science

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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Instagram-logo-now-with-an-intensely-toxic-and-poisonous-appearance.

Instagram is Toxic and Dangerous

Instagram-logo-now-with-an-intensely-toxic-and-poisonous-appearance.
Instagram Toxicity Depicted

Instagram has become a dangerous and toxic menace to society at large. Meta is truly one of the most irresponsible companies in history allowing for popularity to take precedent over decency, in regards to violating the rights of its users and therefore, of the youngest generation of humanity. Social media is wrecking the lives of American youth by allowing toxic, even violent behavior. Does Facebook still sell our email addresses? Their ethics seem to be non-existant. Many other tech companies are facing scrutiny for the affect their technologies have on the user base.

Honestly I do believe that Instagram has become an extinction level threat. The toxic negative impacts of the irresponsibly managed company have already destroyed countless lives. Why don’t you report on that Instagram? In combination with the lack of responsible government oversight and regulation and obvious corruption, Instagram could cause the destruction of America and humanity. The failure of America’s government and American academic institutions and cannot be overstated. The social media companies are obviously also to blame.

Here are the leaked documents from Facebook and Instagram:

“In a blog post, Facebook released two slide decks that had informed the Wall Street Journal’s bombshell report(WSJ) from mid-September indicating that the company knew from internal research conducted in 2019 that its subsidiary platform Instagram was harming the mental health of teen girls, particularly when it comes to body image.”

“More than a year after the Facebook Papers dramatically revealed Big Tech’s abuse, social media companies have made only small, slow steps to clean up their act,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (CNN Business) The Facebook and Instagram wellness hubs make ABSOLUTELY no mention of the data of these analyses, the statistics, or the math. They are trying to hide the tremendous amounts of negative data about them.

Children and even young adults shouldn’t have access to social media. The data is very clear. They aren’t ready for that kind of hyper-connectedness. They need strong nuclear family connections and during development these kinds of products are far too influential on them and turn them into products for advertisers and the social media companies.

The negative impacts of Instagram on youth culture in America have been a subject of growing concern for the adults populations at large. As various studies and reports highlight significant adverse effects, more studies are released about the harmful quality of the algorithms involved in the platform’s popularity and engagements. This is all supported scientifically, you can see the sources at the bottom of the article. There are a lot of them, because this is a well-documented problem.

Key issues involving social media use for non-adults include:

  1. Body Image and Self-Esteem Issues: Instagram has been linked to negative effects on young people’s feelings about their appearance and body satisfaction. The platform can exacerbate risks for eating disorders and other mental health concerns such as depression and low self-esteem. A study cited by The Wall Street Journal found that 32% of teen girls felt worse about their bodies after using Instagram, indicating that the platform can significantly alter how young women view and describe themselves. Sounds pretty dangerous and mentally poisonous.
  2. Mental Health Concerns: Instagram’s design, which capitalizes on the biological drive for social belonging, encourages continuous scrolling and engagement. This mechanism has been associated with mental health issues like depression, social anxiety, and self-esteem problems and is called . Exposure to Instagram’s narcissistically oriented content, driven by a business model focused on maximizing user attention, can have cumulative negative impacts over time.
  3. Increased Mental Distress and Suicidality: Research implicates smartphone and social media use, including Instagram, in the rise of mental distress, self-injurious behavior, and suicidality among youth. The effects are particularly pronounced among girls, suggesting a dose-response relationship between social media usage and mental health issues. Suicide numbers are difficult to discern directly because of the amount of coinciding variables in a suicide; however rates have steadily increased with the adoption of social media as a norm. Cyber-bullying has also contributed to this numeric increase in a significant way.

“Most teens report at mental health issue” -<(instagram reports)>.

The Mental Health concerns can be further categorized:

  • Loneliness
  • Depression
  • Eating Disorders
  • Body Dissatisfaction
  • Body Dysmorphia

As an adult that once was a kid with the internet, putting hyperconnectedness into the hands of the youth is irresponsible at best. The highlight reel effect is omnipresent on the platform and the internet as a whole and isn’t really understood by most folks. Kids need to be taught this kind of stuff in school; parents can’t be relied on to teach their kids this stuff because a lot of them don’t know about it. Kids need parents to help them navigate the thick and difficult world of technology that has become more and more predatory over time, from video games, to social media, to conspiracy theories, to just general laziness and confirmation bias and a sense of privilege and narcissism that seems to have become rampant in American society. Teachers, educators, and family, parents, brothers sisters, etc. typically share values to create humility. That’s why we generally both love and hate the time around our parents.

With the advent of all of this new, super powerful technology, we are at a crossroads of a civilization, especially in this country. America can either learn to be ethical, to strive for the greatest good, or we will become a corrupt pile of shit-bags that just want to argue and compete with each other to be the best in some imagined competition. There is always hope for something greater.

These findings underscore the need for greater awareness about time spent on social media. and intervention strategies to mitigate the harmful effects of Instagram on the mental health and wellbeing of young people in America. If you know someone that is spending way too much time on Instagram, or Facebook, or any other platform, you should tell them. Be their friend in real life.

What Precautions can you take to Mitigate the Negative Impacts of Social Media

  1. Take a break every 10 minutes. Try not to spend more than an hour on social media. TikTok has proven to be a data feed for China and its algorithm is very different for Americans and Chinese citizens. In a court filing, the former employee of ByteDance, Yintao Yu, alleged that the CCP spied on pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong in 2018 by using “backdoor” access to TikTok to identify and monitor the activists’ locations and communications. There is certainly potential for this to happen to Americans, through Instagram and Facebook.
  2. Remember that Instagram is highly manipulated. It is literally subsidized by the FBI, Homeland Security, and the State Department to monitor potential terrorist activity (this is actually a good thing right now, imo). However, even when you use your privacy settings, your social media accounts are not totally private. How much privacy an American citizen gets should at least be a matter of debate for the people, as well as our representatives. In most cases, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media companies will voluntarily share your information and personal messages with law enforcement agencies, whether they have a warrant or not[21].
  3. No one actually looks like the actors do in movies (although some are undoubtedly more attractive in reality because of their distinctive, unique, and charismatic personalities). Don’t compare yourself to others on the platform; deep friendships and family relationships are the most rewarding according to modern psychological data[20].
  4. There are significant weaknesses in Facebook’s and Instagram’s algorithms. They are very flawed. Deep connections are created and fostered in real life; digitalization of friendship simply isn’t rewarding to us. Social media is most effectively used as an enhancement to real life interaction, not the other way around.
  5. Limit your social media use. 30 minutes per day, per platform is probably a lot, but reasonable for a younger adult. More time on a site might be acceptable for work; if you are growing a business on social media sites, I say good luck to you. Use it for friendship.
  6. Explain to your kids what Instagram is. Teach them how it is flawed and how reality truly work.
  7. Spend more time with your children and kids in general in the analog world. It’s where we are meant to be.
References:
  1. BMC Psychology
  2. Faces engage us: photos with faces attract more likes and comments on Instagram
  3. Instagram Use, Loneliness, and Social Comparison Orientation: Interact and Browse on Social Media, But Don’t Compare
  4. What the brain ‘Likes’: neural correlates of providing feedback on social media
  5. Effects of Instagram Body Portrayals on Attention, State Body Dissatisfaction, and Appearance Management Behavioral Intention
  6. The Interaction between Serotonin Transporter Allelic Variation and Maternal Care Modulates Instagram Sociability in a Sample of Singaporean Users
  7. Instagram use and young women’s body image concerns and self-objectification: Testing mediational pathways
  8. The impact of excessive Instagram use on students’ academic study: a two-stage SEM and artificial neural network approach
  9. The Power of the Like in Adolescence: Effects of Peer Influence on Neural and Behavioral Responses to Social Media
  10. Cue-Reactivity Among Young Adults With Problematic Instagram Use in Response to Instagram-Themed Risky Behavior Cues: A Pilot fMRI Study
  11. Peer Influence Via Instagram: Effects on Brain and Behavior in Adolescence and Young Adulthood
  12. Instagram and Seizure: Knowledge, Access, and Perception of Circulating Information on the Internet
  13. Oxytocin Receptor Gene Polymorphisms and Early Parental Bonding Interact in Shaping Instagram Social Behavior
  14. SnapChat Parental Guide
  15. Facebook is hitting the brakes on Instagram for kids
  16. Cisomag.com – Instagram data breach! 49 million users’ sensitive data exposed online
  17. Slate.com – The Most Damning Thing We’ve Learned About Instagram Yet
  18. Firstpost.com – Leaked documents reveal Meta knew Instagram was pushing girls towards content that harmed mental health
  19. Vice.com – Leaked Documents Show How Instagram Polices Stories
  20. Instagram Psych Files on Appearance Based Social Comparison
  21. Study.com – Things that make people happy
  22. werksmanjackson.com – Is the Government Monitoring Your Social Media Accounts?
  23. Brennan Center of Justice – Federal Government Social Media Surveillance Explained

