HOW YOGA AFFECTS THE BRAIN
IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE THAT COMPLICATED...
Our brain has lots of different parts that can all be affected differently by stress and life and can benefit from yoga and meditation practices.
We are going to look at how each part of the brain reacts or doesn’t react when we are stressed. The effect especially seen with chronic stress. And most importantly we will look at how Yoga and meditation can help the brain work more harmoniously. With this harmony comes balance and better mental health.
THE BRAIN STEM
- Includes the Midbrain, the Pons and Medulla.
- Its job is to receive signal from the body and the autonomic nervous system
- It is the message sender to the rest of the brain
- Instinct functions
- The medulla oblongata responsible for autonomic (involuntary) actions such as breathing and sneezing
- Can be affected and reprogrammed by your movement -convince it of something else
- When we are stressed it can be switched on all the time –too alert, sympathetic nervous system switched on constantly
- Sometimes called the little brain
- Its is very important in relation to balance, movement and rhythm
- Also used for things like memorisation
- Helps with our relationships and interaction with other people
- Regulates strong emotions
- When stressed it can interfere with our emotional regulation and our physical ability to balance and move with ease
LIMBIC SYSTEM and THALAMUS
- Develops in the uterus
- Security guard
- Regulates sleep and alertness
- Importance in facial interactions and mirror neurons (imitation)
- Emotion, behaviour, motivation, long term memory and smell
- When stressed our emotions and behaviour can be affected. Lack of motivation, emotional irregularity
- This part of the brain shrinks when stressed
- Warning bell of the brain
- Takes its information from the thalamus
- Reacts to danger
- When it is under chronic stress it grows bigger and can get trigger happy -drama queen
- This is where long term memory is stored
- Switches off the stress response
- When we are stressed this causes the hippocampus to shrink and therefore can make it difficult to recall knowledge and cause confusion
- Part of the cerebral cortex
- Perception of self
- Motor control
- Self-awareness and empathy
- Under stress it shrinks
- This can start to lead to apathy, loss of sex drive and loss of smell
- Speech area
- Speech production
- Language comprehension
- When we are stressed the Broca’s area can just switch off
- Talking therapy can be futile when Broca’s area isn’t working
- Higher thinking, planning and connections
- When we are stressed this part grows smaller and can get less active
- Weakness on one side of the body or one side of the face.
- Reduced creativity.
- Impaired judgment.
- Reduced sense of taste or smell
When we are feeling stressed our brain stem starts to stop thinking clearly and feels like it is constantly running for its life and forgets to communicate with the rest of the brain.
The thalamus who is meant to be guarding the brain stops being aware of what is happening, isn’t keeping an eye for danger and stops chatting to amygdala to say when we are safe. We therefore don’t know when we are safe and can’t sleep soundly.
Amygdala, becomes a drama queen and grows and grows becoming more and more sensitive. We therefore become overreactive and have explosive emotions.
Our hippocampus shrinks and we lose our ability to recall easily and memory suffers.
Insular shrinks and stops looking after us – we struggle with interoception and don’t know when we are hungry, or thirsty, or tired.
Broca’s area starts to switch off and we suddenly can’t find the words or facial expressions to express ourselves.
Pre-frontal cortex switches off and we struggle to think straight and make logical decisions. We lose out ability to look at the bigger picture and feel apathetic to the people and the world around us.
YOGA AND MEDITATION ON THE BRAIN
- Breath work and Pranayama – slows the brain stem
- Balance postures – regulates Cerebellum
- Strength building and improved cardio – helps to stimulate and turn on Hippocampus
- Awareness of the body (proprioception) body scans meditation and nidra – Insula lowering adrenaline and cortisol
- Relaxation with meditation or restorative poses – memory improves and parasympathetic nervous system stimulated
- Connection to self – Thalamus switches on, Amygdala shrinks allowing Hippocampus and Insula to grow
- Yoga Flow – the Cortex switches on allowing us to think clearer and make though out decisions
- Mindfulness – stimulates Corex feeling more sensations in the body
- Connected brain allows more empathy and awareness
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