Yoga and meditation practice can help you gain control over your body biochemistry and improve your hormonal balance.
The Chemistry Of Yoga
I started my yoga practice almost 2 decades ago, and back then my primary goal was to use yoga to alleviate my back pain which I had as a result of an injury. Little did I know about the benefits of yoga that affect the biochemistry of the body and balance the human body inside out, re-aligning our internal systems, and bringing about healthy glow and radiance.
But what exactly happens to a nervous system and hormonal system as a result of yoga practice?
Let's start from the beginning.
Hormones and neurotransmitters influence our feelings, motivation, weight, mood, libido, fertility, skin and hair health and texture, sleep cycle, learning, focus, attention and overall sense of happiness well being. Hormones are the chemical messengers of the hormonal/endocrine system, and neurotransmitters are the messengers of the nervous system. Many lifestyle factors like chronic stress, poor diet, toxins, sedentary lifestyle and genetic predisposition influence production of hormones and neurotransmitters.
Both meditation and yoga practice (as well as specific poses that target certain glands), can bring the hormonal system back into balance. Regular practice of yoga has been scientifically proven to improve the cardiovascular profile and oxygenation of all endocrine glands. The massage of various glands and increased venous return as a result of compression and release during yoga can address hormonal imbalances. In addition to that, improved lymphatic flow helps the body metabolise the toxic hormonal residue which removes it from circulation around the body.
Now, let's have a look at some of the hormones and neurotransmitters that yoga helps us balance and how this affects our wellbeing.
1. Yoga Practice and Serotonin Balance. The "happiness neurotransmitter"
Serotonin helps to control the mood. This crucial chemical has a profound impact on our both our moods and social behavior, appetite and digestion, libido, sleep, temperature regulation and contributes greatly to our overall state of well-being and perception of happiness.
Yoga and meditation practices help the body release serotonin naturally. Yoga asana practice can directly increase the firing rates of serotonin neurons, resulting in increased production and release of serotonin. In addition, there is an increase in the levels of tryptophan (precursor of serotonin) after yoga.
2. Yoga Practice and Cortisol Balance. The "stress hormone"
Our bodies release cortisol during stressful times. A higher than normal level of cortisol contributes to diabetes, osteoporosis, suppressed immunity, inflammation, disrupted sleep and inability to focus. In small amounts cortisol serves the purpose of mobilising us when we are in danger ("fight or flight" response). When we are suffering from chronic stress however, the production of cortisol is chronically increased, and the consistently elevated levels of it lead to a whole range of side effects as it becomes toxic to the body.
Yoga practice sets in motion a mechanism that prevents the series of events in the brain that eventually lead to production of cortisol from adrenals when we are under the effect of stress.
According to a study conducted by Thomas Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia and the Yoga Research Society, even a 50-minute yoga session performed for seven days (including classic yoga postures such as Sarvangasana (Shoulder stand), Salabhasana Locust Pose), Vrksasana (Tree Pose) and Halasana (Plow Pose) – significantly reduced cortisol levels.
3. Yoga Practice and Melatonin Balance. The "sleep-rest-heal hormone"
From the moment of birth our circadian rhythms have been dictated by Earth’s natural cycles of light and dark. In recent decades, in an effort to be more effective, we have started to really challenge our natural rhythms. The contributing factors are longer days at work, longer nights out, and spending lots of time in front of the computer and smartphone displays. All this combined is taking a heavy toll on melatonin production.
Melatonin production is at peak levels during the night while we sleep. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland and is known to prevent tumours, strengthen the immune system, reduces stress, slow down aging, and has been associated with preventing over 100 different diseases.
Recent research results show that melatonin levels for meditation practitioners were boosted by an average of 98%. Incorporating meditation into your life can be your much needed physiological re-balancing tool.
4. Yoga Practice and Dopamine Balance. The "reward neurotransmitter"
Commonly known to control brain’s reward and pleasure centers, dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate motivation and emotions. It plays a role in how we move, what we eat and how we learn.
Dopamine deficiency can lead to muscular cramps, anxiety, mood swings, weight issues, low energy to name a few.
A clinical research published in Cognitive Brain Research found that Yoga Nidra - a guided meditation that produces deep relaxation - increases level of dopamine in the brain by 65% on an average.
5. Yoga Practice and GH. The "anti-aging hormone"
Often referred to as an anti-aging hormone, GH stimulates both physical and mental growth, cellular reproduction and regeneration during childhood. As we age, the pituitary glands gradually decrease the amount of GH they produce.
The body’s diminishing supply of growth hormone is responsible for a variety of changes that come with aging—weaker bones and muscles, slower metabolism, changes in body weight, weakening of heart muscle, mood irregularities, lack of motivation, fatigue.
A recent study showed that GH level increase significantly after 6 weeks of yoga practice comprising of Surya Namaskar (sun salutations), Pranayama (breathing practices), Kriyas (cleaning practices), meditation and yoga asana.
It is suggested that reduced sympathetic and stress response produced by meditation is the possible reason for the improvement in GH levels.
So, I hope I have inspired you to roll out your mat today or get on your meditation cushion. And if you are in need of a serious yoga and meditation boost, plan your next yoga retreat with me!