Yoga – Research Summary

At the end of my previous yoga blog post, I wrote about the connection between yoga and depression/anxiety and was left wondering whether or not India (the country that yoga originates from) had fewer depression and anxiety cases than Western countries due to yoga practice.
As a whole, the claim that yoga can act as an alternative medicine with regards to mental illness is largely inconclusive as there hasn’t been a sufficient amount of research done to confirm this, however there are a few studies that suggest this, which I will get to in a moment.

With regards to depression in India, it turns out that India has the highest amount of reported cases of depression in the world, according to a 2012 medical review.

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I found this statistic to be interesting as in India, yoga has a history of therapeutic benefits, which have been documented and edited by Sri Kuvalayananda in the first journal dedicated to yoga research, Yoga Mimasa, which was launched in 1924.

As we know, yoga originated in India thousands of years ago as a philosophical or spiritual discipline to deliver practitioners from suffering, or disease. The practice of yoga unifies the mind and body through coordinated breathing, movement and meditation, which has been known to promote wellbeing and reduce stress (Jeter Et al, 2015).

There have been numerous yoga studies undertaken that demonstrate the positive effects that the practice of yoga has on psychological wellbeing. Which has led to the rise of yoga studios in the West, popularizing yoga with a holistic wellness approach.

In 2009, Harvard Medical School released an article collating research that had been done on yoga in relation to anxiety and depression from 2004 onwards. While they state that they found that a lot of the studies had been poorly designed, they did find that there had been a rise in recent studies utilizing randomized controlled trials – the most accurate standard for proving efficacy.

A 2005 German study saw 24 women who described themselves as “emotionally distressed” attend two 90 minute yoga classes per week over a three month period. Another group of women in a control group were asked to maintain their normal activities and withhold from beginning an exercise or stress relief program during the study period.
While the women in this study had not been formally diagnosed with depression, they had all experienced emotional distress for some time prior to the three-month study period. They were also one standard deviation above the population in scores for perceived stress, anxiety and depression.
At the end of the three-month trial period, the women that were in the yoga group reported greater improvements in stress, depression, anxiety, energy, fatigue and wellbeing than those in the other group.

There have been several other studies undertaken that have all shown similar outcomes. Another example of this is the Boston University Medical Centre Study that I touched on in my pervious blog post. This particular study saw researchers set out to contrast the GABA levels (Low GABA levels are associated with depression and anxiety disorders) of yoga subjects with those of participants who spent time working over a twelve week period.

One group practiced yoga three times a week for an hour, while the other group walked for the same amount of time. MRS imaging was used to scan participant’s brains before the study began. At the end of the twelve-week period, the researchers compared the GABA levels of participant’s in both groups.

In addition to MRS imaging, each subject was asked to assess his/her psychological state at different points throughout the study. Those that practiced yoga reported a more significant decrease in anxiety and greater improvements in mood than those in the walking group. The positive changes in this report were reflected in climbing GABA levels.

While there haven’t been any studies done that prove and explain the relationship between practicing yoga and improvement in mental health, the studies that have been done all positively warrant further studies and suggest that practicing yoga could be considered as a potential therapy for certain mental disorders.

References

Boston University Medical Center. “New study finds new connection between yoga and mood.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 August 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100819112124.htm>

Harvard Mental Health Letter, Harvard Medical School, 2009, Yoga for Anxiety and Depression, Harvard Health Publications, viewed 23rd September, < http://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/yoga-for-anxiety-and-depression&gt;


Jeter Pamela E., Slutsky Jeremiah, Singh Nilkamal, and Khalsa Sat Bir S, 2015, ‘Yoga as a Therapeutic Intervention’, The Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine, Volume 00, Number 0, PP. 1-7, viewed 23rd September, < http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/pdf/10.1089/acm.2015.0057>

Yoga – Mind, Body Spirit – Connections

Yoga; a discipline that has become widely practiced in the Western world for a variety of reasons. Traditionally, yoga is a spiritual, physical and mental practice that originated in India. However, since the 1980’s has been popularized in the west as a means of physical exercise.

I’ve been practicing yoga for just over 5 years now and it is something that I am quite passionate about. I do yoga for the mental and spiritual aspects, I enjoy the peace of mind and self/surrounding-awareness that practicing yoga creates. The physical changes that come with practicing yoga for me are an added bonus that along with the mental calm and spirituality motivates me to continue practicing.

In my last blog post I wrote that at the end of the hatha yoga class everyone in the room seemed to be on the same wavelength. Every face in the room was at ease, happy and content. It’s a feeling that I’ve never put a lot of thought into, but rather just enjoyed the enigmatic sensations as it happened. Upon arrival at this class, I was feeling stressed out. A combination of things had me feeling uptight, and to be really honest I didn’t have a great deal of motivation to get up and do anything that day, let alone go to a yoga class. This isn’t the first time that I’ve gone to practice yoga with an invisible cloud of negativity floating around in my head, although, just like every other time, I came out of the class in a good headspace. Fresh and rejuvenated only an hour later.

The realisation of my apparent mood change had me wondering. I wondered if I practiced yoga more often would these disheartening moods become less frequent. Was there research already proving this?

Initially I Googled ‘Why do people do yoga?’

I was immediately greeted with over 42million pages on why people practise yoga. Reasons varied from better sex all the way to reducing pains with relation to cancer, asthma and autoimmune disease. The result of this particular search was very varied, leaving too much room and not enough time to cover the endless possibilities as to why people practice yoga. It was apparent that I had to choose just one of these reasons and stick with it.
One reason that popped up a lot in my search that struck my attention was yoga as an alternative medicine. Not only was there a lot of research available, it tied in with my own prior thoughts about yoga in relation to state of mind.

Science news website sciencedaily.com states that yoga has been used in America to lower blood pressure, reduce stress and improve coordination, flexibility, concentration, sleep and digestion.

Through my experience with yoga, I am able to confirm that all of these are true for myself.

However with regards to mood, the Boston University Medical Centre conducted research that showed that yoga might be a superior form of exercise than others with regards to a positive effect on mood and anxiety. These findings were the first that demonstrate a link between yoga postures, increased brain gamma-aminobutyric levels (GABA) and decreased anxiety.

I will draw more on this finding in the next blog post.
The only other thought I am left with is the status of depression and anxiety in yoga’s motherland, India. Is depression and anxiety less prevalent in the country that yoga originated from? Is there research that suggests one way or another?

funny-yoga-yogi-bear-pics

A Yoga Auto-ethnographic Experience

I turn the corner and enter the room, it oozes zen. A woman who introduces herself as the yoga instructor greets me at the door. She guides me to a rack at the back of the room where I am to place my belongings. Further along the back wall there is another rack filled with spare mats, bolsters, eye bags, blankets and elastics. I turn around and walk towards a vacant mat on the floor and sit down. I take in my surroundings; there are a few other people on mats, some lying down, some sitting. There are people coming in, placing their belongings on the same rack I’d just placed mine and are choosing which mat to make theirs for the next hour. There is relaxing, hollow, mountain sounding music quietly playing. At the front of the room there is a slightly raised platform, surrounded by luscious green plants, Buddhist mantra wall hangings and singing bowls.
The mood of the room is so calming; it makes it hard to believe that I am in the busy Shellharbour shopping district.

The lights are dimmed and we see the yoga instructor make her way to the raised platform as she tells us in her gentle voice to lie down and close our eyes as we begin our 7 minute relaxation.

During the relaxation we are taught to quieten our minds and relax our muscles. We slow our breath down, to a count of three. In two three. Out two three. Awareness is given to an area of your body one at a time and then it is gone, allowing that part of your body to sink into the mat which you are lying on. And then there is a minute of silence.

The silence comes to an end when we are told to raise our knees to our chest, hugging them and then rock side to side. This feels like a massage for the spine. We slowly open our eyes and come to a sitting position on our mats. We begin oxygenating our bodies with our breath. Deep breathe in through the nose to the abdomen. Deep breathe out through the nose, releasing all of the unneeded CO2. We do this for a few minutes before standing up on our mats to do some exercises to limber up our bodies, getting them ready for the array of postures that are coming up.

