instructor at a studio on Allen St., that I was not flexible enough and to not expect much out of me. Doug mentioned that flexibility is not the key to yoga, but the mind, body, soul, and spirit are--it is just you and your mat; customize it however you may please. Yoga has an unlimited amount of healing power with both long and short-term benefits. Breathing in and out, at the end of my last yoga class, Doug said, "What is more important to you here in this class...your lungs or your mind. You decide."

When practicing yoga, your fluid movements and steady breathing work in unison with your brain. In your brain lies the autonomic nervous system, which controls your heart, glands, digestive system, and your breathing. Deeper in this system lays two others: the parasympathetic system and the sympathetic system. The parasympathetic system "soothes and regenerates body systems." The sympathetic system protects the body when in a significant amount of stress. When the brain senses this stress, it sends signals to the body, which then raises your heart rate, causes quickness in breath, and increases your blood sugar. Now, is when yoga steps in. Yoga's job when the body moves into overdrive is to slow down the heart rate and reduce your blood pressure to lower all stress levels and to ultimately train the body to process stress better. According to a recent study with 30 female college students who participated in 20 minutes of yoga, meditation, and deep breathing followed by 20 minutes of aerobic exercise found that, "People have significantly superior brain function after a bout of yoga exercise compared to aerobic exercise, researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign." The 30 women did "cognitive testing after the yoga session and after the aerobic exercise session, and they found that the scores were better on the tests after the yoga session than the aerobic exercise."

Balance, flexibility, strength, and stamina are not all of the improvements yoga is capable of rewarding. Yoga also improves lung capacity through a proper controlled breathing principle called PranayamaThe goal of Pranayama is to mold the lungs in order to "become flexible and capable of holding a lot of oxygen. Strong, healthy lungs can efficiently help transport oxygen to the blood, purifying it and helping remove toxins from the body" (Oijala). Alongside removing toxins when more oxygen is held in the lungs, another benefit is feeling more alert and focused. A recent study at Khon Kaen University in Thailand had 58 volunteers near 20 years old take part in a six week, 18 yoga session trial." The researchers chose five hatha yoga positions designed to improve chest wall function, including the cat, tree and camel positions. Half of the volunteers did hatha yoga during 20-minute sessions, three times a week. The control group did not do the exercises, but continued their usual lifestyles, and did not smoke or drink.". Taking baseline lung expansion and lung volume before and after the trial, lead researcher Raoyrin Chanavirut found that "short-term yoga exercise improves respiratory breathing capacity by increasing chest wall expansion and forced expiratory lung volumes. These findings may benefit people suffering from illnesses that affect breathing, including asthma."

Relaying back to Doug's initial question that sparked my curiosity: "What is more important to you here in this class...your lungs or your mind. You decide." To me, the brain is the new "heart" when practicing yoga. It has the power to control every aspect of your body; you have the power to control every aspect of your body. What do you think is more important for both short and long term benefits? Training your lungs or your brain?


PS: You still may be saying, "running has the same effect on my brain and lungs", and you're right, but check out why 8 Reasons Why Yoga Beats The Gym!


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1 Comment

Personally, I have never done yoga. The way you wrote this blog makes it seem so relaxing! I wonder if I should give it a try. I agree with you that the brain is something that I would focus on while doing yoga. I feel as if yoga is like meditation. The way you describe how yoga effects the brain makes me want to give it a try. Here's an article from Huffington Post about yoga and the brain. I hope you find it interesting! Maybe I'll have to give yoga a try, it sounds a lot better than a treadmill!

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