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By Tiara Sutton

The Psycho-Physiological Effects of Yoga on Body and Soul

Yoga performs the dual task of improving physical well-being while simultaneously improving mindfulness and overall mental health. Yoga has had positive effects on both the material body by developing flexibility and building muscle, as well as addressing mental health issues by using meditation and relaxing techniques in order to help with stress levels and psychological trauma.

Harkess' study (2017) found that yoga had a significant impact on the psychophysiological wellness of women who engaged in the practice at least once a week. She also found that "Yoga demonstrated a large positive effect on practitioner flexibility and should be further investigated as an adjunct treatment for back pain rehabilitation" (pp. 44). This study is really promising considering that doing yoga as little as once a week can drastically improve stress-levels while simultaneously helping women with chronic ailments like back pain cope and even possibly recover from it. Although Harkess cautions that the sample size of her study was too small to give a definitive answer on whether yoga has "clinical significance" in "psychophysiological stress management" (pp. 45), but her study is a great start in providing some qualitative evidence that yoga can significantly improve stress-levels in women.

West (2017) finds that using yoga to promote a sense of "awareness" in "one's emotional and physical being" (pp. 173) can help survivors of child abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder cope with their anxiety. West uses a variety of methodologies including interviews and data analysis in order to conclude that Hatha yoga can be used as a complementary treatment to help cope with stress brought on by psychological trauma. West utilizes the interviews with participants in order to measure how Hatha yoga helps those who regularly practice it by altering the relationship that people have with their trauma. "One woman said that she "learned more about patience in the process… instead of being so strict about what was right or wrong for myself . . . I am an ongoing project" […] [Others] described more compassion for their bodies and increased self-care" (pp. 183) Instead of viewing their trauma as a looming force that controls every aspect of their lives, they begin to see how their trauma impacts how they interact with the world, which enables them to establish a stronger sense of connectedness with themselves. Hatha yoga improves awareness, mental well-being, and "internal balance" (pp. 191) by empowering the practitioners of it and encouraging synergy between body and mind.

While the other studies focus on the positive impacts that yoga has on the mental and physical well-being of women, Kidd (2017) focuses on the benefits that yoga can have on men. Even though yoga is popularly regarded as a feminine practice, men described that yoga had a significant impact on reconnecting them with spirituality as well as with synthesizing "their medicine, […] their physical maintenance, […] their therapy" (pp. 272). Men also described feeling a stronger synergy between their minds and bodies. The mind-body connection is a topic that emerges in multiple disciplines, but most popularly in philosophy. Descartes "conceived of the mind and body as two quite separate substances, mutually distinct from one another and each of which is able to exist independently of the other" (pp. 274). This philosophy aligns perfectly with how men described feeling a deeper understanding that their bodies function as a vessel for performing the consciousness that rules the realm of the mind.

Yoga not only improves the physical condition of the body, but also mental wellness and overall self-esteem in all genders. It also shows that it can positively impact and promote awareness and connectedness when dealing with trauma and stress, as well as help treat chronic ailments like back pain.

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