The Science of Serenity: Yoga’s Impact on the Nervous System and Hormonal Balance

Introduction

Throughout the last 10 years, I have been attempting to understand and adapt the ancient practice of yoga that was taught to me in Mysore through the lens of modern science. It has also helped me to understand what brought me to yoga originally. Over the course of teaching thousands of students yoga, I can confirm that the benefits of yoga are tremendous and very much understated in modern society. It’s simple; health is declining because it isnt valued. The practice of yoga allows for an individual to realize fascinating and comprehensive benefits for human health and to redistribute their system of valued. Yoga is a way of philosophy. This article will delve into the anatomical and physiological underpinnings of yoga, specifically its profound effects on the nervous system and hormonal balance, to illuminate how these practices foster positive mental health.

Yoga and the Nervous System

The Parasympathetic Nervous System and Yoga

Yoga’s ability to activate the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), often referred to as the “rest and digest” system, is a cornerstone of its mental health benefits. According to a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, practices such as gentle yoga poses, meditation, and pranayama (breath control) significantly increase vagal tone, an indicator of parasympathetic activity, leading to relaxation and stress reduction (Streeter et al., 2010).

Just sitting still and breathing deeply can lower your cortisol levels significantly. I can’t tell you how many people miss out on this in favor of the “go” mentality. To relax, you have to stop; sometimes.

Neuroplasticity and Mindfulness Practices

Research in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience outlines how consistent yoga practice contributes to neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to form new neural connections throughout life. This adaptability is enhanced by yoga’s mindfulness component, promoting cognitive flexibility and resilience to stress (Gard et al., 2014).

These findings collectively suggest that yoga can play a pivotal role in mental health interventions. By enhancing neuroplasticity and fostering a mindful approach to mental health, yoga offers a holistic and effective strategy for managing anxiety and depression, supporting its integration into mental health treatment and wellness programs for addicts and/or abusers.

Meditation and Brain Structure: Research has shown that meditation, a key component of yoga, can lead to changes in the brain’s structure, particularly in areas associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress. For instance, a study that found increased gray matter density in the hippocampus, known for its role in learning and memory, in individuals who engage in mindfulness meditation.

Breath control and pranayama practices influence the autonomic nervous system, shifting the balance towards the vagus nerve, which helps promote relaxation and reduce stress levels. This shift is associated with reduced cortisol levels, a marker of stress, thereby potentially reducing anxiety and depressive symptoms.

lakeyoga_Elliot&Mandy

Yoga for Hormonal Balance

Cortisol and Stress Response

A pivotal study in Psychoneuroendocrinology demonstrated that regular yoga practitioners exhibit lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, compared to non-practitioners. This suggests that yoga can modulate the body’s stress response system, leading to improved mental health outcomes (West, Otte, Geher, Johnson, & Mohr, 2004).

Yoga’s Effect on the Endocrine System

Yoga’s impact extends to the broader endocrine system, which regulates hormones. The Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology reported that specific yoga poses and sequences can stimulate or soothe various glands, promoting hormonal balance. This equilibrium is essential for mood regulation, stress management, and overall mental well-being [1]. Studies have indicated that mindfulness practices can reduce rumination, a significant factor in the development and maintenance of depression. By fostering a non-judgmental awareness of the present moment, yoga helps individuals break the cycle of negative thought patterns.

Practical Applications

The practice of asana can optimize the nervous system and hormonal functions. For example, inversions like downward dog or headstand can rejuvenate the endocrine system, while slow, mindful movements in poses such as child’s pose or seated forward bend activate the vagus nerve, fostering a state of calm.

Yoga for Substance Abuse Disorders

Yoga has been increasingly explored as a complementary intervention strategy in the treatment of substance use disorders (SUDs), with several studies highlighting its potential benefits. Research demonstrates that yoga practices, including Hatha yoga, Sudarshan Kriya yoga, and various breathing and meditation exercises, can have positive effects on individuals struggling with substance use, including tobacco, alcohol, or opioids.

