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The Science Behind Yoga And Stress

Yoga And Stress

Yoga is gaining popularity for its role in battling stress, anxiety, and depression. Time and again, health and wellness coaches and clinicians have been stressing about practicing yoga for a healthy body and mind. But, what is the science behind yoga and stress?

You may think yoga is just a set of body-bending exercises where you twist your arms and limbs and focus on your breath. But, there is a lot happening under the skin and in your brain while practicing yoga. Read on to know what yoga does to your brain chemistry and nerve connections. 

Before I get into that, let’s first discuss

The parts of the brain that play a key role in stress:

1. Emotional brain 

This comprises the amygdala and its connections, medial forebrain structures including the medial prefrontal cortex. 

2. Logical brain 

It comprises the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, other parts of the prefrontal cortex, parts of the cingulate cortex, and parts of the hippocampus.

The emotional and logical brain serves the functions of emotion and cognitive function as well as plays a key role in stress. 

Our emotional brain triggers a stress response via the sympathetic nervous system. And, it manifests as an adrenaline rush and increases in cortisol (stress hormone)  levels in your circulation. 

common signs your brain and body are under stress
The Science Behind Yoga And Stress

On the other hand, the logical brain tries to shut down this stress response and restrain the emotional brain. The stronger the logical brain, the lower the stress response. Once the stress response is turned off, our parasympathetic nervous system signal is activated. 

Yoga is known to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which in turn initiates a cascade of events like blood directed towards endocrine glands and other organs, lowering heartbeat and blood pressure. This restores a balanced and calm state of mind after major stress is over. 

In short, a strong logical brain and relaxation go hand in hand. 

Also read 7 Science-Backed Benefits Of Journaling

Do you know that stress response and the relaxing signals travel through our body in a particular route? And, parts of these routes such as carotid arteries of the neck have switches.  Do you know you can physically manipulate to turn these signals on or off? 

Yoga can train the entire stress circuit at two levels:

1. Yoga activates the logical brain 

Your logical brain is activated every time you are holding a specific yoga posture, concentrating on your breath, and trying to balance. As you try to bend forward, lower your head, the yoga posture turns on the relaxation signal through the switches in the neck. Because, bending forwards and lowering our head increases the pressure of the fluid within the cranial cavity, bringing our blood pressure down to compensate for this. 

It means with every yoga posture your logical brain and the relaxation signal are turned on at the same time. This signal is responsible for keeping your emotional brain quiet. 

As per brain imaging studies and MRI scans, yoga enlarges our brain. Scientists found that people practicing yoga have more brain cells than non-practitioners. With more hours of yoga, you can have a bigger brain size. Upon observing the brain scans of yogis, it was noted that they have larger brain volumes in the brain regions associated with attention, our concept of self, and areas critical to lower stress. 

Yoga activates the logical brain 
ain regions showing A) structural differences in yoga-practitioners compared to non-practitioners or B) a dose-dependent relationship between years of yoga practice and brain structure among practitioners. Yoga practitioners exhibited greater cortical thickness, gray matter (GM) volume, and GM density than non-practitioners in a variety of regions.  (Source: Gothe et al., 2019)

2. Logical brain fights stress response

Whenever you bend backward, it turns on stress response in your system through switches in your neck (as well as baroreceptors and through signals from other receptors including those within our vestibular system within the inner ear.).  A similar process occurs when you are contracting your muscles. 

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Louisa Davis

Hi there! I'm just a normal person enjoying the process of life. Practicing Buddhism, I believe in the law of cause and effect. Reading and writing is always a pleasure. I enjoy researching on a range of subjects – science, psychology, and technology. Nothing can satiate my soul than good music, horror movies, psycho-thriller, and crime stuff. I enjoy photography, music and watching comedy videos. Talking to people, learning new experiences, sharing my knowledge through blogs, motivating others are things that I always look forward to.View Author posts