Yoga & Racism
Are you exhausted from all of the conflict over racism in our country? I am because because I have two adult biracial children that don’t deserve discrimination as much as the next person. Moments exist in my life where someone ignorant made a racist comment and I did not respond. My reasoning is that they wont listen anyway. While it might be true, they wont listen, I realize now silence is acceptance. The yoga ethic, Satya, is about always being grounded in truth with our actions and words. Remaining silent is no longer my truth.
What is Race?
Race is a social and political construct that is not traced with genetics. It’s why genetic tests refer to “ancestry” and not race. Did you know the term race as we know it came about in th 1500s? Prior to that it was infrequently used and referred to groups of people with kinship or group connection. If you’re curious, research how defining the white race has changed over the years to expand the snobbery that it is. Either way, racism was a form of prejudice that created race. Not the other way around.
Learn American history
In the spirit of Ahimsa (compassion), we owe it to all non white races to educate ourselves on American history and truely understand how those in power have manipulated us to accept a system that implements racism and mass incarceration of non white races. The thirteenth amendment gave slaves their freedom, but intentionally from its inception included a loop hole of criminalization. There are documentaries we can watch and books we can read that will explain this even further.
What about Riots and Looters?
Trevor Noah excellently explains how the societal contract that exists in America doesn’t have the system upholding its end for people of color so why would they uphold their end. I agree, the behavior isn’t excusable, but prioritizing the root of the problem is most likely to have the bigger impact. We as yogis have more than Ahimsa (non violence) to stand on. Did you know the United States has 25% of the worlds prison population even though we’re only 5% of the total population? We need to vote into office people that are willing to focus on rehabilitation and removing minimum sentencing. Yoga ethics asks us to practice Asteya (non stealing). This applies to the lives and families we are stealing from non whites. If you think that’s not happening, again please learn about our history and the criminalization policy platforms that are used to win elections and keep non white people enslaved in our system.
Mantra for protection.
The stress of social media interactions over the current state of affairs has been exhausting. Therefore, I’d like to leave this mantra that has provide me a momentary reprieve. The Mantra is used during times when you’d like to feel safe. My daughter likes to hear it before she’s going to bed hopeful she wont have bad dreams. A beautiful version is sung by Jai-Jagdeesh.
Aad Guray Nameh. (I bow to primal wisdom)
Jugaad Guray Nameh. (I bow to the wisdom through the ages)
Sat Guray Nameh. (I bow to the true wisdom)
Siri Guru Dayvay NAmeh (I bow to the great, unseen wisdom)
May you be safe, aware, compassionate, and true to yourself.
This yoga ethics conversation is a continuation of last week’s Post about the Yamas. As Yogis, it is important we understand how ethics matters just as much as asana (poses), pranayama (breathing), and meditation. The four parts together are an integral part of improving our well being. Last week focused on the Yamas which help us relate to the world around us. However, this week we’ll discuss the Niyamas, which are more focused on how we self regulate.
The Niyamas are the ethics that help us manage stress, eat healthy, and limit our exposure to toxins.
Sauca – Cleanliness/Purity
This particular yoga ethic warrants its own post as it encompasses anything we do. Through yoga we attempt to purify our mind, body and emotions. However, we’ll discuss sauca (pronounced saucha) in reference to chronic illness. For example, gut health, clean air, and being organized can all impact our well being. Focusing on eating clean (supplements without fillers) and balancing bacteria in our body are important ways to improve our well being. Additionally, keeping organized so that we’re regularly setting and keeping doctors appointments to improve health matters. Moreover, ensuring the environment (mold etc) is not exacerbating a chronic illness is also a way to practice sauca. Sauca is not just about taking a shower and being clean. To improve your well being sauca is about purity of your daily actions.