Incorporating Scholarly Insights into Daily Practice

Understanding the science behind yoga empowers practitioners to tailor their practice to specific mental health goals. When you are stressed, you can meditate. By integrating these scientifically backed techniques into regular practice, you can control your own health. There is a lot of research left to be done; but there is some evidence to support yoga as an effective therapy for anxiety and depression. Obviously these are hard things to measure; not only are depressions and anxiety subjective, but the way each individual experience yoga is different because of different use histories in the body from sports, etc.

Conclusion

These findings collectively suggest that yoga, through its multifaceted practices of breathing, contorting, and physical rigor can ameliorate mental health. The confluence of yoga with modern scientific research offers compelling evidence of its benefits. The key to further research will be underpinning its exact efficacy in enhancing mental health. So far, the breathing techniques have yielded some of the most widely acknowledged clinical data. As we continue to explore the depths of yoga’s therapeutic potential, it becomes clear that this ancient practice holds timeless relevance in our quest for psychological well-being in the contemporary world. During our lifetime, we might learn why!

References (read the first one!)

  1. Bhavanani, A. B., Madanmohan, & Sanjay, Z. (2012). Understanding the Science of Yoga. The Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology.
  2. Gard, T., Noggle, J. J., Park, C. L., Vago, D. R., & Wilson, A. (2014). Potential self-regulatory mechanisms of yoga for psychological health. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
  3. Streeter, C. C., Gerbarg, P. L., Saper, R. B., Ciraulo, D. A., & Brown, R. P. (2010). Effects of yoga on the autonomic nervous system, gamma-aminobutyric-acid, and allostasis in epilepsy, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.
  4. West, J., Otte, C., Geher, K., Johnson, J., & Mohr, D. C. (2004). Effects of Hatha Yoga and African Dance on Perceived Stress, Affect, and Salivary Cortisol. Psychoneuroendocrinology.
  5. Namrata Walia, Jennifer Matas, Acara Turner, Sandra Gonzalez and Roger Zoorob -The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine

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ReCurve – the E.T.

120 BPM Electro- House

Recurve has some of my favorite melodic work; the beginning took a little bit of time to sort out; but I think its pretty unique (in terms of melodic structure) and once the bass kicks in; the sound design adds a dynamism that builds on the initial melody allowing it to go in and out. I owe all of this melodic structure stuff to Noah, who seems to constantly remind me of motifs and returning back to the original ideas and sounds from the beginning of the track. I feel like this is a constantly evolving relationship between the end and beginning that is definitive of good taoist philosophy.

EROS Part 3

Track 5 – Recurve

This track takes a more somber tone to the exploration of the universe through sound; a lot of this work speaks to the loneliness of space, but simultaneously the thrill of adventure. We constantly go a little further from safety to heroically explore the cosmos in spite of our inevitable extinction.

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Shield Wall – the E.T.

77BPM | D#

Shield Wall is the first Drum and Bass Track! I am pretty excited for how it came out, but I think the end is pretty chaotic; sometimes its a challenge to keep the organization as I move through a track and I wonder if this one wasn’t a little disorganized towards the end. However, I love the beginning and think that the melody is well thought out and purposed for the track; which has been my focus with the whole EROS PART 3 album; movement towards more cohesive structures and organizations within the writing of the music is a good way to grow in the musical ability to self-reference.

Anyways, the bass is heavily modulated as usual; but this is one of my first tracks with Synplant, which has a fairly powerful AI engine for sound design. I spent a few hours at the beginning hunting for bass sounds and the result is what you hear at about bar 17 in the track, or about 00:30.

EROS PART 3

Track 6 – Shield Wall

This is part 6 of the EROS compilation; it has a certain unique flavor of DNB that is mostly about the bass synthesis. I have a couple more tracks to go, but we are getting towards the end of the music I’ve finished; at most, there could be 5 more tracks; but most likely, there will be two, maybe 3.

