The Nervous System, Yoga & You
By: Lorette Steenman, RHN & Yoga Instructor
From “downward facing dog” to “lotus” and “plank,” yoga vernacular has become mainstream. Maintaining a yoga practice is done for a myriad of reasons, but mainly to stay in shape, reduce stress and calm the mind. While practitioners of yoga can gradually train the mind to stay focused and present on the session, and in so doing, enjoy a retreat from the outside world, they can also put their practices to good use in “real life,” by learning to be aware of and responding differently to stress-inducing thoughts and experiences.
Here’s how it works: Stress induces imbalance of your autonomic nervous system (ANS) with decreased parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) and increased sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activity (PNS and SNS work together to help you cope with and respond to daily life). Vinyasa, or “breath-synchronized movement,” is a series of poses that moves you through the power of inhaling and exhaling—which activate your PNS (rest and digest mechanism) and de-activate your SNS (fight or flight response). From reduced blood pressure and decreased heart rate to improved digestion and toxin elimination, conscious breathing is a godsend (or, rather, a Buddha-send) for those suffering from stress-related health woes. Need proof? This study shows how depression, epilepsy, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic pain show symptom improvement in response to yoga-based interventions.
So, when I teach vinyasa yoga to clients, the first thing we do together is to breathe. Here’s how:
1. Yogic Breath: Lie, sit or stand in a stable and comfortable position. Be sure to align your head, neck and spine, regardless of what position you’re in. Close your eyes. Place your hands on your stomach. Inhale into the belly, then into the ribs. Exhale our from the ribs, then out from the belly. Repeat five times.
2. Dirgha Rechak (“long exhale breath”): Inhale full yogic breath, then exhale very slowly (long, smooth and subtle). I recommend counting to two while you inhale, and counting to 4 while you exhale. If there is any shortness of breath, strain or discomfort while you exhale, return to a yogic breath. If you wish to lengthen your exhale, count to four on the in-breath and count to 8 on the out-breath. Repeat five times.
While breathing is so simple and so obvious, most people take it for granted and ignore its power. Practice breathing anytime and anywhere, and feel the difference it can have on body, mind and spirit. Namaste!
ABOUT MS. LORETTE STEENMAN: Lorette is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and Yoga Instructor at P3 Health, who is available for nutrition counselling, as well as private and group yoga sessions.Leave a reply →