This week in yoga teacher’s training we read about the benefits of yoga. There are SO many! Yoga increases blood flow, eases pain, increases strength and flexibility (both in your body and your mind) boosts your immune system and lowers your blood sugar. But the big one we’re going to discuss today is yoga’s ability to help us sleep. According to an NPR article from 2008, over 60 million Americans are affected by sleep disorders every year. Sleep disorders increase the risk of heart disease, heart attack, weight gain, stroke, low sex drive, depression and forgetfulness. Yikes! That makes for a lot of grumpy people. Most doctors prescribe pharmaceuticals to treat such disorders and in turn cause their patients to endure detrimental effects to their entire body. However, Herbert Benson, MD., a mind-body scientist of Harvard Medical School and author of the book Relaxation Revolution, may have discovered a natural and more efficient way to approach sleep disorders. According to Benson there is something called the relaxation response which is a physiologic reaction that is the exact opposite of the stress response a.k.a. fight or flight response.
fight or flight: a reaction preparing the body to act upon fear and physical challenges through the secretion of such stress hormones as adrenaline and noradrenaline
By eliciting the relaxation response studies show that insomnia in patients decreased quite considerably and that the onset of sleep became much easier too. So how do you trigger this response? Well there are multiple ways but the best one (haha… being completely bias at the moment of course) is YOGA! Yoga helps activate our parasynthetic nervous system (PNS) which can be attributed to the calming effects in our body. The synthetic nervous system (SNS) on the other hand is related to stress and excitement. “Neuropsychologist and meditation teacher Rick Hanson says, 'The PNS and the SNS are connected like a seesaw; when one goes up, the other one goes down. By activating the PNS, yoga strengthens its circuitry and brings balance to the seesaw.'" Now that seems like some good times at the playground.
We all know that sleep is good for us but do we really know why? Scientists have been debating this idea for quite some time but Jeff Iliff, a neuroscientist who explores the unique functions of the brain, seems to have some really great insight about how getting adequate sleep helps us to clear our mental junk-drawers. Check out his TED talk below.
I like it. No I LOVE it!