I spent some good time crafting the music video as well. Check it out…

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Shaucha | शौच | purity & cleanliness

Shaucha is the 1st Niyama of Yoga; or the restraints of behavior. This concept that is central to the Indian religion and yoga and is part of what creates a clear and focused mind. It also means a clean body and sets of actions; its implies purity and cleanliness through all of life in a balanced way.

It is also important when speaking to aim to control your communications from a calm and peaceful mind. Saucha is most often practiced in daily life, whilst cleaning your space; or your car; doing your laundry or even taking showers. Nourishment and organization are also central to saucha.

Saucha and Santosha are very interconnected. One leads to the other, which is why saucha is the first Niyama and Santosha is the second. And remember that these are behavioral guidelines or ways to act around others.

Saucha’s concepts lend themselves to better Focus

Meditation was created to clear and enhance mental focus. Saucha is a part of that because meditation requires a little bit of preparation; sometimes a shower before, or simply taking off your shoes and sitting on a pillow or a mat, etc. So keeping space clean is an important part of that. In yoga, it is very important to keep the space clean of pests; especially in post WW2 India. It is also about creating a clean relationship to yourself; getting rid of the baggage so to speak. Cleaning not only enhances your mental health, but it also removes stress from your body. “Clutter and mess can create more stress and anxiety, but by cleaning, organizing, and reducing the clutter, people are able to take control of their environment and create a more relaxing environment that helps them focus better on the more pressing issues in their lives.”[7]

5 Techniques to create Saucha

  1. Meditate for a couple of minutes first thing in the morning. Clear your mind before your day.
  2. Neti Pot – clear your nasal cavity
  3. Dharana Meditation – focus on a single object and stare at it for 5 minutes or more. Choose a few objects of different distances for longer practice.
  4. Declutter and clean your house and your car
  5. Eat organic foods

References:

  1. The Art of Living Retreat Center – How to Live in Harmony with Yourself and the World Around You
  2. The Art of Living Retreat Center – Saucha – the First Niyama
  3. Bret Larking – What is Saucha
  4. Yoga International – Yamas and Niyamas
  5. Wikipedia – Niyamas
  6. Wikipedia – Saucha
  7. Very Well Mind – The Connection Between Decluttering, Cleaning, and Mental Health
  8. Forbes – the Mental Health Benefits of a Clean Home

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Dall-E & the E.T. - Santosha

Santosha | संतोष | Contentment | Satisfaction

Santosha, the second Niyama of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is sometimes spelled Santosa, is a portmanteau in Sanskrit, derived from Saṃ-prefix (सं-, सम्-) and Tosha (तोष (from root √तुष्, √tuṣ)). SaM-, means “completely”, “altogether” or “entirely”,[5] and Tosha (from the root √tus), “contentment”, “satisfaction”, “acceptance”, “being comfortable”.[5]

In modern Californian yoga culture, we say, “chillin” to express this. Contentment is the name of the game. Yoga and santosha are somewhat synonymous; it is a big part of yogic philosophy.

Dall-E & the E.T. - Santosha

Sam is similar to sum, totality and entirely. Tosha or Tushti (तुष्टि) is about appreciation, mindfulness, gratitude, harmony, an active inner contentment. But like all other Sanskrit words; there is a rather distinct philosophical implication behind this compounded idea.

Samtosa, or Santosha means inner serenity; a lacking of cravings and desires; satisfaction in the present. In a way, it is less reactive and more sustainable than happiness, which would be more like the upward part of a mountain that has a valley beneath it. It is like a gentle hum in the background of life that keeps you excited for what comes next.

Minimization is important in the philosophies of santosha. Less things and obligations; more relationships, time with nature, etc. We have so much in the way of our happiness; how can we possibly enjoy ourselves if we don’t take any time to feel that way. Difficulty will always exist; especially with big challenges. Santosha exists in small moments; like taking your time to enjoy the first sip of coffee you have or to eat a decent breakfast.

