As teachers, it is essential to know that, according to research, we can change people’s mindsets and brains by educating our students. Such education and understanding have long-term and cascading effects on the health of the whole bio-psycho-social system of the individual and psycho-neuro-endocrine-immunological system for our students and ourselves.
Let us say it simply. We can educate ourselves and our students on the evidence-based benefits of asana and meditation. With valuable education, the effects are more remarkable for our brains, overall health and well-being and ultimately, the community at large.
How can we teach Yoga to turbo-charge brain function?
Exercise scientist Professor Damian Bailey from the University of South Wales has discovered that performing mental tasks while exercising can increase blood flow to the back of the brain. This increased blood flow can help reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and panic in the long term.
In particular, exercise has been found to target specific parts of the brain that are fundamental to mood, and this effect can be achieved without strenuous physical activity. Yoga, of course, can be one such activity. Professor Bailey highlights the importance of working the brain at the same time as working the body in order to achieve maximum benefit.
One way to achieve this is by engaging in activities such as Yoga with an educator who will push your concentration further whilst engaging in asana practice. If we want to turbo-charge brain function and increase blood flow to the back of the brain, we could involve a focus on breath, continually change the movements in a slightly unpredictable fashion for the brain, use smaller areas of the body such as lips, eyes, fingers and toes.
A teacher or therapist could request that whilst performing poses, a student keep the beat with body parts to certain yogic music tracks to increase dopamine and neuroplasticity. Notably, a concentration task such as listening to a teacher explain scientific concepts and evidence-based yoga research will also boost blood flow to the brain, change mindset, and make the exercises work for them. Read more on this below…
The research underscores the importance of combining physical and mental activity to achieve optimal health benefits. By exercising while engaging in mental tasks, individuals can improve blood flow to the brain and alleviate mental health symptoms in the long term. Listening to podcasts whilst on the move can improve blood flow to the back of the brain if you are also a walker or runner.
Watch The Truth about Mental Health to understand this research:
Timestamp 18 minutes – 26 minutes
How can we use the Science of Yoga to make exercise more effective for the student?
Dr Crum and Dr Langer’s research on mindsets has shown that changing our beliefs and perceptions about exercise can significantly impact our physical health outcomes, which can be attributed to the placebo effect. One of their studies explored the placebo effect of exercise. They examined how the impact of changing the perception of hotel room cleaning to daily exercise tasks took participants on a journey to better health and well-being. This occurred simply with a change in mindset about their jobs!
Enjoy watching how our mind changes our reality!
5 minutes with Dr Alia Crum – The science of mindset on diet, exercise and food
The study divided hotel employees who cleaned rooms into two groups. The first group was educated about the health benefits of their job within 15 minutes. They were told the calories burned during cleaning were enough to be considered healthy exercise. In contrast, the second group was not given this education. Although both groups performed the same amount of physical activity, the group that was given the mindset that their job was exercise experienced significant health benefits.
After only 4 weeks the group that was provided with the exercise mindset lost an average of 2 pounds, lowered their systolic blood pressure by 10 points, and had a healthier BMI compared to the group that did not have the exercise whilst cleaning at work mindset! This study demonstrates the power of mindset in achieving physical health goals and shows that the perception of exercise is crucial in achieving optimal health. The fact that they knew what exercise was doing for them affected their health outcomes.
Furthermore, this study supports the idea that the placebo effect significantly affects health outcomes. The placebo effect is a phenomenon where a person experiences a positive health outcome after receiving a treatment or intervention, even if the treatment is not proven therapeutic. The study shows that the placebo effect of exercise can be achieved by changing a person’s mindset towards a specific task or activity.
Overall, Dr Alia Crum and Dr Ellen Langer’s research highlights the importance of mindset in achieving optimal health and shows how changing our beliefs and perceptions can significantly impact our physical well-being. By understanding the power of the placebo effect, we can use our mindset to our advantage and achieve better health outcomes.
What Evidence Based Yoga Research can I begin to include in my everyday teachings?
Over the coming months, we can begin to explore the following ten fields of emerging research for Yoga & Meditation teachers and therapists that you can begin to implement in your teachings:
- The Vagus Nerve & PolyVagal Theory
- The Heart-Brain Connection
- Heart Rate Variability (HRV)
- The Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) Axis
- The Gut-Brain Axis
- Psychoneuroendocrinoimmunology (PNI)
- Neuroplasticity and Cortical Remapping
- Bioplasticity and The Embodied Brain
- Meditation for our DNA, Epigenome, Telomeres
- Meditation’s Effects on our Inner Pharmacy
I look forward to sharing the latest research in Yoga, Meditation & Lifestyle Medicine with you with further articles on the mentioned evidence.
By Celia Roberts, Yoga Australia Registered Senior Teacher and Registered Yoga Therapist. She runs the BioMedical Institute of Yoga & Meditation (BIYOME) in the foothills of Brisbane, Australia. She invites people from all walks of life to merge science and spirituality for betterment of their health and well-being, to ultimately know depth, stillness and compassion within.
Bailey, D. (2019). The Impact of Exercise on the Brain: What It Means for Depression, Anxiety, and Stress. Oxford University Press.
Crum, A. J., & Langer, E. (2007). Mindset matters Exercise and the placebo effect. Psychological Science, 18(2), 165-171.