Santosa – Contentment
This yoga ethic is using our inner wisdom to understand less is more. As a result, we are able to be content with what we have when we only pursue that which fulfills us. As a consumerism society, it can be a struggle to avoid buying “things” that only provide momentary happiness. Finding contentment through things like watching sunrises and sunsets can aid in calming the nervous system. Moreover, finding balance in the nervous system helps improve our overall well being. Ambition is not the devil, the wrong ambition is what pulls us from contentment. Furthermore, self discovery helps us find what truly fulfills us and leads us to better well being.
Tapas – Self Sacrifice/Detoxification
Tapas is the ethics to overcome our internal affilictions through burning off impurities. It is a lifelong pursuit of continual sacrifice and detoxification through clean eating and appropriate rest and asana practice. However, it is important to understand that detoxification does not mean extreme fasting. Rather the intention is to focus on healing and restoring/regenerating balance in our mind and body as a slow continual process. Furthermore, in discussion about appropriate asana, it is important to understand that fast vinyasa was developed for teen boys to burn off energy. I might sound like a robot repeating myself, but slow yoga that allows us to focus on how our mind, body, and heart feels allows us to practice tapas and improve our well being.
Svadhyaya – Self Inquiry
Svadhyaya is the ethic of connecting to who we truely are and understanding our dharma. I highly recommend reading the Bhavagad Gita which is about discovering ones true purpose and understanding dharma may not be about what you want. For example, in understanding ourselves better, we do things like eat for nourishment when we are hungry. On the contrary, many of us eat because of our schedule or enjoyment. As a result we are not in tune with our own bodies. Yoga helps nourish the practice of svadhyaya by helping us tune into our emotions, sensations and thoughts. Really tuning into ourselves helps us find ease in life.
Isvarapranidhana – Accepting Higher Support
Isvara pranidhana is the yoga ethic of surrendering to a higher power. That higher power, can be god, nature etc, but it is accepting that we cannot master/control the world. There is much in life that we cannot choose and consequently we should not be attached to outcomes. Furthermore, focusing on the journey can be a positive way towards healing and well being
Yoga Ethics goes hand in hand with Asana, Meditation, and Pranayama and improves our well being. Moreover, Patanjali introduced yoga ethics that are universal, inclusive and correspond with our natural internal desires. Fortunately, yogic ethics are organized so that we go through self inquiry in how we relate to the external world (Yamas) vs how we self regulate (Niyamas). This week we’ll discuss the Yamas and how they contribute to our well being.
The Yamas are the yoga ethics that help us tend and befriend others as they guide us to be more socially aware, compassionate, and optimistic.
Ahimsa – Compassion
The principal of Ahimsa is that we avoid causing harm to other beings. For example, with empathy we acknowledge pain others may be feeling. We provide them space to process and integrate the pain they feel. Likewise, with compassion we engage the care centers in our brain which release neurotransmitters like oxytocin and dopamine. Oxytocin plays a role in social bonding and our well being improves with positive and meaningful social interaction.
I would like to acknowledge a particular group of chronically ill people that often refer to themselves as “spoonies”. If you’re unfamiliar with The Spoon Theory and where it came from, please read here . This group needs to be surrounded by people that practice ahimsa as they struggle to be well.
Satya – Kind Truthfulness
Satya is the ethic principle of always being grounded in truth with our actions and words. When we are truly sincere and genuine there is less fear and ignorance. We don’t need to defend our actions. As a result, we have quality relationships with healthy boundaries
Asteya – Non Stealing
Asteya is the principal of not stealing possessions, ideas, achievements or resources. We live this principle by being grateful with what we have, giving credit to others for their ideas, not wanting more than we need, and feeling joy for other’s successes. In this way, Asteya provides us a better sense of belonging by understanding there is enough for all of us. We will notice how freely wealth comes to us when we practice Asteya.
Bramacarya – Unity
Bramacarya is the principal of the right use of energy towards a unified balance. For spiritual practitioners this can be directing energy towards the divine or for others this could mean finding balance with nature. Either way, taking time to notice the sacredness of life brings about optimism, reduces fear, and provides hope towards a better vitality. Most importantly, ensuring our energy is directed to what best serves us brings about better well being.