Relinquishing expectations can also create a path for cultivating Santosha. This is something I’ve had to do with my own life in big ways; letting go of thinking that I would be a full-time yoga instructor; or that I was ready to start a landscaping business by myself have been big lessons for me. I am finding Santosha in the journey of creating these things in balance.

This concept, Santosha, has been a theme as I’ve started a new job at Bushnell’s landscaping service. It will be great to have steady work and will provide an excellent opportunity to learn from a successful, high quality tradesman.

Contentment is hard when you have to let go of a successful and fun yoga class. My Wednesday noon class at East Wind in Roseville always felt special, like a fun and welcoming place to come back to. However, transitioning that class to another teacher has been a long time in coming. I’ve had several projects where taking the time to teach yoga at noon has been very difficult. I still teach Tuesday evening 7pm and Sunday evening 5pm classes.

DALL·E & the E.T. - Job's loss (biblical)
DALL·E & the E.T. – Job’s loss (biblical)

I’d like to add another class or maybe two; I’d like to teach more yoga at the very beginning and the end of the day so we’ll see if that can work out this year!

EROS part 3 has also been slightly put on the back-burner; I am still finishing the music, just a lot slower than I was able to when I had all day to work on it. I have a couple more dnb tracks and a couple of house tracks to get out there. Some really cool sound designs on these! The new full- time job has been really time consuming, which is great! But I don’t get as much time for music so I’ll have to double down on sound design and melody writing after work.

Niyama #2

Santosha is the second of Patanjali’s Niyamas; it means contentment and also unison with what is; reality. Santosha is an ethical concept in Hindu philosophy. It is a tenet of yoga and corresponds to the mental state that you are trying to create with asana. With focus, you can create a state of santosha by moving through all the things that make you unhappy or dissatisfied and accepting them; or coming to terms with their conclusions.

Santosha means to be completely content with, or satisfied with, accepting and comfortable in what is. To be present to everything and happy with it. This creates a personal growth that allows you to be okay with anything that is happening around you. Similar to a tree growing ferociously on the side of a cliff.

5 Ways to Create Santosha in your life

Dall-E & the E.T. - Job's cosmic spiritual battle
Dall-E & the E.T. – Job’s cosmic spiritual battle
  1. appreciate difficulty in your journey
  2. entertain the point of view of others
  3. be nice, but don’t give away your attention
  4. create commitment and discipline
  5. learn to love your flaws and weaknesses

What does Santosha really mean

Santosha is a method for creating happiness. It is not complacency! It is a method for drawing contentment from within to make what is happening on the exterior irrelevant. So a lot of times, you have to spend time creating it; it won’t just appear after a moment on your mat. Sometimes you have to sit with it for a few hours, or do 2 yoga classes in a row. Meditating really helps too, but that is an internal relationship that has to be built up over time. You have to learn how to enjoy being in warrior 2 when you don’t want to be. You have to show up for it, then stick with it and accept your feelings as it happens. Yoga is just like a simulation or practice ground for what happens in life.

Santosha is really cultivating a space inside of yourself that is nice to come back to. Much of Indian philosophies relate nourishment and satisfaction to commitment and discipline. This commitment and focus to contentment and satisfaction is a self-fulfilling prophecy in many ways. I believe it is how there are so many people out there that are happy without excess.

Santosha is Deep Satisfaction

Santosha is within your control; you simply have to actively cultivate it. It is about the story in your mind and realizing that is a fabrication and it detracts from your fun! Our true power exists in our ability to act and create in the present moment; when we are lost in our story, we lose sight of that. This also means recognizing that our words do not have power over us; when someone else uses a specific word that grabs your attention, remember that you give it power by spending time focusing on it. Redirect your attention and it loses its power and more important its meaning. We are the creators of meaning in our lives by choosing what we spend our time doing and who we spend our time with so we have to make sure that we are doing things that we are passionate about!

