Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A New Discussion in the Yoga World

We are the inflammation nation. Virtually all of our health concerns are in some way related to inflammation, and oddly enough, this is something we rarely discuss in the Yoga world. This silence is unfortunate, as an intelligent approach to Yoga holds the potential to significantly reduce the inflammatory responses that often lead to aches and pains, insomnia, vascular disease and even some forms of cancer. This may sound a bit far-fetched, like the claims that the juice of a previously unknown tropical plant will cure any number of diseases; though recent research confirms inflammation’s role in many disease states.

The Nervous System
The overactive inflammatory response is often related to the state of the nervous system. The nervous system can respond to the same stress in various ways, and the inflammatory response is a modern epidemic.

The autonomic nervous system is in charge of many of the body’s functions, including the immune system, the gut, sexual functions, emotional heartiness, etc. The list goes on and on! Autonomic can be a mouthful, and if one simply remembers automatic, you’ll have a good start on understanding this complicated system.

Sympathetic and Parasympathetic
The autonomic nervous system is made up of two parts– the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The former relates to the fight, flight or freeze reaction, while the latter implies a calmer and quieter response to life’s stress. Sympathetic nervous system is not inferior to parasympathetic nervous system, as both aspects are essential for optimal health. It’s the balance of sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system response that is significant.

When the sympathetic is dominant, the body and mind go into survival mode. This survival mode causes significant changes in the gut, immune system and emotional reactivity, to name a few. Survival mode also increases the inflammatory responses of the body.

The terms can get confusing, can’t they? To really understand this subject, I recommend Robert Sapolsky’s book, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. It’s a very readable and understandable discussion of a subject we’d all do well to understand. In addition to recommending this book, I’d also like to develop a more Yoga-friendly set of terms – "overheated" and "cool".

Overheated and Cool
I like to think of a cool nervous system as displaying an appropriate response to life’s stress. Stress is inevitable in life, isn’t it? While we can’t do much to change the stresses, we sure can change our response to stress. Responding to stress in a way that’s healthy in body and mind is evidence of a cool nervous system, and is related to the parasympathetic nervous system.

An overheated nervous system, on the other hand, tends to magnify each stress to the status of BIG stress. When we mobilize a BIG stress response, inflammation is sure to follow. The overheated nervous system is related to the sympathetic nervous system.

What does that mean for you?
Many aches and pains in the body are related to chronic inflammation. If you’ve been chasing pain around your body, resolving the pain in one area only to have to have it show up in another area, you may have an overheated nervous system.

If you live with food sensitivities or other symptoms of an overactive immune system, you may have an overheated nervous system.

If you find that loud noises or other sensory input is unusually jarring, you may have an overheated nervous system.

In the next blog entry, I’ll discuss how Hatha Yoga relates to the nervous system. While Yoga holds promise to help cool down a chronically overheated nervous system, it can also fan the flames. You may be surprised which techniques are cooling, and which techniques overheat the nervous system!

I'm interested in your thoughts and experiences! Please feel free to comment below.




Cathy said...

Scott, thanks so much for this post. I'm going to send it to a friend who is searching for answers on this very subject. Look forward to reading your next entry!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful... a beautiful explanation of our nervous system!

lawrence said...

Yoga is good. I love Yoga.
I was sick with back problems and aching joints for 3 years, thanks God recently I have discovered a proven systematic set of techniques that will allow us to enjoy the richest whole body benefits of yoga... from the top of our head to the bottom of our toes. I was benefitted from practising yoga, you can too.

Jackie O'Brien said...

Great post, thanks for sharing!

- Jaclyn
Kulae wholesale yoga mats