Yoga and the Brain Part Two

Yoga and Relaxation

During Yoga, our brain releases all sorts of chemicals that not only helps us relax but also lowers stress and anxiety levels including, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins. Each of which functions in its own way to help us calm down and feel better.

  • GABA is a neurotransmitter or the brain’s chemical messenger. It’s job is to suppress neural activity in order to prevent our brain from getting overly excited. In doing so, it controls how much fear, stress, anxiety or nervousness we feel. Research shows that Yoga increases GABA levels by up to 27%.
  • Happiness Hormones. Collectively our Happy Hormones are dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins. Happy Hormones make us feel better about our self and well-being.   Dopamine makes us feel rewarded and allows us to experience pleasure. Meanwhile, serotonin reduces our tension to help relieve stress and anxiety.

Combined these chemicals help us to relax and feel content, this might explain why Yogi’s have a certain glow when they leave class.

Yoga and Stress Reduction

Yoga allows us to relax as it does a little number on our stress response.  During a Yoga session, certain parts of the brain slow down to rest. This function helps us de-stress and this takes place in two major areas of the brain:

  • Frontal lobe. The frontal lobe the most advanced part of our brain and is responsible for most of the thinking, planning and reasoning. It plays a large role in self-awareness and emotional regulation. During Yoga our frontal lobe goes on a little holiday, allowing us too to take a break for a while.
  • Parietal lobe. This part of the brain handles all the information coming from our senses, sights, sounds and everything we observe around us.  It’s no wonder that when we’re always on the move, working, driving or observing things, there’s so much activity in this part of the brain. Yoga too allows the parietal lobe to slow down.

Yoga also helps reduce the body’s cortisol and adrenaline levels, two critical stress hormones. When we feel stressed or anticipate something stressful about to happen, we become triggered. As a result, the body releases stress hormones to help us to become more alert, make the heart beat faster and spike blood pressure. All of these are a result of the body getting flooded with stress hormones.  Stress in itself is needed for our survival, however if we live in such elevated levels constantly, it can turn into fatigue.  Yoga can help reverse these effects. One study notes how Yoga reduces our body’s cortisol levels, whilst another found that 12 minutes of daily Yoga helps lower the body’s inflammation response, which is important as chronic inflammation is linked to serious long-term conditions.

Yoga and Anxiety

Anxiety is closely related to stress, but they aren’t the same thing. Stress is the response our body produces due to a threat, once that situation passes the stress goes away. On the other hand, anxiety which can be a result of stress as well as a myriad of other triggers can leave us feeling constantly worried, out of control, restless, startle easily, we’re unable to focus and often have difficulties sleeping. Yoga can have an affect on the activity in brain’s Amygdala. The Amygdala is the message processing centre of the brain. It receives incoming messages from the senses and internal organs processing them. It plays a critical role in our emotions and how we react to them.  If there’s too much activity in the Amygdala we tend to over think and over react. Yoga helps us to relax, slow down and gives us the ability to better handle our emotions.

As you can see Yoga is not just about the physical body, It’s about the emotional and mental elements of the body also.  By combining poses, breathe and meditation Yoga can help to produce positive structural changes in the brain as well as the body.

If you’d like to read more about the health benefits of Yoga visit   https://healthgrinder.com/benefits-of-Yoga/

Photo by Indian Yogi (Yogi Madhav) on Unsplash

References:

io9.com/how-meditation-changes-your-brain-and-makes-you-feel-b-470030863
nyaspubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1196/annals.1284.062?sid=nlm%3Apubmed
jacobspublishers.com/effects-of-long-term-yoga-practice-breathing-and-meditation-on-cognitive-function-and-emotional-control-a-review-of-the-literature/
ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3289949/
ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17532734
ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20722471
sigmapubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/wvn.12097
ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3768222/
newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/yoga-reduces-stress-now-it-s-known-236785
link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11682-018-9826-z

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