One of our loyal yoga students, Bill Potere, shared the following Huffington Post article with us yesterday.
I found this article particularly interesting because of my own struggle with anxiety and panic attacks for the past 20 years. In recent months, I have come to understand that my success in ameliorating these conditions through a yoga asana practice was due to the neurobiological benefit of changing the brain’s behavior. In essence, “breathing through intensity.” Let’s break it down:
When your brain triggers the physiological stress response as you are sitting through the intensity of a yoga pose that you want to release (think balancing poses like tree or warrior III, or how about a really terrifying pose like an inversion or an arm-balance!) your adrenals begin to fire. Subsequently, your heart and breath rate increase, you begin to tighten and tense, and your levels of cortisol, norepinephrine and other stress hormones elevate. These changes evoke stressful thoughts and actually take you into the fight flight or freeze response. It is through practice, however, as you learn to remain calm, consciously soften your jaw, and deepen and slow your breath, that you begin to change the firing patterns and the chemical composition of your brain. What this means is that in time you can actually retrain your brain so it stops autonomically invoking the stress response. And so it follows that if you can learn this on your yoga mat, you can begin to transfer it to other areas of life as well.
Adding another interesting angle, however, is this theory of low gamma amino-butyric acid (GABA) levels contributing to anxiety and other stress-based disorders, and the hypothesis that yoga practices increase the activity of GABA in the brain. I will be paying close attention to this new hypothesis as more studies are conducted and further information is revealed.
This article is a great one to share with loved ones whom you have been wanting to embark upon a yoga asana practice as it includes an informational piece on what to expect during one’s first yoga class. That alone should help in reducing some anxiety from the experience 😉
Thanks for sharing, Bill!
Yoga And The Brain: A Possible Explanation For Yoga’s Stress-Busting Effects
The health benefits of yoga are far-reaching, with studies demonstrating its effects on easing chronic back pain, aiding sleep and relieving menopausal symptoms, as well as its intriguing role in helping the mind, by bettering mood and taming stress.
“Western and Eastern medicine complement one another. Yoga is known to improve stress-related nervous system imbalances,” study researcher Dr. Chris Streeter, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry at BUSM and Boston Medical Center, said in a statement. “This paper provides a theory, based on neurophysiology and neuroanatomy, to understand how yoga helps patients feel better by relieving symptoms in many common disorders.”
Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine, New York Medical College and the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons hypothesized that there are certain imbalances in the brain when a person has depression or stress-related conditions. Such imbalances include low activity of something called gamma amino-butyric acid (GABA); low activity of GABA is linked with epilepsy, chronic pain, depression, anxiety and PTSD, researchers said.
The researchers hypothesized that yoga works to increase the activity of GABA, “resulting in amelioration of disease symptoms,” they wrote.
“This has far-reaching implications for the integration of yoga-based practices in the treatment of a broad array of disorders exacerbated by stress,” the researchers wrote in the study.
Earlier this year, a study published in The Journal of Behavioral Health Services and Research showed that yoga seemed protective/preventive for secondary school students when it came to controlling anger and feeling fatigue.
The researchers of that study wrote that the finding showed yoga has “the potential of playing a protective or preventive role in maintaining mental health.”
Want to try yoga, but not sure where to start? Here’s what to expect at your first yoga class: