When I was in naturopathic medical school I decided to take yoga because everyone talked about it being such a great stress-relieving activity. I signed up for a 12-week series, excited to find a way to relieve the stress of my first year of my naturopathic training.
I hated it. It was boring and hard at the same time. I was completely disappointed that I didn’t enjoy it. I thought I would never try it again.
Two years later I gave it another try with my best friend, who loved yoga on the beach in Maui. This time it was much more relaxing and I thought maybe I could learn to like it. She convinced me to come to her yoga studio Jivamukti in Brooklyn.
This time I fell in LOVE with the combination of back bending, forward bending, and inversions. I have been practicing for the last 14 years.
The Breathing - Ujjayi pranayama
Uijayi breath, which is sometimes called “victorious breath,” is a loud, balanced, forceful deep breath in and out of the nose while the mouth is closed. The breath is focused into the back of the throat.
Receptors, or carotid bodies, are found in the neck region. They sense blood pressure and send signals to the brain to slow down or speed up the heart beat.
The pressure that is created during the ujiayi breathing helps to slow down the heart rate and help you feel more calm.
The Poses - Asanas
I always thought that breathing, or Ujjayi pranayama, was the reason yoga was so relaxing but the poses themselves also elicit greater relaxation.
There are several parts of the brain that help with the relaxation response. The amygdala handles the emotional aspects and the prefrontal cortex and parts of the hippocampus handle the logical side of things.
The emotional part of the brain turns on the stress response in the body through the nervous system, sympathetic response and the releasing of stress hormones throughout the body.
The logical parts of the brain stop the stress response described above. It turns on the relaxation response of the parasympathetic system.
When we concentrate and hold poses for a period of time, this activates the logical part of the brain, causing relaxation.
When we move into poses of forward bending, the receptors in the neck cause a relaxation response similar to that triggered by Ujjayi breathing.
There is an additional challenge to the logical brain when back bending is one of the poses. This extra challenge trains the brain to override the emotional brain.
Yoga has the ability to relieve stress through the practice of breathing and the poses. As you continue to practice, you begin to create new pathways in the brain that create a relaxation response.
The more consistently you practice, the more relaxation response is triggered by the practice of the poses. This will also help you train your brain in new ways to create a relaxation response in your endocrine and nervous systems.
Dr. Daemon Jones
This article was originally published on EmpowHer.com.