Though often we focus on the physical aspect of yoga is as much a mental practice. Regular sessions, whether at home or in the studio, can help us achieve a quiet mind.
What does that mean? It means a mind that is at peace, accepting, aware of the moment without judgement. It means a mind that is able to acknowledge pain, confusion or difficulty without getting swept into those emotions. Yoga gives us this capacity by teaching us to breath — thereby calming our nervous system.
University professor Matthew C Nisbet wrote a great article on the science of yoga and how it quiets our mind. Breathing is key:
Compared to running, lifting weights, or other forms of exercise, it is yoga’s focus on controlled breathing that makes the practice unique, writes New York Times science journalist William Broad (2012) in The Science of Yoga. The focus on the breath is one reason studies consistently indicate that yoga in comparison to conventional exercise is more effective at managing feelings of stress, depression, and anxiety. Almost all forms of yoga emphasize Ujjayi pranayama, a style of slow breathing. When we breathe quickly, which often occurs when we experience stress or anxiety, carbon dioxide levels in our blood-stream decrease while oxygen levels stay the same. The imbalance produced by faster than normal breathing boosts the excitability of our nerves and muscles, producing muscle spasms and tingling in our extremities, which can trigger greater feelings of anxiety.
In contrast, the slow breathing emphasized in yoga practice increases carbon dioxide levels. In response, blood vessels in the brain dilate, sending more oxygen to the brain. By enabling our brains to absorb more oxygen, the slow breathing of yoga increases calmness and alertness, writes Broad.
Regular practice — especially daily pranayama — is a simple, holistic way to find peace in every day life.