We practice different postures for about 40 minutes. Some on the floor some standing up, all using different core muscles. The postures come to an end with downward dog. From this pose we go into child pose before sitting up to do ten minutes of meditation.

Meditation consists of total mental quiet. Focus is on the breath. If desired, you can breathe a mantra. Today it was ‘peace’ as you breathed in to a count of three, and ‘calm’ as you breathed out to a count of three. The phrase peace and calm was repeated with every breath.
As we gently opened our eyes at the conclusion of mediation, everyone in the room raised their hands to a prayer position in front of their chests and said ‘namaste’ – the divine in me honours and worships the divine in you.

This class had come to an end. Looking around it’s as if everyone else is feeling the same. Relaxed, content, at peace.

Volunteering abroad from the perspective of a former volunteer

Rather then utilising this space to conduct a research analysis of “voluntourism”, I’m going to write about my time spent volunteering abroad, what I learnt from the experience and debunking a few myths that revolve around volunteering.

Firstly, I found this topic to be a touchy one. I 100% comprehend and understand the problems surrounding volunteering, or voluntourism, but I found that I somewhat disagree with some of the arguments that were being made.
We’ll start off with my story. In 2011 I volunteered at an HIV/AIDS rehab centre in Nepal. To put it short, this trip was very eye opening, educational and at times hard. A criticism that is often made with regards to volunteering is the ideologies that the “privileged white people volunteers” go over thinking; I’m doing something good for me and society, I am helping those less fortunate than I, I am going to have fun and see touristy sites whilst playing with children etc etc. None of these reasons for wanting to volunteer are ill intentioned, so it’s not so much a criticism that is being made, but perhaps a warning.
If you’re going abroad with that mind-set, let me tell you, you’re in for a huge shock! To be honest, I didn’t go volunteering abroad with any mind-sets. If anything, I was just shit-scared! I had no idea what to expect of a, Nepal and b, my placement. Upon arrival in Nepal I experienced culture shock, something that you can’t prepare for! And going in to the rehab centre for the first time, I was apprehensive, until I met the infected children and their mothers, who were very welcoming and friendly.

A few things that I learnt abroad that are worth sharing:

  1. Research volunteer companies well! I was made well aware of this issue one night when talking to my host Mum, who told me how much money she received for each volunteer she housed. I was shocked to learn that she only received a small fraction of what I paid to be abroad! So make sure you take the time to find a company that isn’t thinking of dollar signs – a good starting point in deciphering is the less it costs, the better.
  1. Look for companies that require skills in their volunteers! I didn’t have any issues with this as the rehab centre I worked at was run by a local woman, who only used the volunteer company in order to find extra workers, so she knew what she wanted us to do. Typically my day looked like this:
    – 9am: admin/translating work in the office

– 11: children have a break from schoolwork so can spend time with them doing an organised activity (dancing, drawing,           origami etc)
– 12noon: Help prepare food for lunches/help clean up kitchen
– 2: Help nurse in station (organise meds/filing) or fix up anything that needed it or spend time with mothers.
– 4: home time.

However, there are lots of companies who seek volunteers with no skills, these companies are the ones to beware of!

 

  1. Don’t go with the intention to see tourist sites. A lot of companies sell themselves by stating how many sites you can see. If you want to go abroad to see things, don’t volunteer.
  2. Don’t expect to make a difference in a short period of time. Real change happens over a long period of time. Although, this doesn’t mean that your time spent volunteering abroad is a waste! Volunteering is great and does make a difference, and the time you spend helping (while it may only be short) is a vital part of the greater change!

    For me, I obviously didn’t see any miraculous changes whilst abroad. However, my time in Nepal has given me drive to make a change. I was very upset to see how ill-stigmatised HIV/AIDS still is in Nepal and a trip to the hospital with the children had me in an even greater state of disbelief (there was a hospital 10 minutes up the road from the rehab centre, yet HIV+ people were not allowed there and instead had to travel an hour to get to the nearest hospital that allowed HIV+ patients)!
    During that trip I promised myself that one day I will make a change. Since Nepal I have remained active in working for different HIV/AIDS awareness foundations, have volunteered at raising awareness events and now am just about to complete a degree that will act as a good base for making a change!

