Why yoga helps?

When the brain and nervous system are well rested, at ease, and in good balance we can take them for granted.  When the brain and nervous system are not working in good balance, nothing works well.

The impact of yoga on the brain and nervous system is quite profound.  There is considerable research on this topic, but there is some immediate evidence in how different a person feels between the start of yoga session and the end of yoga session.

The elements of yoga that have immediate positive benefit to how we feel are:  focused attention, leaving behind thinking, breathing and metabolic change, and attention to motor movements and body sensations.  Here’s how these help:

Focused attention:  When we have attention focused on one thing the brain shifts into a state of awareness, stillness and integration that is different from a more global state of attention where our brain may be drawing us in several different directions.  This one pointed attention is soothing and restorative to the brain.

Letting go of thinking:  In a usual day our brain drags us around most of the time.  We hear a constant inner dialogue:  hurry up you’re going to be late, don’t forget your car keys, wonder how George is doing, is there enough money in the bank?  All of that can happen in a couple minutes!  When the body is moving in yoga postures and our focus is there, thinking can fall away for awhile.  It is a great relief to the brain and nervous system to have that pause, find a still point, experience just Being rather than thinking.

Breathing and metabolic change:  We can lose track of how fast we are going in the busy activity of our days.  In yoga practice the pace of the breath slows as we bring attention to breath.  The deepening and slowing of the breath releases certain biochemistry in the nervous system that is restorative and brings a sense of peace. 

Attention to motor movements and body sensation:  Over 80% of the signals to the brain are signals about body movement.  Think how many neural messages are required to tell the brain to raise your right hand over your head and reach for the ceiling.  This is going on all day.  When our focus is external our attention to the body and it’s sensation falls away. It is actually very soothing and offers a sense of safety when we focus just on movement and sensation.  Think how good it feels to have a big yawn and stretch.   Imagine how great it feels to sense the cool sheets and warmth of the blankets as you snuggle into bed.  Spending an hour or so focused on movement and sensation during yoga practice is a renewal for the brain as it gets to give its full attention to this.

Gayle Bohlman