The effects of Yoga on the brain

Updated: Nov 27, 2020

Abstract Medical yoga is a useful supplement to mental health interventions for depression and anxiety. Yoga can be used for the prevention and treatment of various disorders. Yoga incorporates breathing techniques’ mindfulness and meditation practice alongside the physical elements’ yoga offers. Yoga has essential psychological benefits and regulates blood glucose levels, increases several neurotransmitters and keeps our minds and bodies withering from age while also calming inflammation. Introduction Approximately 50% of American adults suffer from a mental health disorder at some point in their lives the most prevalent being anxiety and depressive disorders (Kessler et al., 2005). Yoga has become prominent in western culture over the past 20 years, and the more this ancient art is studied, the more Americans realize the benefits go far beyond. Most disorders the world suffers from are Non Communicable disorders that result from a lack of healthy lifestyle, lack of regular exercise, tobacco use, unhealthy diet, and chronic stress. Yoga has shown to increase psychological well being and change brain structure commonly associated with depression.

The use of complementary and alternative medicine has surged in the United States it could be from choosing to engage in self-help for lack of effectiveness of medications, stigma associated with getting professional treatment, and possibly benefit from financial savings. Mental health professionals should respond to this growing demand for alternative medicine and incorporate yoga into their medical practice. People are straying away from conventional medicine using CAM to manage to improve health.

Anxiety and depression are the two central disorders being treated using alternative medicine. Yoga has shown positive benefits of being a supplement to psychotherapy for treating depression and anxiety disorders. Medical Yoga takes a holistic approach to treating disorders incorporating mind, body, social support, family, and culture as apart from the treatment plan. Yoga therapy is a proactive outlook that changing the way the patient looks at health. Medical Yoga is meant to supplement conventional treatments for clients with various mental health disorders including anxiety and depression (gerbarg & Brown, 2007).

What is Yoga

The word Yoga translates from Sanskrit to English as “to yoke” reflecting the emphasis put on joining the mind and body in a harmonious balance. Yoga is not tied to any religion or denomination, but an age-old art based on harmonizing the self to attain inner peace and liberation. Yoga does not conflict anyone’s beliefs or challenges them to believe something different. It is a tool dedicated to promoting a connection between oneself and the highest truth. Yoga requires one to be fully present at the moment, so we can manifest our true selves and become free from suffering. The practice alone cannot correct the mental illness, but focusing on the present helps to diffuse anxiety and sadness. There are many styles of Yoga, but only a few are going to be mentioned in this study. Hatha Yoga is a commonly practiced style of yoga in North America the purpose to create a balance between the body and mind. While Iyengar focuses on the technical alignment of the body and Ashtanga focuses on the movement between postures. Regardless of the style of yoga, the practice emphasizes it breathes work and moving through a variety of poses dedicated to solving issues within the body. What is Medical Yoga

Medical Yoga includes the yogic practices of breathing techniques, bodily postures, meditation techniques, and self-reflection; also incorporating a nourishing diet, healthy sleep, social connection and support, anti ruminative activities, exercise and a healthy amount of sunlight. Starting gently with self-compassion and taking a proactive approach gives the best results. Yoga by itself should not be considered for a stand-alone treatment, but a supplement for the current treatment program. Yoga therapy is different from taking a group yoga session because the history of the patient will be assessed from the health practitioner. Yoga also brings the autonomic nervous system into balance by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. The flight or fight response system is activated when the body or mind feels threatened by a stimulus this response decreases blood flow to prepare for survival. When relaxed the parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated and relaxes the body, also known as the rest and digest system. Throughout the day there is a constant interaction between both nervous and without the balance, one can chronically stay stressed which is one of the problems plaguing industrialized societies today. Yoga can reduce blood pressure and heart rate creating a balance between both the nervous system.

Yoga effects on Stress

Researchers claim most Americans live in “sympathetic overdrive” which occurs when the body perceives a constant stressor and the stress response system is active all day long. Our bodies cannot handle these consistent and continual stressors. Stress becomes negative when it goes beyond our ability to handle the stimuli causing problems both mentally and physically. Whether stress is real or perceived the ability to handle the stress affects whether our bodies are put in sympathetic overdrive.

Many factors can put our bodies in sympathetic overdrive some that are unavoidable: the hassles of life, constant worrying, money problems, poor sleep, lack of exercise and food, lack of social connection, demands on time, isolation, and challenging life situations. Being highly stressed is an epidemic in our society and will not be resolved until a balance between both systems is retrieved. Stress is the root cause of most disorders presented to the Center for Disease Control and prevention.

Stress also causes inflammation and while it is a necessary short-term response to chronic inflammation causes dysregulation of the immune system. Stress is damaging to the body and has many adverse effects if left untreated for long periods of time. Cortisol releases in the bloodstream during periods of high stress and high levels can be neurotoxic. Depressed patients have higher blood levels of cortisol than those without the disorder. There is a chance cortisol causes depressive by depleting chemicals that help create an effective neurotransmission. Cortisol affects various regions associated with depression including the hippocampus in addition to the sympathetic nervous system and affecting the level of serotonin in the brain. Depleting the bodies “pleasure” neurotransmitters plays a significant role in the development of depression.

How does Yoga work?

People who practice yoga experience a heart rate that turns to normal pulse after increasing in response to a stressor. The more yoga practiced improves heart rate variability, and breathing techniques such as the 4-7-8 breathing are expanding the parasympathetic nervous system calming the stress response system. Yoga breathing techniques release chemicals that promote calmness and bonding to others. While also lowering levels of cortisol and cultivating a positive outlook on life. The decreased levels of stress hormones allow the mind to quiet down and increase heart rate variability. The meditative side of yoga can also change both the structure and function of the brain. More profound meditation practices develop more brain structures in certain areas increasing both cortical thickness and gray matter. Expanding the development of the amygdala and regions of the brain that controls executive functioning. Such as increasing working memory, mental flexibility, and self-control. Also, reducing activity in the amygdala has been shown to decrease depressive symptomology. Conclusion

Research supports the use of yoga in health management and there any many research trials arguing for yoga as a treatment and supplement to a therapeutic program. Although the practice of yoga as a supplement to therapy makes the takes to take a proactive approach to heal the disorder. Yoga help understands oneself and create a deeper connection within thyself. Uncovering the truth behind the development of the disease and help the patient take responsibility in healing from the ground up. The practice of yoga quiets the mind slows down life and allows the patient to take an introspective look into who they are as a person. Eliminating the chatter of the minds enable the patient to make an objective approach towards life. Relieving one of the pressures and stresses of everyday life.



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Photo by Jared Rice


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