Yoga for…. Happiness

#LiftTheSpirits…. Lockdown Campaign, Week

Today we are going to be looking at the positive effects that the practice of yoga can have on the structure of the brain. When I reference the practice of yoga here, I mean the practice of yoga asanas, pranayama and meditation. Meditation can be any activity which allows you to be mindful, and focused.

PFC deferentiates us from other animals

Limbic system — important, we need it. Amygdalas — exposed to high levels of continuous stress & trauma, the size of the amygdala can grow & you can become predisposed to fight/flight

Structural Changes:

  1. Yoga is shown to increase the gray matter (which processes information in the brain) density in areas of the PFC (prefrontal cortex) that are responsible for planning, decision making, problem solving and emotional regulation.
  2. Yoga strengthens the connection between the PFC and the amygdala. The PFC has the ability to moderate emotional responses. It therefore helps us to distinguish between a perceived and real threat.
  3. In seasoned yogis, the amygdala reduces in size and, connections to other primal parts of the brain are lowered — which helps to build patience, calmness and resilience.
  4. Yoga increases activity in the LPFC which is associated with happiness.

Through functional MRI (fMRI) technology, Davidson demonstrated that the left side of the frontal lobe — known as the left prefrontal cortex — is more active when people feel happy. In contrast, the right side of the frontal lobe — the right prefrontal cortex — is more active when people feel sad. Meditation (especially mindfulness meditation) can both strengthen the activity of the left prefrontal cortex and reduce the activity in the right prefrontal cortex.

5. Yoga increases surface area of brain by increasing folds — gyrification.

6. Yoga increases the size of the hippocampus — which is responsible for creating appropriate context for memories helping to support a coherent narrative of what is andis not really dangerous, keeping the amygdala regulated.

7. Yoga increases the size of the posterior cingulate. The posterior cingulate plays a key role in sense of self and self esteem.

Yoga and The Autonomic Nervous System

Yoga also, and importantly, helps to regulate our ANS, increasing our ability to recover more quickly from stress, by increasing our heart rate variability — which is a measure of healthy vagal tone.

The vagus nerve represents the main component of the parasympathetic “rest and digest” mode of the nervous system, which oversees a vast array of crucial bodily functions, including control of mood. The ventral vagus nerve — one of the two vagus nerve pathways is responsible for our social engagement capability. When our vagus nerve is fully functioning, it it the reason our breathing slows and our body relaxes when we’re chatting with a friend, and why our heart rate jumps and we feel on edge when we sense danger.

To measure the function of our vagus nerve, in other words, our vagal tone, we look to heart rate variability (HRV), the measure of the variation in time between each heartbeat, which is controlled by our autonomic nervous system. Our heart rate naturally accelerates when we breathe in, and decelerates as we breathe out. The bigger the difference in our heart rate when we inhale versus exhale, the higher the vagal tone and the higher the HRV. Higher vagal tone, reflected in higher heart rate variability, means the body is in an optimal state to recover more quickly from stressors.

It’s easy to see, then, why the vagus nerve is critical to optimal physiological functioning, as well as a significant marker of resilience. People with low vagal tone, on the other hand, are more sensitive to stress and disease. Through specific yoga poses, and pranayama practice, we can help to activate vagal pathways that counteract the flight-or-flight stress response.

Yoga Sequence for Happiness (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MKedkR4eKDU):

Full yogic breath

Cat and Cow

Downward Dog

Forward Fold

Crescent Lunge

Camel

Childs Pose

Savasana

References:

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/21641337_Vagal_tone_A_physiologic_marker_of_stress_vulnerability

http://blog.getlief.com/index.php/2020/06/25/heart-rate-variability-101/

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