Aparigraha – Sustainability
Aparigraha is the ethic principal of taking what we need in the moment, focusing on the journey and letting go of the outcome. In this practice we focus on sustainability by not being attached to our material and emotional wants. Accordingly, it is important we reflect honestly on our wants versus our needs. In this older blog post here I explain how practicing (or not practicing) Aparigraha can have an impact on relationships.
These yoga ethics are a very important part of the practice. The Yamas allow room for self inquiry so we can understand our actions impact and are connected to the whole. After all, yoga is the link to connect energy, materiality and intelligence towards the desired direction of our lives.
5 Divisions of the Nervous System
The nervous system and increasing its resiliency is an important benefit to slow yoga. Unfortunately, yoga teachers talking about yoga’s benefit to the parasympathetic system has become like the grocery stores labeling gummy bears as gluten free. OK, maybe not the best analogy, but the point is that yoga benefits the whole nervous system. We over use the benefits to the parasympathetic nervous system because its so relatable to many people and we want everyone practicing yoga.
So let’s take a moment and learn about the 2 main Systems; Central Nervous System (CNS) and Peripheral Nervous System (PNS). The PNS is then broken down into 3 subdivisions; Somatic (SNS), Autonomic (ANS), and Enteric (ENS). The ENS is a subdivision of the ANS, but is said to work independently of the CNS so it may not always be included in discussions about the nervous system. Not to be forgotten, The Sympathetic and Parasympathetic systems work in conjunction with one another as part of the ANS. Head here for a diagram if you’re head hurts from all of those acronyms. I’m doing my best to explain a complex, detailed system at its simplest.
Central Nervous System
The brain and spinal cord make up the CNS. Therefore, it performs all three functions of the nervous system; sensory, motor, and integration. The brain and spinal cord collect information from our physical and emotional senses as it relates to our external and internal world and act as the control center (command station) to ensure our survival. Using yoga as a tool to improve Proprioception is a way in which we make the CNS more efficient.
Peripheral Nervous System
Separate from the brain and spinal cord are the remaining nervous system tissues; motor neurons, and sensory receptors and neurons. Neurons (nerve cells) carry messages through electrical pulses through our nervous system. A receptor is what receives information and generates nerve impulses for transmission. The motor neurons collect messages from the CNS and send them to the appropriate body organs. On the other hand, the sensory receptors and neurons collect messages and send them to the CNS. In Summary, motor neurons communicate from CNS to PNS, but sensory neurons and receptors communicate from PNS to CNS. As mentioned previously, there are 3 subdivisions of the PNS; Somatic, Autonomic and Enteric.
Somatic Nervous System
The Somatic System is the voluntary system which we have control over that regulates skeletal and muscle movement. Basically, as you practice yoga and decide where to place your limbs and when to contract muscles etc, you are using the SNS. However, emotional and physical trauma can result in us holding physical patterns that inhibit our fluidity of motion. Using yoga as a tool to discover and heal these patterns will help bring this nervous system into equilibrium. I don’t mean making sure everyone’s body works like everyone else’s. The goal is to understand an individual’s own skeletal and muscular structure and what balance of the SNS means for each individual. Yoga helps us to find our physical blocks that interfere with smooth transfer of energy throughout our body. Using intentionaly subtle movements in our yoga practice helps bring awareness we may otherwise not notice in our day to day routines.
Autonomic Nervous system
The ANS is the involuntary system generally out of our control that regulates communication from our internal organs to the CNS and vice versa. One of the three sub divisions, the enteric nervous system, can act independently of the CNS. The other two subdivisions, Sympathetic and Parasympathetic, work in conjunction with each other in response to internal and external stimuli.
