The Science of Yoga & How Chiropractic Can Improve Your Practice
Yoga is known to be beneficial for conditions like epilepsy, depression, PTSD, chronic pain, and many neurological conditions.1,2 The benefits of yoga clearly go far beyond strength and flexibility. The reason yoga is so beneficial for a variety of conditions, is its unique combination of breath, mindfulness, and movement. When used in unison, these three elements have a powerful impact on the way our brain functions.
Conscious (voluntary and controlled) breathing is a staple in most forms of yoga. Breathing helps to regulate your heart rate, and emotional states account for up to 40% of HRV.3 HRV, or Heart Rate Variability, is the time between heart beats. This means your emotional state can dictate how fast or slow your heart beats. Conscious breathing helps to control emotions and therefore heart rate. How can something as simple as breathing do this?
Conscious breathing forces the mind to focus, be present and mindful. This is important because being present only allows a person to be in the now. Issues like anxiety stem from existing too much in the past or future. Practicing mindfulness is effective in treating stress disorders like anxiety and PTSD because it turns on the most sophisticated part of your brain, the frontal lobe. By stimulating the frontal lobe, you override the primitive area of your brain which tends to be responsible for wandering thoughts about the past and presumptions about the future. Learning to be mindful of your thoughts gives you control.
While mindful meditation alone has many benefits, adding movement further stimulates the brain. Movement in general is good, but rhythmic movement like yoga is superior to non-rhythmic movement. Rhythmic movement requires being in motion while already planning your next move. Movement while planning further stimulates the frontal lobe as its responsible for motivation, planning, and muscle activation.
As chiropractors, we love yoga for its ability to connect the mind and body. Consistently practicing conscious breathing, mindfulness, and movement helps to reinforce and even create new neuronal pathways. Your brain is plastic, meaning it can be changed and molded. This is called brain plasticity. Nerves are capable of learning and growing. With consistent stimulation, your brain can function more efficiently. Let’s discuss how chiropractic facilitates this and can improve your yoga practice.
Brain plasticity can be either negative or positive. If something can grow, it can also shrink. It’s a use it or lose it kind of thing. A movement related example of negative plasticity is decreased function in the parietal lobe. The parietal lobe is the area of the brain that integrates information from skin, muscles, joints, and vision to become aware of the body’s environment. This is important because in order to move safely and effectively, the brain has to know where the body is in space. People with decreased parietal lobe activity are prone to accidents like falls and sprains.
Chiropractors work to restore communication between the brain and body by adjusting joints to restore motion and thus stimulate the parietal lobe. Remember, the parietal lobe interprets information from our joints. By stimulating this area, we are facilitating communication with the dysfunctional joint. Over time, thanks to brain plasticity, your nervous system will catch on and form new connections. Good brain-body connection makes for safer, more effective movements during your yoga practice.
- Streeter C, Gerbarg P, Saper R, Ciraulo D, Brown R. Effects of yoga on the autonomic nervous system, gamma-aminobutyric-acid, and allostasis in epilepsy, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Medical Hypotheses. 2012;78(5):571-579. doi:10.1016/j.mehy.2012.01.021.
- Mooventhan A, Nivethitha L. Evidence based effects of yoga in neurological disorders. Journal of Clinical Neuroscience. 2017;43:61-67. doi:10.1016/j.jocn.2017.05.012.
- Philippot P, Chapelle G, Blairy S. Respiratory feedback in the generation of emotion. Cognition & Emotion. 2002;16(5):605-627. doi:10.1080/02699930143000392