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overpopulation: John B Calhoun rat universes

Overpopulation and its Potential Effects on Humanity

Overpopulation and Humanity’s Destiny

If we don’t halt population growth with justice and compassion, it will be done for us by nature, brutally and without pity- and will leave a ravaged world.

-Nobel Laureate Dr. Henry W. Kendal

 

By the year 2050, the Earth’s population is estimated to reach a staggering 9.6 billion people. Many scientists would consider this to be overpopulation of the planet. It is currently believed that there are 7.2 billion people on Earth, but this is just a guess. In reality, we don’t really have any idea how many people are on the planet, just a lot of supposedly “good guesses”. And unless we make some major breakthroughs in the fields of energy, ecology, climatology, and agriculture the human race has a good chance of experiencing a severe decline in population, possibly even extinction because of overpopulation. A lot of things need to change in our civilization’s infrastructure if the human race wants to survive for the next millennia and even more if we are to prosper.

I’m not an alarmist. There’s no need to panic. But you should probably reconsider your consumption patterns, because you will be economically pressured to change them in the next 20 years. Especially if you live in the United States. But the world isn’t going to end in the next 6 months. In fact, Earth will be fine, especially in the long run. We live on a planet that is incredibly good at balancing itself, which we are seeing now with the effects of climate change (see my review of ‘Chasing Ice’ if you want some good evidence of what is happening to the glaciers of the planet). But weather patterns are going to get more and more severe unless we can find ways to mitigate the greenhouse gas effect and humanity’s consumption of fossil fuels.

A Tipping Point for Humanity’s Population?

It is entirely possible that human’s have reached what scientists call “peak oil”. At this point, we might be running out of oil, even though in the last 6 months we have isolated and reproduced a fungus that can produce petroleum. We might also be able to clean up the world’s largest oil spills with a different type of fungus. Advancements in science are what is going to save us. If you don’t know about the scientific method, you should read this article.

All of these developments can be attributed to the massive growth in human population at the cost of our environment. These problems WOULD NOT exist if humanity was better at living symbiotically with our environment. Yes, I say this with 100% certainty. We tend not to look at situations holistically and see only what is in front of us. In this overpopulated state, we need to either mitigate the effects of our oil use while simultaneously finding sustainable sources of it, or we need to find an alternate, sustainable fuel source for the world’s transportation.

Alan Watts said that the fundamental problem with the current state of society is man’s isolation from nature. This allows for our overpopulation of the planet. Things like A/C, cars, roads, airplanes, deforestation, warehouses, skyscrapers, and dams are all examples of destruction of the environment rather than cultivation. Some of these things can be symbiotic with nature if architected properly (ie climate regulation, terraforming, sustainable fuels, nuclear fusion, etc.). Watts said that in the 60s.