“The nervous system dance is complex and highly changeable – that’s why the word “homeostatic” is not really accurate. “Homeodynamic” makes more sense. It’s this ability to adapt that underlies our capacity for resilience.” Kristine Kaoverii Weber
Sympathetic Nervous System
The Sympathetic system is know for its fight or flight response that increases things like heart rate and blood pressure simultaneously in response to stress. It is a much needed part of our system that gets a bad rap due to our inability to pay attention to the impact of our own choices that keep us under constant stress (not shaming. I’m guilty of this too). Also, the effects of trauma can push the system into overdrive as well. Yoga practices that focus safely on improving our interoception help us to build the window of tolerance between the SNS and PNS.
Parasympathetic Nervous System
The Parasympathetic system is know for the rest and digest response that increases things like digestion and salivation while reducing the heart rate. However, the problem underemphasized in yoga is that some individuals are stuck in the PNS system. The SNS does not respond appropriately to internal or external stress (potentially as a result of trauma or chronic stress) and is suppressed . I love this image that explains the window of tolerance between the SNS and PNS. Unfortunately, the constant focus on how yoga makes us feel great by jump starting this rest and digest system leaves out a large portion of society dealing with depression, poor self care, etc. Slow yoga is a great tool for expanding our window of tolerance.
Enteric Nervous System
And finally, the ENS is the system also known as the intrinsic system or “Gut Brain”. As mentioned before, it can act independently of the CNS with its own reflexes. It is a division, that I myself need to dig further into, but as expected, it is tied to mood. Interestingly, most of the body’s serotonin is produced in the digestive system. Serotonin is known as one of our happy chemicals that that contributes to well being. The ENS also plays an important role in our immune system. It receives and sends messages to release inflammatory chemicals that might result in diarrhea or vomiting. When the ENS is not efficient or out of balance, any individual with a chronic illness can explain the frustration in trying to understand what’s going on within their body. Yoga practices that work towards increasing vagal tone and bringing awareness to sensations of the gut may help with the efficiency of messages between the gut and the brain. Please note that “trusting your gut” does not always work when other parts of the nervous system are misinterpreting messages. Yoga is complimentary to good therapists and doctors.
Its is fair to say that we are complex beings with awesome systems attempting to keep us balanced. Slow yoga is a tool that helps offset the damage done by environmental as well as internal stressors. We need more yoga that trains the nervous system, is breath centric with simple movement and helps individuals with chronic illness. Please reach out with any questions and I’ll do my best to answer. May you have less worries and more smiles!
My biggest Challenge of 2019
The beginning of 2019 I decided to up the physical athletic prowess and lose the baby fat. I had been working out 4 days a week and decided to join my sister in her 2nd round of BeachBody 80 day obsession. After all, we had her and my son’s 2019 weddings. But more importantly, being active greatly impacts my mental health and I could have an easier time with yoga poses. I was feeling proud as I succeeded through a week of workouts. Unfortunately, I got really sick and was down for the 2nd week (in retrospect I realized this was a pattern for me).
Fortunately, I happened to have a 6 month follow up visit with the new doctor I had seen in August 2018. I brought up how I’ve had issues with energy through my adult life and how I was just getting over being sick and realized I hadn’t brought it up as a concern in August. He ordered blood work for all the common Illnesses that cause chronic fatigue. While waiting for the follow up appointment and results, I tried to get back to working out. However, I couldn’t make it through a single workout and always felt worse. Eventually, I stopped trying. I went from working out 4 days a week to doing nothing. Not even yoga asanas.
I learned at my follow up appointment that the culprit was the Epstein Barr Virus. 90 percent of people are infected at sometime in their life, but it remains dormant in most people. Without going into more detail about my health and history and exact prognosis, I basically reached a point where physical exertion only made me feel worse and more exhausted.
Why does this make me excited about 2019?
