Science of Pranayama: healing the Nervous System


A Brief introduction: the Nervous System:

There are two branches of the nervous system:

1. Central Nervous System (CNS): brain + spinal cord

2. Peripheral Nervous System (PNS): connects CNS to rest of the body, involving:

  • Somatic Nervous System: voluntary moments (skeletal)

  • Autonomic Nervous System: controls automatic functions, such as organ functions, "fight or flight response" and "relaxation response"

"Fight or Flight" vs "Relaxation Response"

In this day + age, is appears we operate almost entirely from our sympathetic nervous system, aka our 'fight or flight" response. We trigger this response when we experience stressors: financial, work-life, home-life, high-intensity exercise, crises, and in fear. 

When we experience these stressors, our body stimulates the Adrenals to release energy enhancing hormones (Cortisol + Adrenaline) to give us the strength + energy needed for that moment.

The problem here is our "fight or flight" response is often triggered far too frequently and at greater and greater intensity. 

We are very unique, in the sense that the human species is the only of its kind to undergo constant, regular stress. Our bodies are beginning to hard-wire into a state of anxiety and stress. We experience this through all 5 senses:

  • Violence & over stimulation in news, cinema, media, video games

  • Increased competition & intensity in workplace

  • financial stress of debt, loans, and investment

  • stressors of social circles and expectations

  • "always-available" phenomena with cell phones & multiple on-spot communication mediums

  • Expectation of success in youth, through school, sports, art, education, etc.

The Effects of Pranayama On:

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PRO TIP #1: Try this

3 minutes

Inhale: 4 seconds

Exhale: 6 seconds

3 minutes per day

Pranayama is the movement of breath and energy throughout the body. This practice can feel stimulating, rejuvenating, nourishing, or relaxing. There are many different techniques used in pranayama to illicit a specific outcome; reducing stress is often highlighted within this practice. 

1. The Cardiovascular System: stabilizing blood pressure

A daily 5-minute pranayama practice has been shown to lower blood pressure (systolic and diastolic) & heart rate through stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system "relaxation response"

"Hillary Clinton relies on yoga & 'alternate nostril breathing' as relaxation techniques.

Hypertension: Alternate nostril breathing supports the cardiovascular system by decreasing blood pressure, improving hand dexterity, and fine motor speed. Read further here.

2. Neurological Functioning: increasing gamma waves

A study completed on Bhramari Pranayama (Humming Bee Breath) showed increased paroxysmal gamma waves (PGW). 

The gamma wave is a natural oscillation in the brain; emitting the smallest wavelength with the more energy. Gamma brain waves are associated with the "feelings of blessings". 

"Neuroscientists believe that gamma waves are able to link information from all parts of the brain – the gamma wave originates in the thalamus and moves from the back of the brain to the front and back again 40 times per second – not only that, but the entire brain is influenced by the gamma wave. This rapid “full sweep” action makes the gamma state one of peak mental and physical performance. Gamma is the brainwave state of being “in the Zone,” that feeling that you can do anything."

3. Diabetes

Studies have shown that a daily pranayama practice of 20 minutes, 2x daily for 3 months resulted in the following: reducing body mass index, waist-hip ratio, fasting & postprandial plasma glucose, glycated hemoglobin, & improving antioxidant levels (malondialdehyde, superoxide dismutase, glutathione and vitamin C).

4. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD):

30 min of daily pranayama has been shown to significantly reduce GERD symptoms, through decreased acidity levels. In this study, after 9 months of pranayama (30 min daily), there was a 1/3 decrease in the usage of a proton pump inhibitor (the standard acid-suppressant)

5. Pain Relief

Many studies & personal experience (most can vouch for this...) can support that slower, deep breaths reduce anxiety and pain during traumatic events or injuries.

Read this research for further support: The effect of deep and slow breathing on pain perception, autonomic activity, and mood processing - an experimental study.



Marina Zahran