Yoga alone offers many benefits to the body; however, paired with meditation, yoga offers a powerful mind-body connection which has been supported with scientific evidence. The ability to meld the body with the mind has long existed in yoga’s history. In fact, in her international bestseller, Eat, Pray, Love, author Elizabeth Gilbert recounts a conversation she had with Ketut Liyer, a Balinese healer regarding the importance of incorporating meditation as a daily practice:
“Why they always look so serious in Yoga? You make serious face like this, you scare away good energy. To meditate, only you must smile. Smile with face, smile with mind, and good energy will come to you and clean away dirty energy. Even smile in your liver. Practice tonight at hotel. Not to hurry, not to try too hard. Too serious, you make you sick. You can calling the good energy with a smile.”
This passage touches on the great power that yoga and meditation can offer the physical and emotional body. While yoga’s attention to postures and breathing provides vast benefits for the body and mind, the addition of meditation packs a powerful punch for mental and spiritual health. Working to strengthen the mind, body and spirit simultaneously not only results in physical improvements, but emotional improvements as well. There is research evidence that a cohesive relationship between one’s mental, physical and spiritual self can have a direct effect on heart, respiratory and mental health.
Improves Physical Health
A study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine examined the combined effects of Hatha Yoga and Omkar Meditation on a small group of volunteers to assess the combination’s effects on cardiorespiratory performance among other measurable factors. Researchers found that after 3 months of daily yogic and meditation practices, the participants showed an improvement in overall cardiorespiratory performance. In addition to improved heart health, blood work also showed that the participants also tested positive for increased melatonin levels. This data suggests that regularly participating in yoga and meditation may increase the secretion of melatonin, which is a hormone that contributes to an individual’s overall sense of well-being; it also aids in regulating sleep cycles.
Heightens Emotional Well-Being
A small 2004 study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology set out to determine if the combination of yoga and meditation could positively affect dementia caregiver stress. Although it was a small study involving only 12 female participants, researchers found that a regular practice of combined yoga and meditation led to a reduction of stress resulting from caregiving. Participants’ stress levels were tested prior to the study, and after the six sessions of a program called Inner Resources, data revealed “…statistically significant reductions in depression and anxiety and improvements in perceived self-efficacy”. While caregivers can experience significant stressors that impede physical and emotional functioning, regularly participating in a yoga and meditation program could exist as part of a well-rounded self-care program to positively address stress.
Strengthens the Mind-Body Connection
The combination of yoga and meditation not only promotes overall wellness, but can be used to directly strengthen the mind-body connection. A journal article published in the Nurse Practitioner Forum examined the positive effects of hatha yoga, meditation, and guided imagery with patients. The author examined three case studies conducted at private practices and found that while hatha yoga works to create both physical and emotional balance within an individual, adding meditation and guided imagery further supports this balance and works to strengthen an individual’s ability to self-actualize. This process of self-actualization improves the overall mind-body connection leading to better physical and emotional health.
An interesting study conducted in 2003 found that yoga and meditation could amplify memory. In this study, researchers tested the verbal and spatial memory of children ages 11 to 16. The control group attended a fine arts camp while the experimental group attended a yoga camp. The children attending the fine arts camp immersed themselves in art while the children attending the yoga camp participated in yoga postures, yoga breathing, meditation, and guided relaxation activities. After 10 consecutive days, each group was assessed again on their verbal and spatial memory. Researchers found that the experimental group, which had been practicing both yoga and meditation, demonstrated an increase of 43% on memory tests. While the participants practiced yoga for ten straight days with daily segments broken down into asanas, pranayama, kriyas, meditation, and guided relaxation among games and stories, researchers believe that a dedicated yoga and meditation practice could significantly improve recall ability.
While each individual may not experience every benefit listed here, science supports the combination of yoga and meditation to positively affect the body. Engaging in a regular practice is best, and a daily practice of both yoga and meditation is even better.