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C is for Connection


You've likely heard that yoga is all about connection. The origin of the word yoga, yuj, means union or connection. But did you know there are three different types of connection that yoga can support?


Mind-body-spirit connection


Yoga practices, especially the poses (asana) and meditation, are known to strengthen our connection to ourselves. Yoga philosophy describes the koshas as layers or sheaths that make up who we are. At its heart, the central principle of yoga is that we cannot separate mind, body or spirit. They are all connected.


Many ancient cultures understood this link between mind, body and spirit. Modern science is catching up.


But for many, the concept is a bit fuzzy.


I spent much of my early adulthood disconnected from my body and feelings. Living in my head, I valued thoughts more than emotions. Over two decades of yoga practice changed that. By paying attention to movements, breath, thoughts, and sensations, yoga helps us observe, sit with things, and let them pass. I'm more aware of emotions now, listen to my body, and recognize thoughts as products of the mind— not always true or helpful.



Social connection


Research shows that yoga enhances our connection with others, and it’s not just from the chit-chat before and after class. (Even though that’s why many people come to my classes!)


Ever heard of the vagus nerve? It governs the involuntary functions of many organs, including the heart, lungs, and digestive tract. It’s the main nerve of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is sometimes referred to as our “rest and digest” or “tend and befriend” response.


According to polyvagal theory, the front (ventral) side of the vagus nerve is associated with feelings of social connection, as it picks up cues of safety and belonging from the environment around us. Studies have shown that high vagal tone  - let’s call that shorthand for a healthy vagus nerve – is associated with better overall health and social functioning.


So how do you improve vagal tone? Well, research is showing that yoga practices including asana, slow breathing and meditation can calm our vagus nerve.


Another fascinating area of research reveals that when a group of people move in sync, it fosters a sense of social connection and cooperation among them. Which might help explain why practicing yoga in a group feels so much more powerful than practicing alone.



Connection to something greater


Yoga helps us connect to something beyond ourselves. Of course, this “something” will depend on your belief system. In this brief blog, we can't cover all philosophies, but let's simplify. Connection to something beyond ourselves can take many forms; whether you believe in duality, non-duality, have a religion or not, have a sense of spirituality or not.


You might call it god, or the universe. Perhaps it is a connection to nature. For some it’s the sense that we are all a piece of the same energy, vibrating at different frequencies.


Whatever your beliefs, however you connect the dots, it’s important in times of division, war, and inequality to remember – we’re not alone. We are all connected. Thankfully, we've got yoga to help us remember that. 

 


References and further reading

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