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UFC Fighters Meditate to Improve Performance

UFC Fighters employ all kinds of techniques to get the edge over their opponents. From time in the swimming pool to the food they eat, there’s always a unique way that fighters feel they can gain an advantage. But what actually works?

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As long as the fighter keeps winning, they will believe their technique is working. One exercise that is common among professional sports athletes, especially MMA fighters, is the use of yoga and meditation to remain focused and ensure the body is able to relax after such rigorous training sessions. In fact, it’s actually very common practice, with a number of top-tier UFC fighters taking on meditation as a central part of their training regime.

UFC superstars like Conor McGregor and Anderson Silva are known to use meditation before fights to prepare. While these guys are seen as some of the most explosive and exciting fighters ever to grace the sport, they use meditation as a way to hone all of that energy into one fight and it’s proven to be a success. Conor McGregor has announced his retirement on a variety of occasions, yet he remains one of the most popular names on UFC betting sites – an all encompassing and rare talent, who also loves to meditate.

But why do they meditate?

There are plenty more fighters that have reported practicing meditation as a way to improve their game. To name a few, arguably one of the best pound-for-pound fighters of all time Jon Jones, Brazilian legend Lyoto Machida, Diego Sanchez, the West Coast bad boy Nate Diaz and many others. The fight game is not for the faint hearted and fighters need a way to wind down. Meditation allows total focus; which not only benefits fighters as a method of relaxing after training or a big fight, but it also allows people to gain total focus.

Being able to drown out things and focus totally on one thing is of great value to fighters, who must stand in an octagon for up to 25 minutes. There are a lot of third-party influences in major arenas and being able to focus entirely on the task at hand is invaluable. Moreover, being able to focus on techniques in training will ensure movements are executed as they should be and will help to prevent injury. Many fighters have said the intense focus required to meditate properly is the same focus they carry into the octagon or into training sessions.

For some, the purpose of meditation is to reach a state of total calm and focus or “flow state,” allowing them to switch emotions on and off at will. There are some fighters that claim through practising meditation and breathing exercises, they are able to alter their perception of pain. We don’t have to say how useful that could potentially be to fighters. While there is no substantial evidence to prove it, most very successful fighters have the edge over the rest of the competition due to a strong mental game.

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There is a common theme among great fighters, which is that they are supremely confident to the point that they’re considered arrogant. Being able to manipulate and control that confidence is a great skill. Often great fighters get too carried away with their own legend and end up losing. Absolute clarity of mind would help fighters to control their emotions.

If we take a current example, the current UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya. He fights with remarkable confidence in the ring and talks a big game outside of it. He continues to back up his words in the octagon and has shown to be a humble individual. This is largely down to the fact fighters are incapable of breaking him down mentally – he is the one who holds all the cards in that contest.

Meditation in mixed martial arts isn’t something new, it’s been going on for many years. One of the fundamental martials arts involved in UFC is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which was introduced and pioneered by Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Some consider Rickson Gracie as the godfather of the sport, a man who also practices meditation. A great quote from him to show what it means to him is “A strong body is a good asset. A strong mind is a very good asset.” Being able to physically destroy an opponent is obviously of great importance but being able to mentally maim an opponent before the fight begins – now that’s the sign of a champion.




Science Review Confirms Yoga Benefits Your Brain

By Dr. Joseph Mercola | mercola.com

STORY AT-A-GLANCE

  • Like many other forms of exercise, yoga — which is suitable for most people, regardless of age or fitness level — has been shown to support healthy brain function and stave off neurological decline
  • Through modern imaging technology, researchers have been able to objectively confirm that yoga impacts the brain in beneficial ways that translate into improved attention, mental processing speed, executive function, and emotional regulation
  • Regular yoga practice has also been shown to lower stress, reduce body image dissatisfaction and anxiety, and much more
  • Yoga practitioners have thicker cortexes and greater gray matter volume and density in several brain regions, including the frontal, limbic, temporal, occipital and cerebellar regions. Yoga also appears to negate the otherwise normal decline in total gray matter volume that occurs with age
  • It appears to be the unique combination of physical movement, breathwork, and meditation that confers these beneficial brain benefits

With a history spanning thousands of years, yoga (in a wide variety of forms) has proven its benefits experientially across generations. Modern science is also confirming its usefulness for people seeking improved mental and physical health and fitness conditioning.

