Guest Writer Feature: The Science of Yoga by Kamila Isabelle Navarro

Today's guest writer is MindMover intern Kami Navarro, a graduate of BS Molecular Biology and Biotechnology from University of the Philippines - Diliman. 

            We know how the cycle goes: every few years, a new exercise takes the Philippines by storm. In the early 00's, it was Pilates. Towards the end of the decade, Zumba arrived, with a bevy of heavily-attended mall Zumba parties attesting to its popularity. There's now a "new" kid on the block in the Philippine fitness scene: yoga, which is actually an ancient discipline originating in India.

             Despite its presence over the last couple thousand years, it seems that Filipinos (myself included) only recently discovered such an exercise. There's no doubt, however, that yoga is growing in local popularity each day, with a new yoga studio popping up every few months and a large amount of celebrities proudly displaying their yoga poses on Instagram.

Local celebrities Iza Calzado and Bianca King showing off their prowess in yoga
[Photo credit: Iza Calzado and Bianca King's Instagram accounts]

              As with any health and fitness trend, it's important to know if yoga actually lives up to its hype. Does practicing yoga have any benefits (aside from giving you the ability to do insanely photogenic poses)? Obviously, it does. Standing poses with cool-sounding names such Warrior I and Lord of the Dance Pose strengthen leg muscles, open the hips and gives the back a good stretch. Inversions, like the one done by Bianca King above, increase blood flow to the heart, lungs and brain while refining the sense of balance. Backbends, as one would probably suspect, improve spinal flexibility. 

The One-Legged King Pigeon Pose [Photo credit: Jeffery Cross,] 

 The Feathered Peacock Pose [Photo credit:]

           However, the rewards of yoga go beyond the physical aspect. Regular yoga practice has been found to increase levels of calming brain chemicals such as GABA, serotonin and dopamine, resulting in overall feelings of relaxation and contentedness. At the same time, yoga also reduces cortisol levels significantly. 

          Cortisol, another hormone like GABA and the like, is produced in times of stress and has been found to harmful in large amounts. If there is too much cortisol in our system, certain white blood cells are immobilized, lowering the capability of our immune system to defend against attackers.

          It has also been found that the more hours of yoga practiced per week, the more enlarged certain areas of the brain were. Among these areas were the hippocampus, which reduces stress, the visual cortex, which aids in visualization during meditation, the somatosensory cortex, which improves bodily awareness, and finally, the superior parietal cortex and posterior cingulate cortex, which are involved in focusing attention internally.

         Incredibly, yoga has also been implicated in increasing longevity. Yoga practitioners were found to have up to a 30% increase in telomerase levels - the enzyme responsible for protecting the tips of our chromosomes from degradation that causes ageing.

        With all the aforementioned benefits, it's clear that the popularity of yoga is justified. There's a widespread misconception that yoga is just all about the flexibility, but the sheer amount of mental benefits make it so much more than that. Namaste!


1.  Sutherland, S. (2014). "How Yoga Changes the Brain." Retrieved on July 22, 2015 from:
2.  Salamon, M. (2010). "The Science of Yoga and Why it Works." Retrieved on July 22, 2015 from:
3.  Walton, A. (2013). "Penetrating Postures: The Science of Yoga". Retrieved on July 22, 2015 from:

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