The problem with humans is that we view ourselves as separate from our environment, when in fact the two are the same. Religion is a huge cause of this. For some reason, we feel like we are better than our environment, better than animals, because god made us special. In my last article on human microbiota, I explained how humans have a hole inside of us, called the gastrointestinal tract or gut, that is really a part of the outside environment. So in reality, humans and our environment are the same thing. It is largely our ego and search for control that has led us to believe that we are ‘superior to’ or greater than our environment.

The problems are rather simple. Yet people have a tendency to  be so over-reactive to seeing how humans have affected our environment. This allows news companies and especially shitty internet journalism to get an emotional rise out of us. And after this emotional reaction, we tend to become inactive and hopeless, rather than adjusting our behavior. I’ve witnessed this personally within myself. I waste energy on an emotional reaction, rather than thinking about how much waste I create on a daily basis. There are examples in our modern culture. Water consumption in southern California is an excellent example. Some people don’t even believe that there is really a drought.

Americans, as only 5% of the world’s population, use 24% of the world’s energy; some sources estimate the average American uses as much as 160 gallons of water a day. So instead of writing emotional facebook posts, being reactive and emotional about the issue take matters into your own hands; take shorter showers, try to drive less (obviously you have to drive to work and to get your kids to soccer and all that stuff because our infrastructure isn’t setup symbiotically). Try to use less energy, wash only dirty clothes, turn off your lights. Then you can stop worrying about our planet because that’s all you can do. Manage yourself.

We need to consider what it might be like if we had to live in 100% unity with our environment; which sooner or later will become a necessity if we are to survive with such a large population. Cities will be rebuilt. Freeways will be redesigned. We are already seeing the beginning of some amazing developments.

Answers to the problem of overpopulation?

Nuclear fusion might be the answer to our energy problems, but that technology is expensive and we’re going to have to wait for it. However, creating and harnessing the power of stars is how we will survive for the next millennia. There are a few awesome projects happening that might excite you for the future, rather than scare you away from it. The international thermonuclear reactor project is an exciting project underway and Lockheed Martin has somewhat suspiciously said that they have an even more compact reactor on the way (the scientific community is very skeptical because they haven’t yet released data). Our ingenuity will be the key to our survival.

I am trying to say that hopelessness is a silly conclusion and that hope is key to survival and prosperity. One way to inform yourself of some of the negative possibilities in our future is to learn about John Calhoun’s mouse paradise experiments on overpopulation. It is a concept known as the behavioral sink, or societal collapse due to overpopulation. However, even Calhoun left his studies with hope for the future of humanity, especially considering that there were rats that seemed to be resilient to the effects of overpopulation. His studies involved creating mouse utopias, then allowing the mice to overpopulate. In his studies he found

“Many [female mice] were unable to carry pregnancy to full term or to survive delivery of their litters if they did. An even greater number, after successfully giving birth, fell short in their maternal functions. Among the males the behavior disturbances ranged from sexual deviation to cannibalism and from frenetic overactivity to a pathological withdrawal from which individuals would emerge to eat, drink and move about only when other members of the community were asleep. The social organization of the animals showed equal disruption. […]

The common source of these disturbances became most dramatically apparent in the populations of our first series of three experiments, in which we observed the development of what we called a behavioral sink. The animals would crowd together in greatest number in one of the four interconnecting pens in which the colony was maintained. As many as 60 of the 80 rats in each experimental population would assemble in one pen during periods of feeding. Individual rats would rarely eat except in the company of other rats. As a result extreme population densities developed in the pen adopted for eating, leaving the others with sparse populations.

[…] In the experiments in which the behavioral sink developed, infant mortality ran as high as 96 percent among the most disoriented groups in the population.”

-John B Calhoun from “Population density and social pathology”(1970). California medicine 113

We have Hope for the Future

Over-reactivity from fear is something you should actively fight within yourself. Overpopulation is a problem that humanity can work together to solve. There is no need for fear. Find hope, reasons to belief in your own ability to consume less, if no one else’s. Fear and panic are the enemies to social order. Stop believing the news, especially internet articles aimed at reactivity. That’s what they want, to shock you into reading. If you can fight your fear with hope and action you will lead yourself to more action oriented at personal results, therefore affecting the collective in the greatest possible way that you personally can. See what  you can do, challenge yourself, experiment with alternate lifestyle behaviors. You’ll surprise the shit out of yourself 😉

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brain_map

Chemicals in Yoga

Everything is chemical. It is the basis of all matter in the universe.

