Those who have been practicing yoga for adults for a while, have no doubt figured out just how great it is for their body. In fact, yoga isn’t just beneficial on a physical level, but also on an emotional and mental one. While this is a fact, and is uncontested, you may still wonder how and why is it that yoga has this wonderful effect on the body. This article is here to help answer that very question.
Understanding the Stress Response of the Brain
Yoga is seen as incredibly relaxing, and this is completely true; however, the poses one has to do while practicing yoga are not inherently relaxing. In fact, they can be quite stressful. It is because one tries their very best to keep calm while doing them that yoga is just so wonderful and ends up having the neurological benefits it has.
Now, when your brain notices that the body is experiencing discomfort, it has an automatic reaction that triggers the physiological stress response, which leads to anxious thoughts that make that initial stress response even more powerful. The stress response is the same regardless of the situation one finds themselves in, and it encompasses an increase in the breathing and heart rate, and of stress hormone levels, such as cortisol, all the while the muscles begin to tense up. Now, the truly interesting thing about the connection of mind and body, and which we are going to insist on, as it is an important part of the puzzle we are trying to figure out, is that each of them can influence each other. When feeling mental stress, your muscles will become tense, but if you make an effort to relax those muscles, you will start feeling calmer. The same goes with breathing: when you are feeling stressed, you start breathing faster, but if you make an effort to breathe slower, you will start feeling calmer.
Yoga and Relaxation
The wonderful trick yoga plays on the brain is that it keeps you breathing very consciously and slow, while putting the body in positions that are not very comfortable, and which trigger the stress response. However, because these stress-raising positions are paired up with slow breathing, over time, the brain stops going into the stress response. This means that yoga is essentially training the brain to get out of the habit of invoking the stress response as much as it would normally do.
The Link Between Neuroscience and Yoga
As previously mentioned, breathing is very important in yoga. Now, what happens when you take a deep breath in, is that bradykinin is released, which is a neurotransmitter that sends a signal to the parasympathetic nervous system to start activating. The parasympathetic nervous system sends a signal of relaxation, which is why we feel calmer when taking deep breaths.
Neuroscience and Brain Plasticity
In the past, scientists believed that after reaching adulthood, the brain is set in its ways, and that it cannot be changed. However, newer research has discovered that this is, in fact, false. Neuroscience is now aware that being cognitively and emotionally intentional can have an impact on neuropathways, and thus, on the very structure of the brain. Indeed, by doing so, one can create new neural pathways at any point. Yoga can help with that by teaching the brain to remain calm rather than jump to stress on every occasion. This way, new neural pathways are created, resulting in the individual learning to remain calm in adverse situations.
Stress, while it may be an innate response that can be very useful in some situations, when becoming chronic, leads to many issues that negatively impact the mind and the body alike. As such, teaching the brain to remain calm is absolutely crucial for your overall health, and that is exactly what is the true purpose of yoga.