Ever heard the term Allostatic Load? Not many people have.
It refers to the cumulative effect of stress from the many different avenues of our lifestyle. Essentially it means wear and tear, and the heavy cost on our body from long periods of exposure to stress. These stresses entail things like environmental, trauma and abuse, fight and flight responses, our biological makeup and our perceived stress. This is a huge burden to bear, and unfortunately in the modern world, that load has gotten bigger.
Enter our hero!
Yoga and Mindfulness may help to restore balance to this very one-sided seesaw. Westerners are constantly wired, and instead of including more Yin to contain our Yang, we mindlessly fuel the fire with more stress and then wonder why we have sleep disorders and neurological complications. The way things are looking, unless we’re willing to rewire ourselves, these issues will undoubtedly get worse.
The truth is that one blog isn’t enough to put into words the vital role yoga and meditation can play in rebalancing the body. So let’s stick to the basics.
This seesaw I was referring to above relates to the balance between the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The first one is related to rest and digest and the later relates to stressful situations and preparing your body for pending circumstances. It’s fair to say that most of us are constantly in preparation mode and hence suffering from SNS hyperactivity. Yoga enables us to activate the PNS, strengthen its circuitry, and bring some balance back to that seesaw.
Activation of the PNS can help to digest food, relax the brain, conserve energy, slow heart rate and access neurotransmitters like Acetyl Choline that promote better memory and muscle contraction.
While all the above points sound great, the best is yet to come. Have you ever had those days where you’re restless, completely agitated and just can’t seem to switch off? This is a common scenario for most people in our modern world, and can be linked to a neurotransmitter imbalance. This neurotransmitter is known as GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid). This naturally occurring brain chemical is the most abundant inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. Meaning it helps with relaxation and sleep.Yoga and Meditation help to increase our body’s natural production of GABA.Click to tweet
The research puts yoga to the test against other forms of regularly participated forms of exercise, and when it comes to shutting down the brain, yoga trumps them all.
Neurotransmitters work in conjunction with other neurotransmitters. GABA’s relationship is with Glutamate. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, meaning it relaxes the brain, while Glutamate is an excitatory one, causing arousal of the brain.
As westerners, we’re geared toward Glutamate. This is related to our lifestyle, and in particular our food. The evidence is in our behavioural patterns: racey thoughts, restlessness, poor sleep patterns and eating to calm down. GABA deficiencies surround us in the form of insomnia, depression, panic attacks, digestive issues, mood disorders, and much more!
When people talk about the benefits of Yoga they focus on flexibility and improved movement. However, it’s in the area of the brain that we see its greatest effects.
Considering people with low levels of GABA, it’d be fair to say that yoga and meditation could prove a valuable tool against depression and anxiety. In many instances yoga and meditation have resulted in structural changes in the brain. This could lead to better concentration, as well as better task oriented behaviour—all major assets in our present working environment.
Yoga is our instant go to for anyone with a stressful lifestyle and major sleep disturbances. Research is becoming greater in the field of yoga and meditation and its positive effects on chemicals in the brain.
And there’s something I know for sure, when you leave a yoga class your problems seem to disappear, your head feels clearer and the stress of the day to day washes away. Maybe those who question the research should test it out for themselves and sign up for a class!