Like many (if not most) other forms of exercise, yoga, though mild in comparison, has also been shown to support healthy brain function and stave off neurological decline.

Considering the skyrocketing prevalence of dementia, this is good news, as yoga is suitable for most people, regardless of age or fitness level.1 Some forms can even be done seated in a chair. As explained in a 2019 review2,3 of Hatha yoga’s effects on the human brain:4

“Yoga combines physical postures, rhythmic breathing and meditative exercise to offer the practitioners a unique holistic mind-body experience. While the health benefits of physical exercise are well established, in recent years, the active attentional component of breathing and meditation practice has garnered interest among exercise neuroscientists.

As the scientific evidence for the physical and mental health benefits of yoga continues to grow, this article aims to summarize the current knowledge of yoga practice and its documented positive effects for brain structure and function, as assessed with MRI, fMRI, and SPECT …

Collectively, the studies demonstrate a positive effect of yoga practice on the structure and/or function of the hippocampus, amygdala, prefrontal cortex, cingulate cortex and brain networks including the default mode network (DMN).

The studies offer promising early evidence that behavioral interventions like yoga may hold promise to mitigate age-related and neurodegenerative declines …”

Psychologically, regular yoga practice has also been shown to lower stress,5 reduce body image dissatisfaction6 and anxiety,7 and much more.

This in addition to a wide range of physical health benefits, including weight loss,8 improved atrial fibrillation9 (irregular heartbeat), blood pressure10 and immune function,11 reduced risks for migraines12 and improved sexual performance and satisfaction,13,14 to name but a few.

Effects on Brain Aging and Cognition

As noted in the 2019 review15 published in the journal Brain Plasticity, through the use of modern imaging technology, researchers have been able to objectively confirm that yoga impacts the brain in beneficial ways that translate into improved attention, mental processing speed, executive function, and emotional regulation.

Figure 3 in that paper illustrates the structural differences noted in yoga practitioners compared to non-practitioners and the dose-dependent relationship between the duration of practice and subsequent changes in brain structure.

Overall, yoga practitioners have thicker cortexes and greater gray matter volume and density in several brain regions, including the frontal, limbic, temporal, occipital and cerebellar regions.16 The paper also cites research17 confirming that yoga appears to negate the otherwise normal decline in total gray matter volume that occurs with age:18

“Villemure and colleagues investigated whether the correlation of age with total GM [gray matter] volume of the whole brain differed between a group of yoga-practitioners and non-practitioners.

While within the group of healthy adults without yoga experience, a negative correlation was observed between age and the total GM volume of the brain, no relationship was found between age and brain structure within the group of yoga-practitioners.”

Interestingly, beneficial brain changes appear to occur fairly rapidly at higher “doses.” The Brain Plasticity review discusses intervention research showing increased volume in the hippocampus after just six months of hourlong sessions five days a week.19

According to the authors, it appears to be the unique combination of physical movement, breathwork, and meditation that Hatha yoga (in particular) offers that confers these beneficial brain benefits.

More specifically, it is the activation of your parasympathetic nervous system (the “rest and digest” part of your autonomic nervous system) that seems to play a deciding role. As noted in a 2015 paper on the neuroprotective effects of yoga:20

“Years of yoga experience correlated mostly with GM volume differences in the left hemisphere (insula, frontal operculum, and orbitofrontal cortex) suggesting that yoga tunes the brain toward a parasympathetically driven mode and positive states.

Yoga Improves Communication Between Brain Regions

All of that said, since yoga is a holistic mind-body practice, the overall benefits cannot be ascribed to any one factor in isolation.

