The Scientific Basis of Pranic Yoga Therapy for Taming the Nervous System

Mind and body connection is the center of prana yoga

The  Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is  concerned with survival during times of danger and development during times of safety. It constantly evaluates the external and internal environment for signs of danger and jumps into defense before the signs even rise to the level of consciousness. 

Although we usually think of the two branches of the ANS as the main driving force that regulates homeostasis and equanimity, there are theories that suggest that there are actually three neurological pathways built into us that drive our physiological reactions.

The autonomic nervous system consists of two branches: sympathetic and parasympathetic. 

  1. The sympathetic branch is a collection of nerves found in the center of the spinal cord, they connect to every major organ and initiate a system-wide fight-and-flight response (dilates the pupils, accelerates heart and breathing rates), secretes adrenaline, and so on). We usually think of the sympathetic system as the accelerator that pushes us forward. 
  2. The parasympathetic branch is usually associated with rest and digestive responses, consisting primarily of the vagus nerve. This is usually described as a counterbalance to the counter-response that brings us back to a state of balance. We usually think of it as a foot break that we need to hit while slowing down.

The vagus nerve is divided into two distinct pathways that serve two very different functions. The two nerve branches run together from the brainstem and separate at the level of the diaphragm: the dorsal vagus travels downwards and affects organs below the diaphragm, particularly those that regulate digestion, and the ventral vagus moves upward and affects heart rate and respiratory rate, and regulates connections with the facial nerve. 

The autonomic nervous system is the foundation on which all life experiences are built. Most of us move through these three states throughout the day in response to sensations in the body and signals from the environment. 

The theory of the autonomic nervous system strongly reflects the idea of yoga from three  gun a ( tamas, rajas  and  sattva) , and shows how  to  be reflected in the autonomic nervous system. 

  • Back (or "primitive") vagus activation (emergency brake) makes you feel frozen, numb. Drained systems and energetic resources are conserved through collapse and complete shutdown. This occurs when there is a major trauma or life threat (and afterward), and when feeling really tired or losing power. It can be a consequence of disease, injury or medical procedure of any organ below the diaphragm; it can manifest through impaired immune function, chronic lack of energy, digestive problems, depression and general withdrawal from social relationships. This is a hypoarous state (in yoga it calls the Tamasic state ).
  • The sympathetic system (gas pedal) is activated when it is necessary to take action. We still seek protection and security, but in these circumstances, we do so through the mobilization of our resources. Our entire body is on high alert and ready for action, which also means we see, hear, and feel danger everywhere. When we are in a sympathetic state, we are more likely to initiate confrontations, misread facial cues, and are less likely to connect with others. This state can manifest as frenetic movements, busyness, restlessness, and overall self-defense. This is a hyperarous state (in yoga it calls the Rajasic state ).
  • Ventral (or "social") vagus activation (foot brake) prompts to slow down and puts us in a safe and connected state. In the ventral vagal state, we have access to a variety of responses including calm, happy, meditative, engaged, attentive, active, interested, excited, excited, alert, ready, relaxed, enjoying, and excited. In this state we are most open to connecting with others, the world seems like a friendly place full of possibilities, and we can feel compassion for both ourselves and others. In the ventral vagal state, hope arises and change occurs. In this state, feel safe and open to social relationships (in yoga this is called the Sattvic state ).

The Scientific Basis of Pranic Yoga Therapy

One of the most interesting developments in recent decades has been the cross-fertilization of Western science with ideas from ancient Eastern wisdom systems such as yoga. With increasing precision, scientists can look at the brain and body and detect the sometimes subtle changes that yoga and mediation practitioners experience. Years ago, few yoga studies were conducted in the West, and most scientists rejected Indian yoga research due to methodological problems, such as the lack of a control group in the study. Now the methodology is much better, and it can be argued that much of the yoga research in South Asia is superior to most of the work done in the West.

Prana Yoga has been shown to improve strength, flexibility, and balance; improve immune function; lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels; and improve psychological well-being. One of the most prominent effects of yoga, of course, is peace of mind, body health, stress reduction and happiness.

Some of the most profound effects of pranic yoga on health have to do with its ability to change long-standing dysfunctional behaviors.

Pranic Yoga Therapy

Prana Yoga - Control on Vital Energy

Yoga breathing is a basic practice in the study of yoga. As a member of the eight ladder path of Patanjali Yoga , Prana yoga or Pranayama , is defined as " control of life force (Prana) " and is aimed at increasing the vital energy in the body and mind.

Most of us have noticed that the way we breathe can affect our bodies and minds. Yoga students reported feeling more calm and centered; become better able to navigate intense emotional feelings, and sleep more soundly. For most yoga students, mindful breathing exercises are the foundation of yoga practice. Breathing work can also help reduce the negative effects of stress and trauma.

Exercise prana yoga "to balance, strengthen, and increase the flexibility of adaptive stress response system, has the potential to counteract the adverse effects of excess stress, neglect, and trauma to the regulation of emotions, physical health, and the ability to experience love and affection.

