Yoga and the Brain

Yoga and the Brain

The benefits of having a yoga practice are monumental, from improving immune function, reducing symptoms of stress, decreasing chronic pain in the body, lowering blood pressure and even increasing oxygen levels in the blood stream. Yogis from all over the world have known these benefits for thousands of years and our modern world is quickly following suit. What was once considered taboo, new age, mysticism is rapidly gaining respect and support by our scientific communities. What about yoga and the brain?

Neural pathways are our brains information highway.   The more we think, say or preform a particular action, the more defined that specific neural pathway becomes in our brain.   As a result we develop a skill, a habit or even an addiction.   If ever find yourself getting ready in the morning without thinking about it – that is your pathways doing their job.

Yoga is a beautiful way to slow down, observe our own bodies and discover just how many activities in our lives are we performing on auto-pilot.   Through yoga, you may experience anxiety when guiding your focus to your breath.   It’s a feeling you may have never felt before in your life, and quickly realize the experience of emotional release.   Liberation and confusion swirl through your mind and the only thing you know for sure, is that you will come back to your mat for more.

We are all born with a built in survival kit. Flight or fight – fight for our lives or run for our lives.   These natural feelings of self-preservation are triggered in two forms of stress, mentally or emotionally.   If we mentally perceive a threat, our Central Nervous System (CNS) starts to produce cortisol, which causes our muscles to tense and increases our rate of breath. When the threat is gone, the Parasympathetic Nervous System turns down the cortisol resulting in a more fluid breathe and lower heart rate. Response to stress has come from conditioning, ranging from the environment that we’ve been raised in, parenting skills and their reactions to stressful situations, accidents, traumas, and life experiences. We then add in the stresses of living in our modern world with cell phones, high demand jobs, families, email, finances and social media.   Our bodies are under constant attack.   Our minds are building and reaffirming those neural pathways that are aiding in the development of “stress is normal ” at an alarming rate.   We are wearing ourselves out internally and externally.

This is where yoga can make a huge impact and reset your mind.   When you engage in a full breathe in, your body will start to relax and you will notice all the extra tension and stress you have been holding on to.   It might take a while to discover that’s the case of your emotional release, but sooner or later you will become the observer of your life and see all those nasty old habits that have been weighing you down.   As you practice, you become more aware of each movement, each breath and you start to move with purpose and intention.

Your teacher will remind you to breath throughout your practice, to take child’s pose and breathe if you’ve lost the connection.   If you can learn and witness the power and importance of breathing through your practice, you can learn how to breathe throughout everyday life.   This is that very space where you can take your practice off of your mat and into your daily lives.   Next time your boss, a family member or friend gets under your skin remember to breathe and find ease in your body and mind.   With each breath you take full of intention you are building stronger neural pathways and weakening the stressful ones.   We cannot completely eliminate stress but we can make conscious choices and practice our yoga attributes on and off the mat.

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