Using MRI brain scans capable of tracking how the different parts of your brain communicate with one another, a 2016 study21 in the Journal of Alzheimer’s disease found that older adults with mild cognitive impairment assigned to do one hour of Kundalini yoga per week and 15 minutes of Kirtan Kriya meditation per day for 12 weeks improved both their memory and mood scores, compared to controls enrolled in a memory-enhancement training (MET) program consisting of one hour of mental exercises per week.

Kundalini yoga involves chanting and visualization, and Kirtan Kriya meditation combines the chanting of mantras with fluid hand movements. Brain scans revealed that while both groups had increased communication between parts of the brain involved in memory and language, the yoga practitioners also improved communication in areas controlling focused attention.

In short, the combination of yoga and meditation actually exceeded conventional brain training in terms of efficacy, even though neither of these practices specifically involves mental exercise. As reported by the authors:22

“The yoga group demonstrated a statistically significant improvement in depression and visuospatial memory. We observed improved verbal memory performance correlated with increased connectivity between the DMN [default mode networks] and frontal medial cortex, pregenual anterior cingulate cortex, right middle frontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, and left lateral occipital cortex.

Improved verbal memory performance positively correlated with increased connectivity between the language processing network and the left inferior frontal gyrus.

Improved visuospatial memory performance correlated inversely with connectivity between the superior parietal network and the medial parietal cortex … Yoga may be as effective as MET in improving functional connectivity in relation to verbal memory performance.”

Other Ways in Which Yoga Benefits Your Brain

Over the years, a number of studies have homed in on the brain benefits of yoga. In addition to those already mentioned, studies have found that:

Twenty minutes of Hatha yoga improves the speed and accuracy of mental processing to a greater degree than 20 minutes of aerobic exercise (jogging).23 Potential mechanisms here include enhanced self-awareness and reduced stress.

Yoga helps improve a variety of mental health problems, including psychiatric disorders like depression, anxietyattention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and schizophrenia,24 in part by increasing brain chemicals like gamma amino-butyric acid (GABA).25

GABA is responsible for blocking nerve impulses, telling the adjoining nerve cells not to “fire” or send an impulse. Without GABA, your nerve cells fire frequently and easily, triggering anxiety disorders, seizures, and conditions such as addiction, headache, and cognitive impairments.26

Yoga also boosts serotonin, and some studies suggest yoga can have a similar effect to antidepressants.27 A 2017 study28 evaluated the effect of Iyengar yoga on adults diagnosed with a major depressive disorder who were either not taking medication or had been on the same medication for three months.

Here, those participating in two or three 90-minute yoga classes plus a half-hour session at home three or four times a week for three months experienced a reduction in symptoms by at least 50%. Dr. Chris Streeter, study author and associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at Boston University School of Medicine, commented:

“While most pharmacologic treatment for depression target monoamine systems, such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, this intervention targets the parasympathetic and gamma aminobutyric acid system and provides a new avenue for treatment.”

Yoga helps improve a teenager’s emotional resilience and ability to manage anger. As yoga educator and writer Iona Smith told HuffPost:29

“During adolescence, the frontal lobes of the brain (the seat of language and reason) are still being formed, leaving teens to overly rely on their amygdala (the seat of emotions) … The brain’s malleability during adolescence marks a crucial stage in both cognitive and emotional development.

Luckily, researchers are now able to paint a clearer picture of some of the factors that allow students to thrive throughout high school and into adulthood, such as self-awareness, managing distressing emotions, empathy, and navigating relationships smoothly.

When students hone these skills, they are not only happier and healthier emotionally, but are also better able to focus on academics.”

Yoga has also been shown to make a significant difference in the depression of addicts going through rehabilitation,30 and has been shown to reduce anxiety and aggression among inmates.31

Which School of Yoga Is Right for You?

Considering the many physical and psychological benefits of yoga, it’s certainly worth considering, and since there are many schools (forms) of yoga to choose from, you’re virtually guaranteed to find one that’s suitable for your particular situation.

