Let me ask you a question. Do you think that the drugs out there are more complex than your body? The body is capable of healing itself, yet we are so quick to turn to products and outside assistance to fix us. My hypothesis is that depression cannot be healed by drugs, it can only be healed by the individual’s mind, though drugs can give the mind a bit of a jump-start. I recommend yoga as the best cure for depression, here’s why.
There are neurological reasons why yoga is incredibly good for your psychological functioning. There are four neurotransmitters (transmit nervous information via nerves) and one hormone (transmits chemical information via bloodstream) in particular that can provide us with tremendous insight into the neurological benefits of yoga. Please note that this is theoretical.
Five of the primary molecules of the conscious nervous system:
- GABA – primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in vertebrates (the nervous system’s primary function is to inhibit).
- Dopamine – very active in conscious behavior such as: motivation, pleasure, cognition, memory, learning, fine motor control, and neuroendocrine control (hormones). This is possibly the most relevant neurotransmitter when we discuss waking consciousness, as dysfunction causes severe psychological illness.
- Serotonin – regulation of cellular growth, healing, intestinal regulation, also pertains to mood, appetite, memory and sleep. 90% of our Serotonin is in our alimentary canal or gut. It is commonly targeted by anti-depressants and is popularly associated with happiness.
- Epinephrine – both a hormone and a neurotransmitter that is activated with fight/flight mechanism. Basically ACTH starts a chain reaction that leads to mass spread of Cortisol and Adrenaline (another name for epinephrine) to activate with the entire sympathetic nervous system for the fight/flight. Adrenaline, though popularly thought to be the sole culprit behind this activation, is simply one piece to the puzzle.
- Cortisol – a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal cortex, activated in response to stress and increases blood sugar, suppresses the immune system, and aids in high level metabolic activity (breaking down fats, carbs, proteins). This is extremely important in maternal care and landmarks important events in youth and separation from the mother. Is likely key to psychological maturity and ability to cope with stress.
Now let’s talk about real life. Every day, when you wake up, you are actually shutting your brain down. It is more active when you sleep. GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter, focuses you to see only what is in front of you, thank goodness. Now you are able to react to the current situation without distraction. But you also have memory and an abstract ability to plan, which is stored in the entirety of your body, not simply the brain. Then there are literally hundreds of thousands of the bodily processes that you are not aware of. Suffice to say that the waking brain is really filtering out a ton of crap for you to be able to react to the moment. This is GABA, inhibiting synapses that are constantly ready to fire, allowing us to get rid of the fuzziness and start to see clearly. Yoga increases the efficiency of this system, it allows for more focus and longer concentration.
Dopamine is your pleasure/reward system. Right answers get awesome candy right? This is the regulation of desire, craving, addiction, fine motor control, and most importantly learning. Yoga allows for vast improvements in learning and in the proprietary motor control system, which are key to the abolition of distractions, cravings, and destructive behaviors.
Serotonin works closely with dopamine, which is really used to regulate mood, memory, appetite, and sleep all of which are inter-related. Dopamine and Serotonin actually follow a very similar passageway in the brain which leads to believe that they are intertwined in the formation of habits, routines, pleasures, dislikes, and overall happiness. Quite literally, quality of life. Dieting and sleeping in a balanced manner will most likely lead to optimization of this system.
Epinephrine and Cortisol belong together. I just wanted to make the point that adrenaline (epinephrine) is just a small piece of ultra-intense consciousness during fight or flight. Epinephrine is one link on a huge chain that sets of throughout the body and ultimately causes a lot of wear and tear, especially if accidentally activated daily. Staying away from chronic stress and general overstimulation of your sympathetic nervous system is extremely important to longevity. Small doses are great and healthy, but all day, every day is too much. That’s why god took the 7th day off.
Overall, yoga vastly increases the efficiency of muscular systems, so it is likely that the entire nervous system is receiving incredible benefit. Replenishing 700 million lung alveoli with vast amounts of oxygen to travel into the bloodstream and throughout the body, cleansing muscles, sweat glands, and inner organs while simultaneously rebalancing hormones, neurotransmitters, and cerebral spinal fluid to bring about a centering of consciousness for reactivity to the present sounds pretty healthy to me. And we do it so that we can take each and every moment as it comes.
Some pharmaceutical drugs and what they do:
alprazolam – xanax – binds and potentiates GABA inhibitors, which causes massive relaxation in muscles and nervous system, which can help deal with panic attacks, but do not improve symptoms, simply masks them.
zolpidem – ambien – potentiates GABA inhibitors for sleep, easily can cause amnesia or hallucinations in overdose
fluoxetine – prozac – blocks serotonin from leaving your brain
sertraline – zoloft – blocks serotonin from leaving your brain
If you want to add to this list then please feel free in the comments. I’m going to jump into more about Serotonin and Dopamine in part two about Hyperactivity/Bi-polarity. Part 3 will be anxiety. What do you think is the neurotransmitter or hormone most responsible for happiness?