References:
  1. Ekhart Yoga – Santosha
  2. Yoga International – Is Santosha (Contentment) Really Possible?
  3. Hindu American – 5 Things to know about OM
  4. Yogajala – Santosha
  5. shahzadpurfarmyoga.com – Samkhya Karika 50, Satisfaction is of 9 Types, 4 Internal & 5 External
  6. Wikipedia – Santosha

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yoga with elliot: Episode 3 Daoist Symbol | by Dall-E

Unlock Your Inner Zen – Daoist Yoga with Elliot

Enjoy this 30 minute Daoist yoga sessions for your major muscles and nerves.

Flow with your breath through the sequence and release into your mind.

Yoga with Elliot | Episode 3:

Beginner/Intermediate Yoga Class

Postures (asanas) for weight loss and mental health.

You can tell I am a little bit chunky in this video and I like to gain weight during the winter to stay warmer. I’ll get back into really really good shape later; eating a lot during the winter is a favorite past-time of mine.

This video is for people who are interested in yoga, but haven’t really experienced it yet. Anyone that is in a high stress environment, or that has to drive a lot or sit at a desk during the day. It is very general and focuses on major muscles groups, such as hamstrings, quadradus lumborum, shoulders, hips, glutes, lower spinal erectors, quadriceps and inner thigh muscles.

Yoga is Healthy, practice a lot to cultivate Santosha, happiness.

Most will find this to help release some of the cortisol from the major muscle groups in the body; but I would imagine that military professionals, police officers, firefighters, doctors, and nurses, as well as other people in high-stress environments can benefit a lot from yoga’s ability to process stress[1]. Cortisol is stress hormone and it is stored in the blood stream in muscles. With focused and meditative breathing holding postures and flowing through sun salutations can greatly improve sleep quality, relieve cortisol from the blood stream, enhanced coping, self-efficacy and positive mood[2]. Further, on evaluating the published studies, it is concluded that sleep and cognitive functions are optimized by yoga practice, which brings about changes in autonomic function, structural changes, changes in metabolism, neurochemistry and improved functional brain network connectivity in key regions of the brain.[3] Yoga practices can increase multiple neurotransmitters and hormones such as GABA, serotonin, and dopamine—all natural anti-depressants. [4] The practice of Yoga improves sleep architecture and mental well-being in young and middle-aged adults. [4]

“Yoga also boosts the innate antiviral response and brain health by enhancing natural defense genes and microRNA-29c expression. Notably, it activates telomerase, linked with cellular longevity, and promotes nitric oxide synthetase and neuroprotective gene expression, implying benefits for ocular health. In addition, yoga fosters DNA repair and cellular integrity maintenance by increasing oxoguanine glycosylase one protein and p53 gene expression.”[5]

What this means is that yoga helps your body to repair itself neurologically; in the brain neurological complexes that are required for sleep and the immune response and the body’s response to invasive micro-organisms. Eyes are generally thought of as a part of the brain; it is very interesting to see that this somewhat vulnerable area of the human body is augmented with inversions such as downward dog.

This 30 minute yoga class will get you relaxed and focused. The sequence is very balanced, in my opinion. Hold poses for longer! Experiment with your bodies endurance! And also be gentle and take it easy when you feel like you should.

Asanas and descriptions, some modifications

the yoga I practice is purely physical. Sometimes I end a class with a reading or something I am thinking, but I try to keep my teaching neutral.

  1. Tadasana – standing with intention in the feet
  2. Step back lunge
  3. Lizard Low Lunge
  4. Plank
  5. Chaturanga – specifics about alignment
  6. Half Lift – more alignment
  7. Forward Fold – release your neck and jaw and head
  8. Chair Pose – stabilize
  9. Warrior 3
  10. Lunging
  11. Pyrmaid Pose
  12. Triangle Pose
  13. Dragonfly Twist (make sure you get this on the second side!!)
  14. Standing splits
  15. Goddess Pose
  16. Meditation
  17. Savasana

References:

  1. Science Direct – Yogic meditation improves objective and subjective sleep quality of healthcare professionals
  2. De Gruyter – Using the Biopsychosocial Model to Understand the Health Benefits of Yoga
  3. National Library of Medicine – Sleep, Cognition, and Yoga
  4. MDPI – (Medical Yoga Therapy – read this!!!)
  5. International Journal of Yoga – Beyond the Mat: Exploring the Potential Clinical Benefits of Yoga on Epigenetics and Gene Expression

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Sardukaur Enlightenment – the E.T.