My yoga practice for most of 2019 consisted mostly of meditation and learning more about the benefits of slow yoga. Anyone with chronic illness understands the frustration of not feeling well and constantly researching/searching for answers. I have put in a lot of time studying yoga that is accessible to those of us that struggle with physical activity. I have a new found respect for slow yoga and its benefits like increased resiliency of the nervous system, decreased inflammation and better self regulation. Improved proprioception and Interoception through slow yoga can also improve our relationships, sleep, and immune system. (See here for more: Why is it Good to Improve Interoception with Yoga? )
I cant claim that I understand how it feels to have other chronic illnesses. However, I can claim to understand more how the population is underserved by wellness based slow yoga. Other yoga styles provide health and wellness for many that are physically able. More importantly, when lack of energy and physical exertion present a challenge to doing those styles, slow yoga is wonderful and nourishing.
I invite you to join me this year. I have some exciting offerings coming and am building a community to support you through your wellness journey. Join a new supportive community and learn more.
What is Interoception
Mindfulness, Interoception, and the Body: A Contemporary Perspective by Jonathan Gibson states that “most of the literature currently supports a working definition of IA (Interoceptive Awareness) to include a perception of the internal state of the body. This contemporary definition includes sensory awareness that originates from within the body’s physiological state as well as a person’s appraisal, attitude, belief, past experiences, expectations, and contexts, what is often referred to as top-down perceptions“
Top-Down vs Bottom-Up
In top-down processing we use our cognition to arrive at our perception. If you recall in my previous blog, Is Yoga Actually Useful for Proprioception Improvement?, I discuss how yoga can make us more aware of our physical sensations. Moreover, this improved physical awareness helps improve things like strength and balance. Thus, proprioception is more of a bottom-up processing where our perception effects our cognition. On the other hand, the improvement of top-down Interoception results in better emotional and behavioral regulation
If you’re a visual learner, this is a great picture that explains Proprioception vs Interception.
Yoga that Improves Interoception
Slow Yoga allows us more time to pay attention to our feelings as we practice (am I hungry?). Also, in our fast paced days, allowing these moments while we practice gives us the time we may need to notice and process feelings we’ve put aside for convenience or as a result of trauma. Trauma may make slowness intolerable for some, so be sure to ensure the slowness is within your tolerance time limit.
Yoga with Pauses
Allowing time in your practice to pause and notice sensations can help you understand how different flows or poses impact your energy, your irritability, your misconceptions in life. Yes. Pausing during our yoga practice can lead to pauses in our daily life that allow us to see our expectations and beliefs differently.
Be kind to yourself while you practice yoga. While going slow and taking pauses may improve our awareness, we want to notice how we feel without judgement. Reframe any negative thoughts that arise so that a sense of trust in yourself and your abilities is front and center in your practice. This kindness is especially important for those that have a chronic illness.
The frustrations from being chronically ill can result in a disregulation of our interoception. Instilling the above three concepts into our yoga practice helps improve our interoception and emotional regulation while focusing on wellness.
The Winter Solstice
The Winter Solstice is today December 21, 2019 and is the shortest day of the year. For some of us that signifies a time to celebrate that the days become filled with more sun light. Moreover, we cherish the day light and the way we feel it innately impacts our health. The sun provides vitamin D, increases serotonin (one of our happy nuerons), and gives us warmth. Check out this Article that shows a cool time lapse of the son shines on the earth as it spins on its axis
Below are 3 ways you can yoga to celebrate
1. Ground Down
Winter Solstice celebrations are known to celebrate the birth of the sun and so we ground down to keep us connected to earth and nature.
Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) with arms relaxed at your side, palms facing frontwards (thumbs away from body -not next to legs). Inhale deeply filling the lungs and as you exhale imagine a soft energy lowering all the way to the feet. Feel the feet touch the ground noting the 4 corners of each foot grounding down. Inhale imagine that soft energy rising up the body and out of the head. Repeat for 3-5 breaths (or longer if that feels good)
2. Honor the North, South, East and West
Some Winter Solstice celebrations have a circle theme representing the cycles of the sun and will use the representation of the circle created from the 4 cardinal directions on a compass.
