NOTE: Reference is made to some charts that will be uploaded at a later date.
THE PHYSIOLOGICAL EFFECTS OF YOGA
The human being may be analyzed into three basic parts: the soul, the mind and the body. The soul is the permanent aspect that gives life to the mind and body, which are its instruments through which to express itself on the Earth. Although the soul is eternally perfect, it remains a prisoner in the mind and body until they are brought to a state of purity and perfection so that the soul can express and realize itself fully through them.
Hence the vital importance of keeping a healthy and fit body and a clear and concentrated mind. Each of us has experienced that when the body is tired or ill, we cannot think positively or enjoy life. Every bodily disturbance causes mental agitation, unrest and confusion. At the same time mental problems must reflect themselves in the body.
Pure Intellect (Buddhi)
Subconscious – Mind – Conscious (Manas)
Bio – energy (Prana)
Nervous System – Endocrine System
Circulatory Respiratory Digestive Muscular Skeletal
The soul gives life to the pure intellect (Buddhi), which guides the mind (or shall we say it should guide the mind, but most people have lost this connection). The mind consciously and subconsciously activates the nervous and endocrine systems through the agency of the prana (bio-energy). These two «master systems» then emit controlling signals to the other systems of the body.
Another image can be used. Consider a projector. The light source is the soul. It remains always the same. The lens which can be focused in the buddhi or intellect. The mind is the film which forms the image, and the body is the image itself. Only one point is lacking in this model. In this case we can actually change the film (Mind) by initiating changes in the image (body).
Hatha Yoga is the science of balancing the forces of the body and mind through exercise of body and breath, proper diet, relaxation and concentration. Recently scientist have made controlled studies on practitioners of Hatha Yoga in order to determine the effect of this system on the physical body. Following are some of the highlights of those studies which are compiled at length in James Funderburk’s book, Science Studies Yoga, published by the Himalayan International Institute of Yoga Science & Philosophy of USA. Although we shall organize our discussion according to individual systems, the reader must keep in mind that each system is in intimate relationship with the others, and that each effect will be felt throughout all the systems.
THE SKELETAL SYSTEM: Yoga asanas (Postures) have been proven to generate greater flexibility in the joints of the body as in indicated in Chart Number 1 showing improved flexibility in hips, trunk, neck and ankle after 10 weeks of yoga. Blood flow through the bones is increased making stronger more flexible bones. Increased blood flow and movement also serves to remove salt deposits from the joints.
Of primary importance to a healthy body is the spine through which flow all nerve and prana connections from brain to body. Along the spine are numerous ganglia that control the flow of nervous impulses and energy to the various organs of the body. When the spine is not in alignment this energy cannot flow properly, organs will deteriorate and become susceptible to illness. Some illnesses are caused by a misalignment of the vertebrae and disappear when the spine itself is corrected. Yoga pays special attention to the spine insuring that it is kept straight and flexible. This increases awareness and vital energy.
THE MUSCULAR SYSTEM: There is a great difference between gymnastics and yoga. The first is more active, some times violent to the body. The other is controlled and more concentrated. Their effects on the muscular system are different. Gymnastics create short tense muscles, good for doing heavy work. Yoga cultivates long realized muscles, free of tension but able to move quickly and more efficiently for all normal daily activities. Consider the cat, who is always totally relaxed, but in a moment’s notice can move quickly and efficiently. This is the kind of body yoga creates.
When muscles are used and energy is consumed, lactic acid is created. This acid gradually builds up in the body until fatigue sets in and one must sleep or rest to allow this acid to be reconverted. In gymnastics, where the muscular activity is far greater than the breath intake, lactic acid increases and one ends up more tired. In yoga asanas, the breath intake is greater than the muscular activity and the lactic acid is reconverted. One emerges refreshed, with more energy and clarity.
There is no danger of straining when yoga is done properly. Every moment is made slowly with concentration and control of breath. A harmony is developed between the mind, brain, body and muscles. A sense of balance and grace is developed in all activities. Moreover, yoga is a step along the way of spiritual transformation, while gymnastics is a technique or physical culture.