The emergence of trauma-sensitive yoga32 is a testament to this and may offer a way forward for many victims of physical and/or psychological abuse. There’s even yoga for osteoporosis.33

You can find a quick outline of 11 major schools of yoga on MindBodyGreen.com.34 Additional variations can be explored on the Yoga Journal’s website.35 Here’s a quick summary of the most popular styles:

Hatha yoga — Considered the most popular type of yoga taught in the U.S., Hatha involves basic breath-controlled exercises and yoga postures that are great for beginners.
Ashtanga yoga — Ashtanga is a vigorous form of yoga that involves quick movements, with the aim of improving strength and endurance.
Bikram yoga — Bikram involves 26 patented poses, which are practiced in a room heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit with a humidity of 40%. It’s aimed to help loosen muscles, cleanse the body and relieve symptoms of chronic diseases.
Hot yoga — Similar to Bikram, hot yoga is also performed in a heated room. However, the room temperature and humidity for this yoga style are not defined. The routine may also be composed of varying poses.
Kundalini yoga — Kundalini emphasizes the fast-paced flow of poses, proper breathing techniques, and meditation to improve balance of the body. This form of yoga is more challenging than others, so it may not be suitable for beginners.
Vinyasa Yoga — Vinyasa is adapted from the traditional ashtanga techniques, which means that it’s also an active form of yoga. The only difference between these two types is that vinyasa involves varying poses, while ashtanga sticks to a single routine.
Core power yoga — Also known as power vinyasa, core power yoga is a strenuous routine that’s aimed to stretch, strengthen and tone the muscles while emphasizing the mind-body connection.

Read more great articles at mercola.com




Is Yoga Really That Good For You?

Source: DNews

Have you been holding off on doing yoga? Perhaps it’s time to make a move. Recent research  has found that yoga may have similar positive effects on the body as walking or even biking. Yoga improves heart health, normalizes blood pressure, helps you maintain a healthy weight, increases brain gray matter, and much more.

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10 Amazing Reasons to Always Practice Yoga

By Christina Sarich

reasons to practice yoga

There are really more than 10 reasons why yoga is so good for you, and the physical, psychological, and subtle benefits of this practice could fill books. But following is a brief highlight of some of the reasons you should consider adding yoga to your world. Here are 10 health benefits of yoga.

(1) Strength, Agility and Flexibility are all Increased

Many sports will give you strength. Others will give you more agility, but few practices will increase strength, agility, and flexibility all at once. In my years of teaching I’ve seen professional athletes overcome injury by increasing their range of motion with yoga, and victims of a double masectomy regain full mobility after debilitating surgeries that left loads of scar tissue in their bodies. Nothing really compares for repairing the body and making sure that the ligaments and connective tissues are just as strong and pliable as the muscles themselves.

(2) Yoga Enhances Memory & Cognitive Functioning

It may seem strange that a practice which involves breathing and stretching can enhance your cognitive functioning, but yogis could really be better at learning, have increased memory capacity, and retain high levels of concentration. Many of these benefits are attributed to meditation – arguably the goal of all yogic practice, but it can also help you at school or on the job by improving your brain functioning.
yoga as a complementary health approach

(3) Body Weight Normalizes – More Health Benefits of Yoga

While doing an hour of hatha yoga, or even power yoga won’t likely burn as many calories as doing a high intensity interval workout, yoga has a way of normalizing body weight by restoring hormonal balance in the body.

By lowering levels of cortisol and our nervous system’s constant fight or flight response, not only are we less likely to overeat, or eat to suppress unpleasant emotions, we also train our brains to feel satiated more easily because we aren’t constantly in panic mode. Stress is known to cause obesity and fuel virtually all disease, and yoga is a perfect countermeasure.

(4) Yoga Naturally Reduces Pain

There are countless studies proving that yoga can be very effective at relieving pain. It doesn’t matter if you suffer from fibromyalgia, arthritis, or migraine headaches, yoga has been proven to effectively reduce pain from all these ailments. And if you are one of the millions of people that suffer from back pain – yoga can make that pain practically disappear.

Meditation has even been shown to be better than morphine at reducing pain.