So to anyone wanting to volunteer, my message to you is this: Don’t be put off by the negative things we hear/read/see in the media. Instead, approach the topic with a realistic mind-set, research companies in order to find the right one for you and prepare to work hard!

Women in Hollywood

“ Nobody’s to blame for the situation in Hollywood. But you can either sit around and talk about how bad it is, or you can do something about it”. Reese Witherspoon.

For many, Patricia Arquette’s acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress in the film ‘Boyhood’ at the 2015 Oscars is unforgettable. Why? She utilised the time to address gender inequality in Hollywood, attributing her award “To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation: we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and to fight for equal rights for women in America.”
And if Arquette’s powerful plea wasn’t memorable enough, Meryl Streep’s reaction is pretty hard to forget.

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Arquette isn’t the first Hollywood celebrity to raise the issue. Cate Blanchett used her Oscars 2014 Best Actress in Blue Jasmine speech to chastise Hollywood for not valuing female protagonists, berating those, “who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the centre are niche experiences. They are not. Audiences want to see them, and in fact, they earn money. The world is round, people.”

Outside of passionate Oscars speeches, word has also been leaked that stars such as Amanda Seyfried and Jennifer Lawrence have been paid only a fraction of what their fellow male co-stars have been paid in big budget films. So what exactly is being done in order to change this inherent gap?

As it turns out, there are actually plenty of female Hollywood icons that are empowering their fellow female workers via a means of platforms. For instance, in 2012 Reese Witherspoon teamed up with Australian Producer Bruna Papandrea to create Pacific Standard, a production company run by women, with the aim to create more meaningful roles for women. Within two years the company has already produced three major-hit films including Gone Girl, Wild and Hot Pursuit, with several more films in production now.

Also in America is The Writers Lab, an initiative run by New York Women in Film and Television, and funded by Meryl Streep, which annually brings together 12 women over the age of 40 for an intimate gathering and intense workshop.

Locally, there is The Dollhouse Collective, a Sydney based Production Company run by Rose Byrne, Krew Boylan, Shannon Murphy, Gracie Otto and Jessica Carrera whose aim is to produce films from a female perspective.

With statistics reported by Stacey Smith of the University of Southern California showing a sad reality (Of the top 250 grossing films of 2014, only 17% of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers were women. And of 5799 characters of 120 popular global films of the same year, only 30.9% were female, with only 23.3% of those films having a female lead or co-lead) I think it’s gone past the time that we need to band together as women to make a change. Change needs to happen now! So whether it is supporting the films that are produced by these female-empowering companies or protesting in equal rights rallies, I think it’s important that we all do our bit to make a difference.

References:

Dimmitt M (2015), ‘Girls on Film’, Renegade Collective, no. 22, pp. 52 – 55.

Manelis M (2015), ‘Reese Witherspoon’, Renegade Collective, no. 23, pp.47 – 49

Differentiating Between Cultural Appropriation and Appreciation

The last couple of years have seen a rise in the popularity of Native American ‘inspired/themed’ clothing, events and keepsakes. I never understood why, but I always felt a pang of annoyance whenever someone would post a photo of his or her new dream catcher tattoo, or their arrow tattoo or really anything that popularized these symbols for their aesthetics. I’m not saying that I don’t think these items are pretty – they are beautiful – but I always felt that these people who were tattooing these sacred images on their bodies or buying them from non-Native market sellers were not appreciative (or even aware of) the sacred meaning these items behold.

I am not of Native American heritage; however growing up I did spend some time at the Hopi Reservation (where my name originates from) in North-Eastern Arizona, where I learnt a lot about the Native American history, their beliefs and sacred practices. As a little girl I would make dream catchers and hang them in my room in an area where the sun could reach the circle in the centre so that my bad dreams would disappear and only good thoughts could enter my mind. Whilst the dream catcher has been used cross-culturally, it originally comes from the Ojibwe tribe, where it is still considered sacred.