THE CIRCULATORY SYSTEM: Every cell in the body receives its food and discharges its waste through the circulatory system. The body can be only as healthy as the cells of which it is comprised. These cells can be only as healthy as their system or nourishment and waste removal – the circulatory system. That means clean and flexible arteries, veins, and capillaries.
Chart Number 2 shows that students practicing Hatha Yoga for 9 months benefited by a marked improvement in the cardiovascular efficiency as measured by the «Harvard Step Test». With this greater circulatory efficiency, one can perform more work with less exertion or tiredness. This increased efficiently of the arteries and veins allows for less pulse rate and a lowering of blood pressure. (See Charts 3 & 4).
These tests show that after 3 months of yoga practice the average pulse rate dropped from 66.6 to 62.3 beats per minute. After yoga and relaxation training for people with high blood pressure, their readings want from systolic 160 mm and diastolic 102 to systolic 134 and diastolic 86. This is a great improvement.
Although the heart and circulatory system are working less, there is greater blood flow throughout the body. And by special positions such as the shoulder stand, head stand, yoga mudra, or prayer position, the head, neck and facial muscles are bathed with extra blood. these parts of the body tend to be starved of blood after a day of standing and sitting. Some form of «head low position» is essential for everyone each day (except for those with high blood pressure).
Studies have also shown that the red blood cell count is increased with yoga practice. (Chart 5).
In general, the blood stream and the tubes through which it slows are cleaned and vitalized through yoga asanas. A process of detoxification takes place. In addition, through abdominal compression exercises, blood flow is stimulated to the digestive organs increasing digestive efficiency.
THE DIGESTIVE SYSTEM: Many people suffer from sluggish digestion and over-toxicity. This leads to poor blood, lack of energy and a tendency towards illness. Also, many people have much tension stored in the abdominal area due to emotional tension. This situation further interferes with the digestion which contributes even more to physical and mental illness. Constipation and gas build up are two common problems in such cases. Chronic cases result in ulcers or malfunctioning of digestive organs, i.e. liver, kidney, gall bladder. Through yoga exercises, negative and positive pressures are put on the abdominal cavity massaging, stimulating and detoxifying the area. The abdominal life and «nauli» cause negative pressures, while the peacock (72.5 mm) locust (65.5 mm), yoga mudra, prayer position, and wind relieving posture exert positive pressures.
After some months of practicing these postures, digestion becomes active and efficient again.
THE RESPIRATORY SYSTEM: Without air we can live only a few minutes. Breath is the basis of life. The first breath signifies the beginning of life, and the last breath the end of life in the physical body. The breath is the agency through which we take in the basic life force called «prana». This life force is the basis of all activity in the human body. It becomes physical energy, sexual energy, thought energy, nervous energy, vocal power, physic energy, and heat energy. All forms of energy are aspects of prana.
The example of house electricity may be used for prana. It is a basic form of energy, but though a cassette player it will become sound energy, though a heater, heat energy. A fan will give wind energy. A light bulb will convert that electricity into light. Hundreds of various types of activities from one basic energy.
Hence the quality of life is dependent on an adequate supply of prana and its proper flow through the body. For this, a healthy respiratory system is essential.
In yoga we learn to breathe slowly, deeply and rhythmically. The muscles of the lungs are developed, increasing our «vital capacity» (the amount of air we are able to inhale in one breath). The amount of air taken in during each minute is increased, with less actual breaths taken. (See Charts 6 & 7).
Chart 6 indicates that after six months of yoga training the rate of breathing decreased from 16.8 to 13.4 breaths/min.
At the same time, Chart 7 shows that with 6 months training the vital capacity can be increased from 3729 cc to 4615 cc.
Consider that a wonderful situation this is. We have to breathe less times per minute and we get more oxygen. Therefore, we get more energy and expend less. Also it has been proved that when the breath is slower, the mind becomes more relaxed. The result is a calmer, more peaceful, yet more energized state of being.
