The calm brain, after some irreligious yoga

In thinking about the ramifications of the decision in the Encinitas yoga trial that the yoga-in-schools program isn’t religious, one route is to imagine a purely, and highly, physical kind of yoga evolving in ways to maximize its beneficial health effects.

We all — I assume — have experienced the calming and soothing effects of yoga, even from the challenging and aggressive Ashtanga. And we’re seeing more and more studies linking the two.

Now scientists have gotten even more of a picture of what might be happening. Here’s how the New York Times highlights things:

As expected, the runners’ brains teemed with many new, excitable neurons. The sedentary mice’s brains also contained similar, volatile newborn cells, but not in such profusion.

The runners’ brains, however, also had a notable number of new neurons specifically designed to release the neurotransmitter GABA, which inhibits brain activity, keeping other neurons from firing easily. In effect, these are nanny neurons, designed to shush and quiet activity in the brain.

So in a nutshell: A study of mice found that those who exercised created these “GABA producing neurons”, which then would activate along with their more excitable counterparts in stressful situations. There are more excitable neurons but also more calming ones, which go into effect and hush everything down.

Things are hardwired to help keep the brain calm.

Sound familiar?

Researchers, of course, are careful to point out the differences between mice and humans. But the Times quotes one researcher: “I think it’s not a huge stretch to suggest that the hippocampi of active people might be less susceptible to certain undesirable aspects of stress than those of sedentary people.”

And no religion needed.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

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