It is easy to think of some chemicals as good and some as bad, but this is really a silly way to look at it, because most chemicals are useful in one form or fashion. Some interact poorly with the chemical composition of your body and this is why you view them as good, or bad, or what have you.

The truth is, that chemicals have a very real potential and a very real danger when misunderstood and mistreated. Some great examples are drugs, oil, water, food, really all of the imbalances that we perceive in our current world are chemical imbalances. But we ourselves are natural and chemical, so it is important to remember that being a human is having a mostly stable chemical composition.

So we can say that certain chemicals, especially purified chemicals, can be extremely potent to the human body and can enact change within the body, to produce a certain effect. This has become known as medicine, where we take mostly plants and process them, somehow to interact with the body.

Even the word ‘naturally’ is a corrupted word in modern marketing; synthesized chemicals are certainly natural, but people tend to think that natural means closer to nature, or less processed. But since processing itself is natural, everything is viewed as natural. So it is a repetitive word that can be ignored. But in any case, saying chemical is repetitive. Of course it is chemical.

What people really are referring to when they say they want less chemicals is that they want less processing, less synthesis and more extrapolation. Purity is becoming more and more preferable as an ideal in food and cleaning products and things that we are exposed to, which is really a transference from other aspects of culture, religiousness and such from our ancestors.

So its important to realize that there is nothing that happens inside of you that isn’t there. All of the chemicals in your brains are what create all of your experiences. Each one has happened inside of you. Drugs are not magical, they interact with the brain in very specific patterns, however, we have coined drugs as strange chemicals with strange effects, things to be feared. They are not things to be feared, but parts of your self to be understood. For each acts as a mirror, a specific poison giving you a window into the unknowable, into the deep fathoms of your unconscious mind. To fear a drug is to fear an aspect of yourself, and perhaps there is no greater fear than to fear yourself.

Drugs are really an internal interaction cause by the reaction of introduction of a new substance. Your experience on the drugs is your bodies reaction to them, the processing of them. It is not something that exists outside of you, although you have introduced a foreign substance into your body’s chemical make-up. So your body is essentially reacting and this is what you experience. This is why certain drugs have nearly no long-term effects and some have effects that can last a lifetime, because your body is more or less efficient at processing them. And it learns and adapts. This is why psilocybin can have less and less effects the more that you do it, the same with LSD, marijuana, etc. So there is really nothing happening outside of what your body is doing and how it is interacting and reaction to the substance that you have introduced to it.

This leads us to see the body as having an enormous potential and as understanding how we subjectively view things as changing us. In fact, we are changing ourselves.

To move on to some more significant discussion, I would like to talk about 3 substances, chemicals, which yoga seems to have a tremendous effect on. Serotonin, Dopamine, and Melatonin are in my opinion three of the most interesting molecules or chemicals in existence.

All three are hormones/neurotransmitters, all three are present in a vast spectrum of life, contributing to the homeostasis of lifeforms across the biological spectrum.

Melatonin might be the most interesting, seen in plants, fungi, and bacteria in anticipation for the daily onset of darkness. In humans, it regulates the internal clock, or circadian rhythm, as well as seasonal cycling. There are many popular uses for melatonin, but there are few studies on its long-term effects and there is almost no research to show usefulness as medicine, or therapy. Its long-term effects are almost completely unknown. However, it can be found in the retinas of the eyes and seems to interact in very strong ways with dopamine and serotonin, and has a tremendous effect on the immune system and for protecting specific important cells. It is used as a drug primarily to allow humans to co-exist in nocturnal environments.

