Yoga is famous these days for helping combat the stresses of modern life. How the ancient yogis of old knew all the particularities of the benefits of Yoga is still mind-boggling, but they knew. It wasn't haphazard. Either by Divine inspiration, or revelations from deep self-study, the sages knew what was happening in a Yoga practice.
Now that Yoga has been around awhile, science has studied and discovered some of Yoga's secrets, and one of the most fascinating revelations is that Yoga regulates the nervous system by increasing the body's ability to respond to stress. It's called VAGAL TONE.
The VAGUS NERVE is the largest cranial nerve in the body. It starts at the base of your skull and travels all over the body! It connects with the lungs, the heart, moves on to the stomach, spleen, liver, kidneys, intestines all the way to the colon. In other words, it influences all the organs and regulates all bodily functions. When we practice Yoga, we are toning the vagus nerve, which helps to improve these functions--better digestion, good heart rate variability, improved mood. We are able to swing between the events of the day with flexibility and ease.
Low vagal tone creates the opposite. Think grumpy, constipated, depressed and puny. It has real health consequences, which can be improved with Yoga practices. One of the surprising techniques that tones the vagus nerve is simple chanting of OM audibly. How easy is that?
Pranayama--yogic breathing -- is also beneficial to the vagus nerve, especially the "hissing breath", known as ujjayi. By closing the glottis gently to create a soft hissing sound, the exhalations become longer. This has been proven to turn on the relaxation response. So, even if you're not able to practice the Yoga asanas, you can always do some easy deep breathing to calm yourself down in a stressful situation. Try it over the next few weeks when you're stuck in holiday traffic--It works!
Meera Kerr B.A., E-RYT