(5) Respiratory Efficiency Increases

Image from BreakingMuscle.com. (Click for larger image)

Image from BreakingMuscle.com. (Click for larger image)

Further adding on to the health benefits of yoga, yoga is one of the few practices that utilizes pranayama – the cultivation of life force or chi through breathing. While many people practice pranayama as a means to obtain higher states of awareness, they also end up having some serious side benefits including increased lung capacity, more tidal volume (the total amount of air your lungs can hold at any one time), and an ability to reduce the pace of their breathing which has been directly linked to a longer lifespan.

Related: The Most Important Yoga Position is the Corpse Pose (Savasana)

(6) Blood Pressure is Normalized

Yoga has specific benefits for hyporeactors in blood pressure. For those suffering from hypertension, yoga has been shown to be even more effective than dietary changes for improving blood pressure.

(7) Mental Health is Greatly Enhanced

Yoga offers so many benefits in the psychological department it is difficult to name them all in a brief overview, but among them are an improved overall mood and sense of well-being, more connectedness with others, lowered depressive states, less hostility toward the self and others, less anxiety, feelings of self-actualization increase, motivation increases, and more.

(8) Yoga Prevents Degenerative Diseases

The ways in which yoga prevents disease are astounding. When you really understand how, it can be more evidence than you would ever need to take to the yoga mat, stat! Here are just some of the reasons yoga helps to keep you young and healthy longer:

  • Glucose decreases
  • Sodium decreases
  • Total cholesterol decreases
  • Triglycerides decrease
  • HDL cholesterol increases
  • LDL cholesterol decreases
  • VLDL cholesterol decreases
  • Cholinesterase increases
  • Catecholamines decrease
  • ATPase increases
  • Hematocrit increases
  • Hemoglobin increases
  • Lymphocyte count increases
  • Total white blood cell count decreases
  • Thyroxin increases
  • Bioavailable Vitamin C increases
  • Total serum protein increases
  • Oxytocin increases
  • Prolactin increases

Read: 4 Yoga Poses to Help Detoxify the Liver

(9) The Parasympathetic Nervous System Takes over in Yoga

Photo: Alison Hinks. (Click for larger image.)

Photo: Alison Hinks. (Click for larger image.)

Why is this a good thing? Both the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems work to keep us stabilized in the face of stress. These systems are connected like a see-saw. When one goes up the other goes down. When the sympathetic nervous system is active, it usually means we are on ‘high-alert’ either responding to stress or trying to minimize it.

This is the part of our nervous systems that is most often triggered – from flashing lights, traffic noises, emails from our co-workers or boss, family responsibilities, etc. Yoga strengthens the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system which is primarily responsible for the ‘relaxation response.’

Obviously you wouldn’t want to constantly be zoned out or lethargic, nor perpetually on high-alert, so yoga helps to put the circular motion, the balance, back into the two nervous system’s dance.

(10) You Can Do Yoga Anywhere

Perhaps one of the most convenient health benefits of yoga is that you can experience them just about anywhere. I’ve done yoga in studios, at the airport, in my home, at a friend’s home, in hotel rooms, outdoors in parks and forests, even on top of rocks, or on the rooftops of tall buildings in a busy city. You don’t need anything (except maybe a yoga mat) but even that isn’t really necessary to do yoga.

There are no gym memberships required, and no expensive gear. You don’t have to be in shape to start, and it will continue to challenge you even if you are in shape. Yoga is timeless and can be done almost anywhere without a great const or inconvenience.

For even more reasons to practice yoga, visit a class in your area and learn first hand what it can do for you.

Additional Sources:

National Institutes of Health

Breaking Muscle

Anantharaman, V., and Sarada Subrahmanyam. Physiological benefits in hatha yoga training.

The Yoga Review, 3(1):9-24.

Arpita. Physiological and psychological effects of Hatha yoga: A review of the literature. The Journal of The International Association of Yoga Therapists, 1990, 1(I&II):1-28.

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About Christina Sarich:

Christina Sarich is a humanitarian and freelance writer helping you to Wake up Your Sleepy Little Head, and See the Big Picture. Her blog is Yoga for the New World. Her latest book is Pharma Sutra: Healing the Body And Mind Through the Art of Yoga.

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