During the asanas themselves the breath rate is increased, forcing more air though the lungs, helping to remove toxins, not only from the lungs, but from all the body. The blood carries toxins from the cells to the lungs. These toxins are then expelled through the lungs with the outgoing breath. At the same time, the blood carries extra oxygen back to the cells that are much in need of it, especially in those bodies dwelling in the polluted city air. (For this reason breathing exercises should be done in the early morning hours, before the traffic starts).
Another interesting point is that yogis claim that each individual is born with a certain number of breaths to take before giving up the body. So by breathing more slowly we use up our quota more slowly and live longer.
The nostril through which one breathes is also very important. One can breath either predominantly though the left, right, or equally through both. A study of 75 male students and 21 female students showed that 47.8% breathed predominantly through the right, 37.7% through the left, and only 14.5% through both equally. It has been found that this predominance will change from side to side about every two to three hours. (See October ’79 issue).
Breathing through one nostril or the other will generate different psychological and physiological states. The right nostril is associated with «rajas» or activity, aggressiveness, restlessness and other more male tendencies. The left nostril is associated with rest, inertia, inactivity, sluggishness and other «tamasic» tendencies. Breathing through both nostrils equally generates a «satwic» condition of balance, equanimity and harmony. The November ’79 issue explains the technique of alternate breathing in which one learns to balance the flow through the nostrils. When practiced daily, alternate breathing can generate a wonderful state of harmonious vitality. It also purifies the nervous system and calms the nerves.
NERVOUS SYSTEM: That yoga is a way to relax and is calming to the nervous system are well-known facts to most everyone. Each student of yoga experiences this calming of the nervous system to some degree on the very first attempt.
Some doctors have speculated that up to 80% of all organic illnesses have psychosomatic causes. While teaching yoga over the years, the author has seen repeatedly that many problems just seem to disappear when the person learns to relax and take care of himself or herself. In other words, nervous tension is the main problem of our times, and relaxation is a valuable antidote.
The autonomic nervous system is responsible for running the body and all its processes, leaving the conscious mind free to deal with «reality»! The autonomic nervous system consists of two parts, the sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic serves to activate the body and metabolism. The parasympathetic quiets the body functions.
The «autonomic balance» is a measure of the ratio of the activity of the parasympathetic system, divided by the activity of the sympathetic system. Therefore, the higher the value, the more relaxed. The average value has been found to be 69. In one study of yoga students vs. a control group, the students increased their balance score from 64 to 78 in two months. The control group score increased from 62 to 67. Even two months after discontinuing the yoga exercises, the yoga group’s score remained at 74. (See Chart 8).
Another indicator of a relaxed nervous system is the skin conductance. When there is nervous activity there will be more perspiration. This extra moisture will allow for more skin conductance. Studies show that skin conductance decreases the practice of yoga asanas (exercises) and as much as 200% during meditation.
Chart Number 9 shows the results of an experiment using skin conductance to measure the «sympathetic arousal» due to purposely induced stresses. From the graph you can see that three types of people produced three different response patterns. The relaxed person who was practicing regular relaxation techniques responded immediately to the stress and then let go of it quickly. The average person responded more slowly to the situation and took a longer time to let go of the stress. The anxious person responded even more slowly and never let go of the stress but allowed it to continue building with each new stress situation. Hence we can see that in the same environmental conditions a relaxed person will respond to the needs of the emergency and then relax, whereas the anxious person will not respond very well and will hold on to the stress for a long time. Which to you prefer to be? You do have a choice.
EEG’s measure the waves emitted by the brain in various states of activity. Many of you have heard of alpha waves which are emitted when the mind is in a relaxed but still awake state of mind (8 to 14 cycles per second). When the mind is more active, it emits beta waves (15 to 50 cps). And when the mind slips into sleep, theta waves are emitted (4 to 7 cps). Alpha waves are associated with a relaxed state of mind induced by meditation, hypnosis, and mind control. Studies have shown that the yogic practice of glottal breathing, in which we close the — slightly and listen to the hissing sound created by the air passing — Increase —-.
