In 2009, the now-retired runner Usain Bolt ran the 100 meters in 9.58 seconds, blowing away the previous world record (which he owned, having set it twice in 2008). His sprint stunned and delighted the world. To see a fellow human being use his body in such an extraordinary way was nothing short of inspiring. I wish I could do that, millions of people said from their couches, waiting for their partners to bring the popcorn seasoning back from the kitchen.
While none of us are Usain Bolt, we can adapt our bodies and push them further than ever before, thanks to technological advancements in health and wellness. Some of these are forward-looking innovations; straight up Jetsons-meets-Minority Report stuff. But scientists are also discovering that you don’t always have to look to the future, sometimes the answers are hidden in the past.
Pranayama breathing & all things yoga
Earlier this year, Scientific American published a story about something called “cardiac coherence breathing” wherein you inhale, hold your breath, then exhale slowly. This exercise aides with relaxation, relieves anxiety and insomnia, and even lowers blood pressure and stress. Using biofeedback devices to track bodily metrics (including heart rate), scientists found a connection between controlled breathing and better mental and physical health.
The thing is, though, this is an ancient technique from India, where one of the core principles of yoga is prana (life or life force in Sanskrit). We take in and let out prana through breath. Anyone who has ever done yoga has certainly heard the word pranayama before, which means breath control. Pranayama, in other words, is a breathing exercise meant to help control what comes in and goes out of your body; yogis have long known that it helps refocus, recenter the body, reduce anxiety, and even relax the nervous system. For what it’s worth, many Indians let Scientific American know that what they wrote was basically just repackaged yoga for science fans.
Though SA kind of boffed the delivery, the very heart of the news is important: science is confirming what many have long known: yoga is good for mind, body, and soul in myriad ways. Beyond pranayama, practicing yoga itself has been confirmed to have numerous health benefits including the aforementioned reductions of stress and anxiety. But more than that, practicing yoga can improve your cardiac health, has been indicated in studies that it may help fight chronic pain, and can even help alleviate depression.
With the number of Americans practicing yoga having jumped 50 percent from 2012 to 2016, tapping into this thousands-of-years-old science is one of the many ways our bodies are walking into the future.