What Does Yoga Do that Exercise Doesn’t?

I recently trained in how to deliver yoga to people with cancer with CU FITTER. The overwhelming evidence is that exercise is beneficial in reducing the likelihood of developing a recurrence of cancer and improving your quality of life throughout. Just as with all the studies on exercise and heart conditions, it is a no-brainer- get moving.

So, why is yoga different from exercise?

Well, yoga is a form of exercise, and some. I have just been to the Teenyoga conference in London, and it was very inspirational. Shirely Telles cited one of her studies in which a group of children aged 10-12 years old did either 45 minutes of yoga or exercise daily for three months. Both groups improved academic performance, cognitive flexibility and their behaviour, but only the yogic group improved self-esteem and wellbeing.

In another of her studies, yoga is shown to decrease cortisol levels by 35% after practicing for just once a week for three months. Stress is one of the biggest causes of disease.

Tina Cartwright carried out one of the first UK surveys on yoga and found that yoga decreased stress by 98% for the participants involved. These were the usual yogic demographic, that is mainly white, middle-class, female and well- educated, but still it shows something.

For Lucy Arnsby, she feels the reason that yoga is better than exercise is because of interoception. What is this? Basically, this is the capacity to track your bodily sensations. We can move, and that’s great. However, if we move and stay connected to how we are feeling, this changes everything.

Our bodies are mapped in the brainstem, hypothalamus and insular cortex, the lower parts of the brain. When we observe and watch ourselves, it kick-starts the frontal cortex (the medial frontal cortex to be precise) to connect to these lower parts as it monitors them. This is the very same connection we need to regulate our impulsive behaviour, stress and emotions. This is the connection that falters during stress and in neurodiverse populations, and which allows past narratives or re-lived trauma to take control.

So, what can we do about it?

When you begin your practice, I recommend the Yoga Nidra technique of the rotation of consciousness. All this means is that you follow each body part in sequence naming it silently to yourself and infusing your whole felt-sense presence into it. You start on the right hand-side since this correlates with the left brain, the noisier, analytical one. You begin with the right-hand thumb, moving up the arm, down the right side, the right leg, foot, and then over to the left. After this, you go through the back and front of the body, ending on feeling the whole body together.

Bit-by-bit, tune in and feel yourself!

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