This is a track I wrote over the last 5 or 6 months. It includes most the my favorite sounds that I have ever made; there is one specifically that comes in around the first drop that feels like a robot moving out of orbit if you were somehow outside of a space station around planet Earth. All of the sounds have a lot of processing involved and it has become quite a fun process to adventure through the different possibilities with low frequency sounds.

The music video came together pretty well. I loved the idea of Sardukaur training and initiation rituals so the name for this track came from a lot of recent sound design missions converging together. The graphic from a dune inspired graphic from chat GPT combined with some image processing and music visualization with magic and viola. I like how its kind of similar to an 80s cartoon. There’s a kind of journey in the music video. The track itself is meant to be pretty dark and the idea is that no matter how far our technology advances, humans will always resort to war as some kind of way to advance ourselves.

Sardukaur Enlightenment Music Video

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Robo Trash – the E.T.

EROS Part 3 – Track 3
ROBO TRASH

This is the Electro House adventure of a robot named T that travels through space to collect metal debris from the Exosphere, avoiding satellites and various supersonic frequencies to clean the passageways between Earth and Outer Space. This robot has a very spritely personality and enjoys also clearing the sound waves for other objects to pass more peacefully through the turbulence of the outer layers of atmosphere of planet Earth. T is also a big fan of the Sun and enjoys testing the gravitational pull at the edge of the solar winds.

This track has been out on Spotify for a little while, but I consider it to be a part of the EROS 3 music because the music has come in a sort of wave. This track specifically felt like a big breakthrough for my sound and I enjoyed the idea of playing it live quite a bit; it definitely has the potential to be mixed with other house tracks.

Bass Sound Design

My focus has been centered around the low end of the frequency spectrum for a long time now; I just love making womps and wobbles. When I get a chance to play live more; I am going to do a lot of experimentation with speakers and producing solid and fun waves that emanate from the lower spectrum.

ROBO Trash Music Video

I’ve been having a great time making these music videos and pushing the magic software to its limits. I am going to most likely start during some custom color corrections using code, but for now, the algorithms available in magic are pretty cool!

Robo Trash on Youtube
Robo Trash on X
Robo Trash on FACEBOOK

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Pure_Spice dune spice extraction inspired cover art by Artiphoria.ai

Pure Spice – the E.T.

Pure_Spice
dune spice extraction inspired cover art by Artiphoria.ai

This electro house track has been in the works for more than 6 months; I started with the vocal chops and got the original idea for the melody. The bass sound design was created as a compliment to the vocals, but its does take over a bit in the drop which I like a lot. It took a lot of working and reprocessing to get the bass to where it sits now. Phaseplant was very helpful with this process. There is a background atmosphere that I love as well that peaks in the middle of the track; it created a very mysterious vibe for the rest of the sounds to punch through.

Track 2 of EROS p3

Drums, and Bass House Beats w Vocal Chops

The drum beat is a fairly typical house combination; at the end of the track I do a little bass switch up that I think is fun and suits the temp change in the track. It becomes more of a half-time trap track about halfway through the album. This is one of the first pieces of music that I would describe as a journey. I think I have gotten to that point with a lot of the tracks of this album. I hope you like it!

The Visuals and Cover Art

I am really happy with the software that I use for the visualizations; it has a very unique distortion engine that is fun to apply to effects; I can see it becoming a very useful tool in the future of both live production and visualizations for music. The cover art was generated by prompting artiphoria.ai and edited using Befunky.com.

Pure Spice Music Video

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