This is where my frustration with the dream catcher tattoos and general popularization of the figure stemmed from. I had grown up knowing and respecting the traditions surrounding the dream catcher, and I couldn’t (and still can’t) help but shake the feeling that a lot of people decorating their bodies and personal spaces with this sacred item had/have no clue of its meaning, and instead enjoy the item for its pretty appearance.

Learning about cultural appropriation helped me make sense of the dream catcher’s popularity in the Western world and explained my annoyance with people exploiting it. So what is cultural appropriation? Scafidi, the author of ‘Who owns culture? Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law’, describes it as “Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artefacts from someone else’s culture without permission … This can include unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc. It’s most likely to be harmful when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in other ways or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive, e.g. sacred objects.”

In a Jezebel article by Katie Baker, the journalist asks Scafidi if non-Natives should refrain from buying Native American made or inspired goods out of respect. Scafidi denied this notion, but advises considering what she calls the 3 S’s; Source (has the source community invited you to share this particular part of its culture?), Significance/Sacredness (what is the cultural significance of the item – is it an everyday item or a religious artefact that requires greater respect?) and Similarity (How similar is it to the original?).
Or if you are still troubled, Taté Walker outlines 4 ways in which one can honour Native Americans without Appropriating, including supporting Native Artists, Considering Native-led movements, by calling out appropriation and supporting non-Native companies or organisations that actively honour Native Culture.

Because dream catchers have been adapted cross-culturally, a Non-Native adorning their space with dream catchers is less problematic than, for example, wearing a war bonnet, however when considering purchasing Native American inspired goods, I think it’s very important that one researches the item before buying it.

Further References:

Johnson M, 2015, What’s Wrong with Cultural Appropriation? These 9 Answers Reveal Its Harm, Everyday Feminism, weblog, 14 June, viewed 31 August, <http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/06/cultural-appropriation-wrong/?utm_source=SocialWarfare&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=SocialWarfare&gt;

Native Appropriations, 2010, Native Appropriations, Weblog, viewed 31 August 2015 <http://nativeappropriations.com&gt;

Walsh K, 2015, IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Have a Culturally Insensitive Tattoo, xojane, weblog, 9 June, viewed 31 August, <http://www.xojane.com/it-happened-to-me/cultural-appropriation-tattoo&gt;

Ghost in the Shell Analysis

When comparing my two previous posts on Ghost in the Shell, it becomes very apparent that I was somewhat out of depth to begin with. But not being one to fall in defeat, I pushed myself to learn what I could in order to make sense of my experience.

This auto-ethnographic experience has been a real learning curve for myself. Whilst the study of ethnography isn’t new to me, anime as a genre is. I found grasping the plot of the film difficult to begin with as not only was anime a whole new concept for me to deal with, there were a lot of new conventions being played out in front of me. After viewing the film for the first time, all that I had gathered was that it was another film that questioned what it means to be human. A theme that has been used in many films before, and is continuously questioned by many a philosopher time and time again.

However, upon commencing research on the genre of anime, I learnt of a lot of conventions that were utilised in this particular film and found that it actually connected a lot of dots in my head. Suddenly the film’s plot wasn’t so simple anymore. The way in which defining what it means to be human in this film is backed up by theories of evolution that have the potential to one day become a reality.

Now that I have found clarity in the films theme, I am left wondering two things:
1: Obviously not to the extent in Ghost in the Shell, but I wonder if we would be able to utilise using mechanical body parts to help people with illnesses such as Motor Neurone Disease, MS, people who have lost sensations due to stroke and even amputees. I know that there are prosthetics and some mechanical body parts available, but what if we were able to give these people fully working (ie. touch sensitive) mechanical body parts that look like a normal body part?

2: I’m very curious to see how Hollywood adapt this film in 2017.

SIDENOTE: Just as I was about to click ‘Publish’ I saw this article. It’s about body parts that are being recreated by science 🙂