Why is pranayama yoga so helpful? What are the main benefits of this practice?

The autonomic nervous system regulates the stress response

The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is connected to physical processes such as digestion, breathing, heartbeat, immune function, and peristalsis. This system has two branches, the sympathetic system and the parasympathetic system.

The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) helps us mobilize energy to complete tasks, whether they are work-related tasks or predatory survival tasks. In small doses, the SNS is essential, but when it goes into overdrive, the body and mind suffer. The decreased blood flow to the gastrointestinal tract and prolonged high blood pressure caused by the fight-or-flight response can lead to digestive problems, cardiovascular disease, and anxiety, among other conditions.

Another branch of this system is the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), often called the "rest and break" or "calm and connect" system, which allows us to recover from life's stressors. 

If you find yourself breathing slowly and deeply, feeling a sense of calm and peace, your PNS is activated, improves digestion, increases blood flow to the Gastro-Intestinal (GI) pathway , lowers heart rate, and increases sexual arousal. This system also activates certain parts of the brain, dampening fear response areas and increasing reflective and responsive areas. Results? More reflective and conscious behavior and actions; increased feeling of calm; and greater mental flexibility and creativity in the midst of life's challenges.

Stress resistance is a balance of these two systems. It's not that stress-resistant people don't have periods of SNS activity, but they can more easily bring PNS back online and lower SNS when the task, or stressor, is done. They experience fluid flexibility between the two systems.

Pranic yoga techniques can control the nervous system

The respiratory system is the only ANS system that we consciously control. And because air intake is essential for life, the brain responds to the respiratory system with urgency. That's why yoga breathing can make such an impact on overall health. This is the place where we can begin to connect our nervous system and support its overall function and balance.

One pranayama technique that has been shown to increase stress resistance is Coherent Breathing, which is basically full yoga Pranayama with a focus on finding the number of breaths per minute (usually between 3.5 and 6) to optimize the effect on stress resistance.

The body influences the mind

Why do breathing techniques reduce anxiety and depression? Because the impact of conscious breathing on our physiology has a "dripping" effect on the mind. That's because the practice of yoga stimulates the vagus nerve (which is part of the PNS), and this effect spreads to the body and brain, increasing neurotransmitters in the brain that reduce anxiety. 

Controlling the Nervous System with Prana Yoga

When faced with uncertainty, we often experience a “Fight, Fly… or Freeze” feeling. This is when we feel fear, anger, a desire to run away, or an inability to react at all. 

The analogy that is often used is when you suddenly cross paths like a tiger. Your heart is beating fast, breathing is fast and heavy, heat is building up inside you. That's the feeling of adrenaline when faced with danger. Maybe we fight, maybe we run, maybe we freeze. This is our active sympathetic nervous system.

The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is a natural function. We need it to awaken when there is danger that threatens our well-being because it plays a key role in enabling us to find salvation. The problem arises when we can't resist it back from hyper-arousal. Symptoms of hyper-arousal are anxiety, panic, agitation, being overwhelmed, and excessive alertness. The consequences include increased cortisol levels and chronic stress.

The opposite of the sympathetic nervous system is the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS). This is a "Rest and Digest " or " Feed and Breed " system. This is a time of feeling calm or relaxed. It is a feeling of great joy, peace and happiness. Of course we can't stay in this high parasympathetic state or we'll all forget to take care of ourselves and do nothing but yoga!

Parasympathetic and Sympathetic nervous system are two branches of the autonomic nervous system. We can represent how this works by imagining a seesaw on a playground. 

The Autonomous System is a seesaw as a whole with Sympathetic at one end and Parasympathetic at the other. As it spins up and down, it shows how PSN and SNS appear at different times, neither of which exists without the other. When the two sides smoothly teeter back and forth on a relatively stable balance, they are in balance. The two systems work together for various body functions. One example is, birth. The sympathetic system plays an important role in initiating labor and triggers the baby's own autonomic system to work when they are outside the womb.

Our bodies want to be in balance. Biologically this is called homeostasis. The regulation of the nervous system is when we can easily bring ourselves back into homeostasis. When our sympathetic nervous system is activated due to stress like a tiger or a challenging situation like ours now, a healthy system will be able to return to homeostasis easily. However, sometimes stressors are so intense that our systems need extra support to achieve them.

Yoga meditation is an exercise that helps regulate the nervous system. Yoga trains our mind and body to find a healthy balance in our nervous system, or in other words to help our body find homeostasis. Our modern day-to-day life is often full of things that excite our sympathetic system (fight, run, or run). This is why we must have a way to help regulate the system through activation of our parasympathetic system.

Yoga and meditation practices are designed to stimulate our autonomic nervous system in a variety of ways depending on needs and style. All pranayama exercises to trigger the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. The stimulation ratio depends on the type of exercise. 

This is how we train our brain and body to improve our ability to find balance or homeostasis more quickly and when we want to find it, or in other words find comfort.