Stand in Star Pose, legs as wide as comfortable, arms extended away from the body hands approximately level with shoulders. The arms represent east and west. Imagine your head as the North that gives you divine direction. Your feet are the south that provide eternal rest. The east arm (pick one or find a compass on your cell phone if you want to be exact) represents the rising of the sun, your source of inspiration and fears squashed. The west arm represents calmness, tranquility and letting go. Stand in star pose and focus on each representation one at a time as you move from one body part to the other. You my inhale and exhale at each “point” but breath is not necessary for this exercise.
3. Determine your Sankalpa (Intention)
The Winter Solstice is a time of reflecting and focusing on personal awakening. Consequently, we spend time thinking about a personal commitment to ourselves about the future. However, don’t this make this commitment a list of to do’s or goals to accomplish. Focus more on a way of being. Furthermore, think about a vow to yourself that helps you reach your highest intention. This is your Sankalpa.
Winter Solstice and Holiday Celebrations
The ancient celebration of the winter Solstice has significance in today’s holiday celebrations. For example, Here is one of the many interesting reads you can find. With google you can dig deeper about the winter solstice celebrations that are interwoven into different holidays previously and today. While the holidays can be a happy and celebratory time for many, the stress of preparing and traveling can have an impact on the immune symptoms of those struggling with chronic illness. Even healthy individuals find themselves getting sick from not taking the time to pause and destress for an healthy immune system. For those of you that are struggling to keep peace with your body through these holidays, take pause and take a moment for self care. Click on this guide for a Mantra and Mediation for the holidays.
What is Proprioception?
Proprioception is the awareness of our body in space. We have proprioceptors in our muscles, tendons, skin and joints that communicate with the cerebrum or cerebellum. The cerebrum is most likely what you visualize when you think of a brain and is responsible for conscious control of movement. The cerebellum is located at the back of the head, behind where the spinal cord meets the brain and coordinates movement. Take a look at this cool 3D graphic Here if you need a good visual of the brain.
Examples and Impairment
An example of proprioception is when you walk (move freely) without looking directly down at the surface you are walking on (don’t consciously think about the environment). The most well know test of proprioception is a sobriety test. That’s why officers ask that someone appearing impaired reach out their hand and touch their finger to their nose while standing on one foot. However, alcohol is not the only thing that impairs our proprioception. Disease and injury can also impair it as well as aging. Fortunately, we are able to improve it. As an example, professional athletes do proprioception training so they can process more information faster to and from the brain to enhance performance and reduce injury. Luckily, you don’t have to be an athlete to improve your proprioception for daily function.
How Does Yoga Help?
In addition to improving balance and muscle strength a yoga practice allows us to be more mindful. We can train our bodies to pay more attention and reduce our chance of re-injury as well as increase the rate of rehabilitation. Moreover, having better balance reduces the risk of falling (Important to the aging population). Proprioception involves a process with rapid communication to the brain. Slow yoga that allows for moments to pause and reflect on bodily sensations is a great way to improve it. Slow yoga also awakens any sensory amnesia we may have from traumatic experiences (physical or emotional).
Stay tuned for more about our sensory system and yoga that integrates improved awareness of our bodies and feelings.
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Creating a daily yoga practice
A lot of us are looking how to make yoga a habitual part of our life. Whether you’re looking for help to start a yoga practice or be more consistent, below are 4 ways we can understand how to use the brain to our advantage to build a practice.
Before I continue, I want to address the concept of improving neuroplasticity. In general the improvement of neuroplasticity is not an end result. There needs to be a purpose in the neural changes we are attempting to achieve.
So these 4 concepts apply to improving neuroplasticity for any patterns of thought or behavior we’d like to change.
Examine what you are specifically passionate about in your yoga practice and focus on that. Meditation, slow flow, a specific asana, chanting or a certain style of yoga are a few examples. Our passions are extremely personal to each of us so once you’ve figured that out, practice the part of yoga that excites you the most. Know why you practice and go from there.
