This Kripalu piece in yesterday’s HuffPo, Why Yoga Works: Scientists Offer an Explanation of Why Yoga Increases Well-Being, is a dumbdown of some science, and Beerasana’s here to dumber it further. (Wielding butter knife…) The bite-sized morsels are: every condition that is caused or made worse by stress can be relieved with yoga practice. That’s a big deal. But what do they mean by “yoga?” They mean posture practice, chanting, and pranayama. The whole package, it seems, stimulates our vargus nerves, which control a lot of our most important functions. From the study:
…the decreased PNS and GABAergic activity that underlies stress-related disorders can be corrected by yoga practices resulting in amelioration of disease symptoms. This has far-reaching implications for the integration of yoga-based practices in the treatment of a broad array of disorders exacerbated by stress.
Breakdown, go ahead, give it to me:
You have two vagus nerves, running from your cranium and all throughout your person. It gets around so much, it’s called the “Wandering Nerve,” or “your mom” (ha). The nerve regulates and controls a lot of important stuff, so it’s critical to keep it in high-functioning order. “The vagus nerve supplies motor and sensory parasympathetic fibers to virtually everything from the neck down to the first third of the transverse colon. Governing things like the heart rate, digestion, sweating and skeletal muscles, it’s easy to see how any basic yoga routine can stimulate this pivotal channel between the mind and body.” (From, Depressed? Just Stimulate Your Vargus Nerve)
When the vagus is in good working order you recover faster from stressful situations, like a fight with a boss or mate. When the vagus is underperforming you suffer more stress and hold on to it longer, making you more prone to disease. People with a low functioning vagus “tend to have challenges such as weak digestion, increased heart rate, and difficulty managing emotions.” (From HuffPo)
The study hypothesizes that stimulating the vagus also corrects underactivity of other bodily systems.
Soooo how exactly do you tone up your vag? Practice yoga and practice well. Don’t just go through the motions— practice with intention and breath. And may the force be with you.