Dr. Murad was recently on holiday in Hawaii when he sent the office the picture you see in this post above titled Connected Yoga. His message was simple and clear – “This is human interaction at its best. I can see (and feel) the energy passing between everyone in the circle and their experience has been significantly enriched through the power of touch– they are truly connected”.
Dr. Murad furthered his explanation by saying “In this new stress, which I call Cultural Stress, the single most deleterious aspect is social isolation. We tend to spend 10 hours or more sitting or standing alone with our cell phone or computer. Beyond that we tend to spend time alone watching media in its many forms while receiving packages of food, clothing and other essentials without leaving our home. The need for physical contact in its many forms whether it is a yoga class , massage or facial, spending time with friends or even just leaving your home to attend a meeting has become possibly the best medicine to alleviate the constant and pervasive stress of modern living.”
Based on this, we went in search of what was happening in the picture. While many people turn to yoga as a way to switch off from the world outside and reduce stress, an increasing number turn to yoga in search of a greater sense of connection—with themselves and with each other. What is it that we are searching for and why is yoga giving back even more than we originally thought? According to research, yoga may increase the feelings of social connection in a number of ways.
Studies suggest that, as a yoga group of yoga students breathes and moves together, a mental synchronization is taking place as well. Positive Psychology researcher Barbara Fredrickson, author of Love 2.0, states, “What we’ve learned is that when people move together as one orchestrated unit, they later report that they experienced an embodied sense of rapport with each other—they say they felt alive, connected, with a mutual sense of warmth and trust as they converse. Other studies concur. When synchrony is surreptitiously produced in experimental studies—by having people walk, tap, sing, sway, or rock together in time—it breeds liking, cooperation, and compassion as well as success in joint action.” It is this sense of union which increases our connection to one another.
Presence increases connection.
Being fully present in the now (or moment) has a tremendous impact on social bonding. When we’re fully present with another person, we increase the likelihood of experiencing a sense of connection. Without presence, those benefits are watered down. Brain-imaging studies show that when a person is talking, the listener’s brain begins to synch with the speaker’s brain. Gradually, their brains begin to connect simultaneously. This only happens through mindful attention. Barbara Fredrickson writes, “Far from being isolated to one or two brain areas, really ‘clicking’ with someone else appears to be a whole brain dance in a fully mirrored room.” From a yoga perspective, this is why breathing practice focuses on the insula, a part of the brain related to conscious feeling states. By being present, we can build strong, lasting connection.
There’s a growing body of research showing that yoga improves vagal tone, a key nerve in stress resilience. People with low vagal tone tend to have trouble recovering from stressful events, while people with high vagal tone tend to recover with greater ease. In addition, vagal tone is also correlated with feelings of social connection. The greater your vagal tone, the greater your perceived sense of connection. Goodwill meditation (in which you actively send good wishes to yourself and others) has been shown to improve both vagal tone and feelings of social connection. Bottom line? From a physiological perspective, yoga may increase feelings of bonding because it improves vagal tone.
The word Yoga itself means union. Next time you take a class, think about the impact of others around you (and your impact on them) because, yoga is possibly doing more than you realize.