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How Ashtanga Yoga helps anxiety....

Like so many things, anxiety has a cognitive component and a physical one. The two components cause each other, like chickens and eggs. Ashtanga Yoga is as effective as it is because it addresses both.....

The nervous system is integral to all other systems of the body. It connects our brain to every organ, muscle and gland in our body. A healthy nervous system enables us to handle events that arise in our life with calm and resiliency, and it keeps the muscles and organs of our body working at full efficiency.

We have 72,000 nerves or nadis (as they are known in Sanskrit) that carry signals from our brain to our body. Our nerves are stretched as we move in all directions and so purified during an Ashtanga practice, removing blockages and thereby improving the neurotransmissions between our muscles and nerves. So, by removing waste from our tissues, practicing yoga postures improves how our brain and bodies communicate. If our nerves and tissues are clean and clear then nerve impulses, or prana, flow smoothly for our body and brain to communicate more effectively. In primary series practice we are also constantly deeply bending forward, followed by deeply bending backward, which stretches the front and back of the spine (we do this every time we simply move from upward dog to downward dog)....allowing fresh blood and nutrients into the spinal cord. This continual forward and backward movement also stimulates major nerves in the brain, which recent research has shown helps induce a feeling a calmness (yoga stoned!😉)

Scientific studies are also starting to show that Ashtanga yoga is particularly good at relieving stress and stress related illnesses because of the way the postures and counter postures (such as the forward folds and then backbends) are constantly stimulating the vagus nerve, which is essentially responsible for the parasympathetic nervous system, associated with relaxation, digestion, and regeneration....and the more we do things that activate it, the more we inhibit the effects of the sympathetic nervous system, which is associated with the fight or flight response that is the result of the release of cortisol (a stress hormone) throughout the bloodstream. As we live in a world that can be stressful, over-stimulating and activating for the sympathetic nervous system, practices that focus on stimulating the vagus nerve to engage the parasympathetic nervous system can help us regain balance if we are either keyed-up with anxiety or shut down with fatigue. In other words, practices that stimulate the vagus nerve have a calming effect on our body and mind... 

The breathing system of Ashtanga also helps to stabilise the response of the nervous system to stress by releasing tension and calming anxiety....Breathing through our nose through our practice invokes the part of our nervous system that cues our body to relax, slows down our heart rate and blood pressure. Whereas breathing through our mouth stimulates the fight or flight response in the nervous system gearing up our body to run or fight, increasing heart rate, breath rate, cortisol levels in the blood and creating tension in our body. 

During practice it's best to try not to not push too hard or to perform jerky movements as the nervous system is agitated by jerkiness and forcing, so over-exerting will leave our nervous system agitated instead of relaxed and refreshed. Our breath pattern will let us know this is happening...as I keep saying!

And the continuous focus on breath, bandha, and drishti (gaze points) means we have no time to think about anything else, thereby becoming mindful and stilling the ‘monkey mind’  So Ashtanga yoga is unique in its combination of body, spirit and mind focus. The  postures keep our body healthy and strong; and the meditative aspect and breathing keep our emotions and nervous system relaxed and healthy....moving the body, stilling the mind....


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