The Science of Calm: Four Physiological Effects of Yoga

by admin

By now, most of us have heard about the benefits of yoga and its ability to reduce stress. But the mechanics of why yoga is so impactful are often misunderstood. Without this deeper understanding, we can still gain benefits just from practicing. However, with a thorough knowledge of the bodily functions involved, we can tailor our practice to suit our individual ailments and needs.

  1. Decreased Cortisol

Perhaps the most known and profound effect of yoga is its ability to lower stress levels. In physiological terms, this means that yoga reduces the hormone cortisol. Cortisol’s function is to assist the body in handling stress, but in modern times, cortisol is often over-utilized. Continuously elevated cortisol levels can lead to insulin resistance, inflammation, obesity, hypothyroidism symptoms, and a cascade of other hormonal imbalances—especially in women. What’s worse, elevated levels can eventually lead to what we often call “burnout” or HPA axis suppression symptoms (formerly known as adrenal fatigue). In this state, our bodies have a lower tolerance for stress, cold, and many types of food. Yoga helps disrupt this negative cycle and balance cortisol naturally.

  1. Decreased Muscle Tension

Another major benefit of yoga is reduced muscle tension. Like cortisol, tension tends to build up in the body—particularly in the shoulders and hips. With tight muscles, we are more prone to injury (especially athletes). Yoga helps reduce muscle tension in a sustainable way—it elongates the muscles slowly over time. Thus students learn how to stretch without pulling muscles. In addition, they learn proper physical alignment so that other exercises and day-to-day tasks (such as lifting) can be performed safely.

  1. Decreased Blood Pressure

Yoga works wonders for those with high blood pressure. Certain movements like forward folds and reclined legs-up poses naturally level out blood flow and circulation. Research shows that standing for long periods of time can have negative effects on the heart and veins, causing blood to pool in the lower extremities. Students don’t need to be experts at headstands or other upside down poses to combat this problem. Even simpler poses like downward dog can help balance blood flow and pressure.

  1. Increased Gut Motility

While it may initially sound like a bad thing, increased gut motility is neither uncomfortable nor unhealthy. Anything from gentle to vigorous yoga can help regulate and balance stagnant digestion. Those who suffer from constipation or other digestive issues such as heartburn may find that yoga helps their digestive track run more smoothly. This is because yoga balances the nervous system and allows for a more parasympathetic (or “rest and digest”) internal state. When the nervous system is calm, there are no impediments to proper digestion.

Equipped with this physiological knowledge, you can approach your yoga practice from a better place of understanding and self-care. If you find yourself struggling with stress-related symptoms, contact a practitioner within the BodyLogicMD network today to find out how stress could be affecting your day to day life and how you can relieve those symptoms with a highly-trained expert that specializes in integrative medicine.