Dopamine is an intrinsic part of the action-reward cycles of conscious attention and is extremely important for learning. It interacts strongly with melatonin and can be found in the retinas of the eyes as well. Melatonin and dopamine both interact in interesting ways to light, stimulating dopamine while suppressing melatonin. This is mostly affected by stimulants, such as cocaine (why users always want more), or ADD medications such as adderoll, conserta, ritalin, etc. By overstimulating the prefrontal cortex and the dopamine pathways within, you can keep hyperactive children quiet, because their brain is receiving added stimulation from the slow release of chemicals in their brain. It is what allows for beings to interact intelligently with their environment.

Serotonin is one of the most interesting hormone/neurotransmitters in the body. 90% of it is in the gut, yet it is known as the happiness neurotransmitter. Its is probably the primary communication device between the stomach and the brain. Again, the messenger is found in fungi and plants, and it is believed it is one of the primary factors in a feeling of abundance or scarcity of resources. It is also evidenced to have a role in social rank, because the availability of food signifies this. It can also have an effect in stimulating bone mass. Studies have also shown that nutrition in early life can have an effect upon the body later in life. This is the chemical that most euphoric drugs are attempting to target, with the exception of cocaine. MDMA is one of the purest ways to stimulate serotonin release from the synaptic vesicles of neurons.

Now lets talk about yoga. It’s easy to see how yoga can affect the dopamine system; rebalancing due to lack of stimulus. This is why many people find yoga to be tortuously boring, yet understand the effect of spending an hour and a half in mindfulness, or mediation, or whatever. Dopamine regulation is indeed a major goal of the yogic practice: to keep the fluctuations of pleasure and pain on an even keel. Thus you keep the mind from fluctuating.

Melatonin is something that seems to receive large effect from yoga, as sleep patterns have been clinically evidenced to improve from yoga classes while even studies on injected dopamine have not evidenced the same positive effects. Learning to cycle with the sun, or at least to adjust to the sun’s cycling is an intrinsic part of the yogi’s journey. “Sun Salutations” seem to have quite a bit more meaning in light of the melatonin system.

Serotonin, lastly, is one of the more interesting of the three. This is where nutrition in yoga starts to become a larger and larger factor. Eventually, you will begin to find more equilibrium within your digestive system to optimize time in the yoga studio, in the asana, as it would be. Your bodies nutrition can have a direct effect upon your happiness, though modern science has nearly no data on this type of emotional nutrition relationship. There is too much money to be made in between the science with fads such as fat-free, sugar-free, diet, which are really marketing campaigns for food manufacturers.

With yoga, you can find balance between the three systems, inverting the bodies fluids moving them around, heating them up in various ways and using various techniques, breathing, sitting still, and a certain concentration on nothing to allow the pleasure/pain/stimulus/reward system to re-balance.

Enlightenment, it seems, could be broken down into the consistent flow of dopamine, without fluctuation, seratonin flushing from the gut up to the brain through inversions such as Sirsasana, Sarvangasana, and continually folding forward, bending the spine back and forth to get the circulatory system pumping everything into a balanced state for the body to enjoy for the day. Intense yoga classes can also stimulate the adrenal glands in specific ways that allow for deeper relaxation and “letting go”.

Just some thoughts, some research that I did on Google Scholar, etc. If you would like me to post some supporting evidence I’ll be happy to!

 

 

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The Respiratory System

Anatomy of Lungs and Respiration

artiphoria-prana-entering-the-body
The Anatomy of Breath – Elliot

There is one thing you have done every moment of your life. Even before you can remember. This will be the last thing you do before you die. And your awareness of this thing will partially determine how you exist on planet Earth. Prana, or your breath, is the primary mover on life in your body and corresponds deeply to your mental and physical health.

Humans have two lungs and five lobes, two on the left and three on the right (the right is bigger), each of which can be from 70-100 square meters in surface area, about the same surface area as a tennis court. The lungs have 2,400 kilometers of airways and 300 to 500 million alveoli which are gas exchange points for the bloodstream. These are powerful organs of exchange with the environment, with power and functioning that should not be taken for granted.