Although we are considering here the effects of yoga exercises, let us look just briefly at a few of the effects of meditation. After just a few weeks of meditation students with high blood pressure have experienced marked and beneficial drops in their blood pressure. The heart rate has been seen to drop from 70 to 64 beats per minute. Such effects are life saving for people with heart problems.
Meditation decreases the amount of lactic acid registered in the blood, indicating greater relaxation. Also during meditation there is a 15% drop in oxygen consumption and up to a 26% decrease in the metabolic rate.
In a study of response to disturbing shocks, after 26 trials non-meditators were unable to learn not to be disturbed, while meditators took only 11 trials to neutralize the disturbance. These are just a few of the many physiological indicators that meditation is a means of establishing both temporally and long term relaxation of the body and mind.
THE ENDOCRINE SYSTEM:
The endocrine system or system of ductless glands is the least understood and most important system of the physical body. It acts in conjunction with the nervous system, mainly through the communicating electrochemical link to the hypothalamus. Together they control all the functions of the body. In yogic and esoteric circles it is understood that the endocrine system acts as a communicating link between the pranic body and the physical body. In this way it serves along with the nervous system as a link between the body and mind. As man evolves spiritually, so will the function of his endocrine system, especially the pituitary and pineal glands.
Through its ductless secretions into the blood stream this system is able to guide the delicate balance of all bodily functions from metabolism to coping with fear. Many non-diagnosable diseases have their origin in endocrine imbalances.
Yoga affects the ductless glands in two ways: 1) First by increasing the local flow of blood through the area of the glands and plexus. For example, the headstand, should stand, yoga mudra or prayer position will increase the blood flow through the pineal and pituitary glands, stimulating their activity. The shoulder stand and fish will stimulate the thyroid. Chart Number `10 shows that thyroxin content in the blood increased from 5.2 mcg/100 ml to 6.2 mcg/100 ml after six weeks of yoga training.
e) Pranayama, or control of the bioenergy through breath control, is the second way the endocrine system is affected. Each endocrine gland is associated with a specific chakra of energy center in the energy body (pranic body). By activating the flow of energy through that particular energy center the corresponding endocrine gland is further activated and harmonized. In the process of the evolution of consciousness the higher centers of the heart, throat, and forehead are activated, leaving less stimulation to the lower centers. In this way the sexual and aggressive energies are transformed upward into more mental, psychic and spiritual expression. Hence we might say that the adrenals and gonads become less active and the pituitary and pineal more active.
In general the system of yoga puts the endocrine system into harmony for each individual at his or her particular level of consciousness. The following chart may be interesting for those interested in the correlation between the chakras, endocrine glands, the results of their malfunctioning, and the particular exercises which stimulate those glands.
CHAKRA GLANDS LOCATION MALFUNCTIONS EXERCISES
Sahasara Pineal Center Brain Lack of sleep, growth, Head stand
. Rigid thinking. Shoulder stand
Lack of life rhythm. Yoga mudra
Ajna Pituitary Brain Premarure Senility. Headstand
Imbalance of entire Shoulder stand
endocrine system. Yoga mudra
Unbalanced emotions. Prayer position
Meditation on point between the eyes.
=============================================================Vishuddha Thyroid Throat Hyperactive: Shoulder stand
Throat Nervousness, Fish
Center emotionality, irritability, Cobra
trembling. Deep breathing
Swollen hands, neck should take caution
eyes. Coldness, to do postures for
obesity, constipation. short times)
Anahata Thymus Heart Lack of resistance Forward stretch
area to disease, injury and Bow
senility. Meditation on the
Manipura Pancreas Solar Diabetes Locust
Plexus Sluggish digestion Peacock
Solar Yoga mudra
Plexus Prayer position
Center Wind relieving
Svadishthana Adrenals Bottom of Spine Sterility, impotence, Cobra
lack of energy or Locust
vitality. Forward Stretch
Sitting on ankles
Muladhara coccyx Bottom of spine Problems Same as
With energy flow previous
to legs and
organs of reproduction
In conclusion, yoga asanas, pranayama, relaxation and meditation offer each of us an invaluable system of self-help: —-