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>

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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.

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 🙂

An Anime Auto-ethnographic Experience Take 2.

Watching ‘Ghost in the Shell’ was a whole new experience for me. Whilst I didn’t particularly enjoy the film, it was a genre that I don’t often (if ever) watch. As I wrote in my previous post, I found it hard to keep up with the film as my mind was constantly wandering elsewhere. What I did gather from the film was a strong theme of questioning what it means to be human.
When it was put to the class that we had to continue from our previous posts, I found myself at a mental standstill. I had no idea what further thoughts I had of the film. And to be really honest, I hadn’t given the film a single thought since watching it. In a somewhat confused state, I began analysing my previous post and looking at ways in which I could progress in examining Ghost in the Shell.
My first thought was that I don’t really have a great understanding of what anime is. I knew that anime is a Japanese animated production and that the genre became particularly popular in the Western world during the 60’s when Astro Boy was produced in English.
So I started researching the history of Anime and found that I was able to make sense of some things that had confused me with a basic understanding of anime conventions. Here are some things that I found interesting with regards to the history of anime and Ghost in the Shell:
– Anime is a diverse art form with distinctive production methods (eg. There is less focus on movement and more on the realism of settings) and techniques that have been adapted over time in response to emergent technologies.
As it turns out, the film ‘Ghost in the Shell’ was one of the first films to be produced using a combination of both cel animation and computer generated images.
I also wondered how the philosophy behind the futuristic setting of the film (2029) would be conveyed in other genres. The production of Ghost in the Shell as an anime seems to perfectly fit the genres production techniques, allowing for heavier themes to underlie the storyline. I wonder how well the moral of the film will adapt to the forthcoming Hollywood release.

– Diverse art styles are used and character proportions and features can be quite varied, including characteristically large emotive eyes or realistically sized eyes. Body proportions also tend to accurately reflect the proportions of the human body in reality.
This particular convention lit a light bulb in my head and made me think straight away of the nudity in the film. The nudity was not overly sexualised, it was just showing a human body, although it was a point that a lot of students in the class (including myself) raised as somewhat odd. Perhaps the nudity in this film was to make Kusanagi seem more “real”, more “human” in a world where the meaning of being human was constantly being contested.

With a basic understanding of anime conventions under my belt, I found that I was able to understand the films theme with a lot more clarity.
This futuristic film questions what it means to be human in a world where a vast electronic network pervades all aspects of life.
In the film, the term ‘ghost’ is used to define an individual’s conscious. Science has redefined the ‘ghost’ as the thing that differentiates a human being from a biological robot, meaning that as long as an individual retains their ghost, they retain their humanity.
The process of evolution in the film also acts as a major theme. Except that in this world, evolution is a process of merging two sets of DNA together in order to create a third. An example of this is the story of Kusanagi, a cyborg who was once a human, although due to an illness as a child had most of her body replaced with cybernetic prosthetics. Throughout the film we see Kusanagi continuously question whether or not she was actually once a human. At the end of the film Kusanagi’s body is destroyed and her brain is put in a new body.
Whilst this demonstrates the process of evolution in the film, it also questions what it means to be human beyond having the ability to think. If all bodies were replaced with cybernetic parts would you still be human? Does replacing the brain still make one human? What exactly does being human mean?!

giphy

An Anime Experience

Being told that you’ll be watching a film during your first class for the session is always an exciting event. This unusual happening was made even more thrilling when we were given an option as to which film we wanted to watch. My attention had been grabbed. When we were asked if we’d prefer to watch Godzilla or a film that I didn’t quite catch the title of, I was really hoping that the majority vote was for the former, as I had no idea what the ‘Ghost’ movie was, and being a class about Digital Asia I was pretty safe in assuming that it wasn’t Patrick Swayze’s ‘Ghost’. But, alas, the majority vote went to ‘Ghost in the Shell’, an anime film. My heart dropped. I’m not a fan nor do I follow anime (outside of some childhood fave’s including Pokémon and Sailor Moon), so I was somewhat hesitant as the film began.

ghostintheshell
Perhaps it was due to my lack of understanding of anime, but I found myself rather disinterested in the film, and spent the time distracting myself with thoughts about travel, market stalls and motorbikes.
However, there were a few times that the film did manage to grab my attention. The first being the use of the thermal invisi-shield, which I admit, I thought was a pretty cool inclusion for a 90’s film. Sci-fi digs aside though, I found that a lot of the film seemed to be questioning what it means to be human. It went beyond the ‘I think; therefore I am’ stigma and instead delved further into being human via means of showing feelings such as empathy and vulnerability, both of which were displayed with nudity and the desire to reproduce.
I don’t think that I’ll be watching anime films at leisure anytime soon, however I did find it interesting that Dreamworks have recently announced that they will be doing their own adaptation of the film directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Scarlett Johansson. However, this has been greeted with much dismay from fans of the original Japanese anime form, who have created a petition and have so far got over 15,000 signatures in order to have Johansson’s role dismissed and instead replaced with an actress of Asian heritage.