The respiratory system is a series of organs responsible for intaking oxygen from the atmosphere and expelling carbon dioxide back into the air. This basic gas exchange between the body and the atmosphere is completely dependent upon the respiratory system and almost every vertebrate animal has one. This exchange affects every other system, as they oxygenation of blood is necessary in every organ. The nervous system also seems to draw energy from the respiratory system, and the cardiovascular system takes cues from the respiratory system (both cue off brain activity) to determine how much blood it should be pumping based on breath rate. When the sympathetic nervous system becomes active (the flight or fight mechanism), heart rate is increased, respiratory rate is increased, the sensitivity of the nervous system is heightened to allow for survival, but this comes at a cost.

Yoga focuses primarily on the respiratory system’s functioning to move the muscular-skeletal system in the opposite way. In our modern world full of non-environmental stress and high levels of adrenaline in non-life threatening situations, the sympathetic nervous system is overactive and is probably the biggest contributor to the high fatality rates from cardiovascular disease (nutrition would be the other competing contributor). The respiratory system is vital to the functioning of every mammal on the planet and is one of the most intricate and powerful tools for surviving, prospering, and thriving on planet Earth.

LadyofHatsJmarchn – Own work using: Sobotta, Johannes (1982) Atlas der Anatomie des Menschen / 2 Brust, Bauch, Becken, untere Extremitäten, Haut. (18th ed.), Munich: Urban & Schwarzenberg ISBN3-541-02828-9OCLC260005032. Gray, Henry (1980) Gray’s Anatomy(36th ed.), Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone ISBN0-443-01505-8OCLC7775214. Yokochi, Chihiro (1991) Atlas fotográfico de anatomía del cuerpo humano (3rd ed.), Mexico: Interamericana/McGraw-Hill ISBN968-25-1677-3OCLC33318149. Also used several online diagrams like:[1] [2]

I honestly think the vast majority of people take breathing for granted. Most Americans are in such a rush that they don’t even notice their superpower of consciousness. We don’t learn about breathing in school, or in early sports, which is really a shame because breathing concentration allow for intense amounts of focus. Every athlete should learn breath control techniques from young ages; I can remember when I learned to run with proper form at 15 and I think that learning about breathing should happen even younger. This is what keeps us all alive, after all, and we really should learn how to keep our nervous systems functioning optimally through breathing exercises.

To really understand how intricately related the nervous system and respiratory systems are, we need to go back in time to when you were born. At birth, a babies lungs are full of fluid, but once the child is released from the birth canal, the central nervous system trigger a huge change in reaction to the environment, which then triggers the first breath, about 10 seconds later. From there, the lungs develop rapidly until at about 2, the alveoli are fully developed, then the lungs begin to grow normally until full adult muscular maturity is reached. The lungs are muscular and most mammals use their musculoskeletal systems to support their breathing, as humans do. This is why yoga can alleviate many hampering disabilities having to do with lung functioning, because strengthening the accessory muscles to the diaphragm strengthens the overall functionality of the respiratory system.

The muscles of the respiratory system are the following:
  • the diaphragm (primary)
  • the external intercostals
  • the internal intercostals (intercostals interlace on the inside and outside of the ribs).
The accessory muscles are:
External-and-Internal-Intercostals-of-the-Thoracic-Cage

As you can see, there are a tremendous amount of accessory muscles involved in breathing. I interpret this a particular way, that there is an enormous spectrum between thriving and breathing with ease and freedom contrasted to breathing for survival, or breathing only with the diaphragm and ribs, which puts extreme amounts of stress on those muscles. I think the idea of balance between the primary and accessory muscles is the right idea, and the stronger the accessory muscles, the more powerful breathing will follow. This takes time, muscles build strength in increments, and this is probably the biggest reason why yoga is so difficult for many Americans. Because we need it the most!

Questions

  1. What kinds of breathing exercises do you practice for optimal health?
  2. What kinds of breathing exercises would you like to learn about?
  3. Do you find that breathing affects your mental health?
  4. Do you find time to meditate on your breathe during the day?

References

  1. Teach Me Anatomy – Thorax
  2. Wikipedia – Respiratory System

The Respiratory System Read More »

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