Here’s the thing, yoga is a huge, all-encompassing topic and ahimsa (non-violence) is just one microcosm of the much, much larger picture. And the truth is, we could go on and on for years talking about each fundamental aspect of ahimsa because for a microcosm, it’s pretty huge itself. But, we don’t intend to become a broken record – though I know we’ll make our way back to this topic, so this is it; part 4 of a 4-part series about nonviolence:
To recap, we’ve discussed that ahimsa is the first rule of all things (a.k.a. be nice), we’ve talked about the fact that the kiddos in our lives can easily identify how to be nice and that we as adults seem to be a bit fuzzier on the subject, and we talked about the fact that being nice should be ingrained in our hearts. Maybe none of that resonated (another topic we’ll get to…) with you and you’re sitting there wondering ok, but what does being nice mean for me? That my friends is in fact a valid question and we’re going to get to it today. – Nerd alert: this is about to get scientific.
If you’ve peeked at our site, beyond our blog, you may have noticed that we love to learn! As a result, we’re happy to read and report back on available research about yoga. The good news as it relates to ahimsa, it has been scientifically proven that through practice we can build empathy and compassion, 2 vital components of ahimsa, in the brain. Let’s start by explaining why yoga is different than other exercises which may also help in brain functioning, yoga is not an exercise… Yes, there is clearly a physical aspect to yoga asana (posture) and guess what, it builds strength, increases flexibility, and has the ability to lower our heart-rate and blood pressure just like exercise does. And it’s a lifestyle.
Meditation, pranayama (breath-work), and mantra (resolution), and yes even asana, help to change our mental and emotional bodies, too. And there is some evidence that different aspects of yoga change different parts of the brain: the physical work helps to build grey matter in the brain and meditation, pranayama, and mantra help to build grey matter in different parts of the brain, and/or in other ways than does physical exercise. Therefore, it would seem that if we practice yoga in multiple ways, we’re getting added benefits than had we just practiced one aspect of yoga or another type of physical exercise.
In fact, both The Washington Post and The New York Times have recently run pieces, and citing professional publication journal articles, regarding the positive changes of meditation on the brain. For instance, according to the study cited by the Post, a Harvard researcher found “thickening” in the walls of the left hippocampus (thought to be associated with “emotional regulation”) and the temporo parietal junction (“associated with perspective taking, empathy and compassion”). That thickening created means more, a higher capacity for both of those things!
It would seem, however, that all of the studies available regarding the benefits of yoga on the brain suggests that much more research is needed as a result of the fact that the research is still so new. But, if these researchers turn out to be right and yoga in all forms can truly make our brains not only better at regulating our emotions, but empathizing and being compassionate for other’s experiences, won’t we in fact be a kinder, gentler, less (non-)violent society? Start practicing, take a personal 30-day yoga challenge and how your physical, mental, and emotional bodies will be rewarded!