Yoga’s Primary Benefits: Control of the Autonomic Nervous System

Yoga's Primary Benefits_autonomic_nervous_sytstem

Yoga’s Primary Benefits

Honestly, yoga’s primary benefits are still unknown. Our science isn’t good enough yet. Not really. Science is just starting to catch up to the power of some of the world’s most ancient healing traditions and are learning their meaning in a whole new light. Yoga’s primary benefit  is certainly related to the functioning of the central and peripheral nervous systems, but how is something that has yet to be explained. The Ujjayi breathing technique, or breathing slowly through the nose is almost certainly related to yoga’s primary benefits; how is something that we have yet to learn. The Western world is slowly learning that the Eastern traditions, medicines, healing techniques, and ritualistic traditions are grounded in some serious observational science, even if it isn’t quantifiable and measurable by current methodologies and technologies. Even if the causes aren’t completely explained. This is happening in Acupuncture, herbology, nutrition, Ayurveda, and even Yoga is one particular field where we are learning a lot about how beneficial something as simple as breath control can be. The human body is more complex than we can currently understand; we are continually learning more about the human ecosystem that is what we define as our body.

Yoga is one particular tradition that reaches very far back in civilization, but our scientific knowledge about how yoga can help the body to heal is fairly rudimentary. We know from clinical studies that yoga helps with sleep duration and quality of sleep, we also know that it helps with anxiety, depression, and stress. But yoga in our modern society mostly means exercise, something that is vastly under-rated in American culture and in our society; 66% of Americans are overweight.

Yoga almost certainly has benefits to the endocrine system, the respiratory system, the circulatory system, the heart, and the digestive system, but many of these benefits have yet to be measured. Even our understanding of the functioning of the respiratory system is still somewhat archaic, especially in terms of the lungs interacting with the heart, especially in the paradigm of disease. We have a lot to learn, but another, even more powerful benefit that we are learning about is the control one gains over the nervous system.

Yoga and the Nervous System

The nervous system is the central source of energy for your body; the electricity in your body is the fundamental source of energy for your body and therefore your consciousness to exist. The electricity that runs down your spine and into your peripheral nervous system, or the legs, torso, arms, organs, and every other part of your body is a continually firing process that continues from before birth and ends with our final breath. This is what allows us to be alive and is the fuel for our internal fire, passion, love, and existence.

This nervous system that we have evolved into over billions of years is extremely adaptive; different aspects of it have partitioned and specialized; we have a parasympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system and a sympathetic part; a conscious part of the nervous system and an unconscious part of the nervous system.

Yoga and Stress Regulation

The parasympathetic autonomic system is largely outside of conscious control and regulates most of the “background activities” of the body, such as digestion, sexual activity and arousal, urination, etc. The sympathetic nervous system allows us to control our fight or flight response or panic responses. Yoga allows us to tap into both of these systems Yoga's Primary Benefit LiveScience_Nervous_Systemand influence their activities and awareness breeds control, making awareness of the proprioception of the nervous system a primary benefit as well. That’s why balancing in yoga is such an important part of the practice.

One of yoga’s greatest benefits that is also a byproduct of meditation is alleviation of tension from the muscles, cortisol from the bloodstream (stress hormone), and slowing down of the heart and therefore circulatory system. Control over the nervous system helps us to do this because it allows everything else to slow down as a result of slowing the mind, and allowing the body to reach equilibrium and decompress. This can help us to fully relax in preparation for strenuous activity and the two can balance each other out really nicely because of yoga’s benefit to slowing the nervous systems.

I’ve done yoga in airports, on airplane bathrooms, in buses, in random hotel rooms, in airplanes, in cars, in RV’s, while camping, after long days of strenuous activity, etc and I will always use it to keep my circulatory system “feeling good” while traveling. The benefits of yoga for the body are undeniable and we are just starting to learn about the real consequences of this powerful, healthy, spiritual, and enlightening practice.



  1. Wikipedia
  2. Live Science
  3. Ride the Breath


Yoga is a Science

Bandhayoga danurasana depection

Yoga is old. Really old, probably 3,500 years old. It supposedly started with people trying to sit for long periods of time and realizing that in order to do that, they needed to take care of their bodies. This really only could start happening once civilization and agriculture were established; a hunter gatherer would be forced to spend the majority of their time on survival rather than meditation. This is really the beginning of philosophy; people begin to think about how their minds process the environment. When Patanjali, a collection of ancient scholars, begins to teach the Ayurvedic system, yoga practice, prana-yama exercises, as well as the Sutras and the remaining Astanga limbs of Yamas, Niyamas, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. Then in about 400 BC a man named Panini came along and writing systems for Sanskrit were born into India, where the oral traditions were written in Devangari. This was about 2500 years ago and they were probably practicing asana before that.

Now fast forward to today and what modern yoga is. It is a workout, but people don’t necessarily consider their anatomical functionality when working out. Its pretty important to realize that yoga will definitely have effects on your nervous system and the alignment of your muscles because the body works with gravity to align your skeletal and muscular structure in yoga to optimally work and function with gravity. This promotes healthier cardio-vascular function, can increase coordination, proprioceptive awareness (body and limb positions), and contributes to healthy and restorative sleep cycles.

Really, yoga is about increasing the efficiency of your nervous system and cardiovascular efficiency. Inversions are extremely healthy because they reverse blood-flow and wash the brain and spine with cerebral-spinal fluid ensuring a healthy flow in the central nervous system. It also aligns joints, muscles, and nerves to ensure that the nerves take an efficient path to and through the muscles. Poses like Trikonasana (triangle) and Parsvakonasana (side-angle) help to ensure that the Sciatic nerve passes efficiently through the pyriformis. Small alterations in the poses can make huge differences for blood and nerve flow into the legs and really are key to readjusting your body to allow for optimal functioning.

This is why it’s really important to take your own practice seriously, at least occasionally. Learning is what yoga is all about and having the mind of a beginner (one where you look for possibilities rather than revisit what you know) is extremely important for the poses, especially when you are getting into the details. Anatomical knowledge is a definite must once you get to certain levels of poses, especially back bends, inversions, and sitting folding poses. Things like dorsal flexing the ankle, directing dristhi to the tip of the nose, and tucking the chin can make huge differences in the effects and performance of the breath in asana.

The science of yoga is finding happiness, when everything is said and done. You want to find ways to use your body that are sustainable and contribute your well-being, which is not merely physical. People often seem most interesting the physical effects of asana, but the mental effects are so much more important because truly being happy will radiate into your entire life and make people see your differently. Being physically fit and thin is a nice side-effect of the practice, but I think that in the end, the true goal is happiness. That is why there is so much philosophy involved with the practice. So in the end, do the things that make you happy and use yoga as a tool to help you detach from them, to see how they truly affect your life. For with detachment comes perspective and perspective leads to awareness. In a way, yoga is really a science of detachment, allowing you to see you for who and what you really are and your body for what a gift it truly is.