Yes, once you’ve figured out what you love about your yoga practice, do it over and over again. This step may be somewhat of a no brainer in building a habit, but the key is to do what’s accessible to you. Don’t make plans to go to a daily 90 minute yoga class if that is not feasible to do because of time, health or other commitments. For example, if meditating is your jam, meditate for 5 mins as soon as you get up or before you get in bed. Start where you are. If you can only do this one day a week. Start there and you may start to see other opportunities arise (check out my blog on ”“How to Train the Brain to Manifest Quickly” to understand why you may start to notice more opportunities to practice) You can also do something simple like practice one one pose a day for a week (yes. Savasana counts)
So do what you love, do it often, and do it different ways. This can be as simple as starting your poses on the left side if you always start on the right. Taking classes from different teachers with different styles is another way. There are many styles of meditation so try a different method. Contact me if you need help figuring how to add novelty to whatever part of yoga you’re loving and repeating.
4. Focus and Awareness
Doing both of these may be the biggest key to changing neural pathways to creating a habitual yoga practice. Focus is more of an immediate paying attention to what you’re doing in your practice. Whereas awareness is paying attention so you may notice changes from practicing. You may be surprised and find that both focus and awareness may bring you to finding that your passion in your yoga practice has changed. Since our minds so easily distract us, here are two analogies to help letting go of the distracting thoughts. Imagine your thoughts are like balloons, but you let go of the string as the ballons float away. Are you a fan of nature? Imagine those thoughts like clouds drifting across the blue sky. They come and they go gently.
If after reading this, you’re having a bit of overwhelm, I invite you to start simply with practicing sun salutations here. Do as much or as little as you can, but remember these four things so you can train your brain and have a more consistent yoga practice.
What the heck is the HPA Axis?
HPA stands for Hypothalomic-Pituitary-Adrenal. Both the Hypothalumus and Pituitary gland are located in the brain while the adrenal glands are located above the kidneys. The Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis primarily functions as one of our stress response systems. After a stress event occurs, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) kicks in our fight or flight response. Next, the HPA Axis kicks into action responding to hormones secreted during the fight or flight response. The hypothalumus communicates with the pituitary gland which then communicates with the adrenal glands. In response, the adrenal glands produce cortisol. The HPA Axis in turn communicates with the SNS to keep the gas peddle down for our stress response.
Here’s a great video for visual learners that names the hormones specifically, where the hypothalamus and pituitary gland are in the brain, and the location of the adrenal glands above our kidneys
HPA Axis Disregulation or Adrenal Fatigue
Unfortunately with chronic stress, the HPA Axis becomes disregulated. The result can be too high or low levels of cortisol in our body. This disregulation can result in a compromised immune system, low energy levels, and inflamation So while, “adrenal fatigue” has become a catchall phrase for individuals that are regularly tired, have wacky circadian rhythms, feel depressed, etc , it’s possible the real culprit of these symptoms is a disregulation of the HPA Axis.
How does Yoga Improve Regulation of the HPA Axis
The most obvious way to regulate the HPA Axis is to destress. Yoga has been know to activate the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) which is the brake to the stress response of SNS (fight or flight). It’s not that the SNS is bad and the PNS is good, but for many of us we are out of balance, The goal is to have balance between the two, which in turn helps us better respond to stress from the get go. Since over exercising can be a cause of HPA Axis disregulation, slow yoga is the best approach to take.
Another method to help regulate the HPA axis is to get a good nights sleep. However, if your cortisol levels are high in the evening, falling asleep at a sensible time can be difficult. Yoga Nidra and meditation can be great ways to combat wakefulness when you’re feeling ready to sleep but your body says no. If you are not familiar with Yoga Nidra or meditation and do not live near a studio that offers these, there are apps which you can use like Insight Timer or Head Space to guide you nightly.
Yoga and the Brain
If you’ve read this far, I hope that means I was able to simplify the workings of this particular brain system and how yoga helps bring our body through our brain into homeostasis. Check out last week’s blog about the brain and Manifestation. I will continue to provide content like this on my blog and welcome comments, questions or suggestions. Be sure to sign up for the newsletter for future content on how yoga benefits the body through the brain.