Inner Reflections
March 2, 2020

The Incredible Effects of Yin Yoga on the Nervous System

There is a growing movement attributing heart disease, cancer and other killer diseases to an imbalance in the nervous system.

Yin yoga, a popular style of yoga where deep stretches are held for 3-5 minutes, has been shown to reverse the harmful effects of negative stress on the nervous system.

In this podcast, Travis will share the incredible effects of yin yoga on the nervous system.

Hope you enjoy this inspiring episode!

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[The following is the full transcript of this episode of “The BE ULTIMATE Podcast.” Please note that this is direct from Travis speaking unscripted and unedited.]

Welcome to Ep55 of the BE Ultimate podcast where we will explore, “The Incredible Effects of Yin yoga on the Nervous System.”

Many of you know from previous episodes or from my book or my trainings that I got into Yin yoga because I was hit by a car as a pedestrian, severely injured my knee. I was crippled for a long time. And after going to many doctors and alternative practitioners, really the main thing that healed my knee was Yin yoga. I discovered Yin yoga through the teachings of Paul Grilley, the founder of Yin yoga.

It changed my life because it completely healed my body. I was told that I would never be able to run again, and I would walk with a limp. Not only can I now walk and run but a couple of months ago, I was able to successfully complete a 50K ultramarathon trail run. So I know that Yin yoga is some of the most powerful medicine in the body.

In this podcast, I want to move away from the effects that Yin yoga has on the connective tissues in the body and I want to unpack the specific effects of this great modality of Yin yoga and how it relates to our nervous system.

The Nervous System

The nervous system is evolution’s way of creating a method for the brain, the mind, to communicate to the vast 50 trillion cells throughout our body. There is a large amount of information that has to be passed to all these cells which are the building blocks of life. Our cells make up our tissues. Tissues make up our organs. Organs make up our bodily systems, and then, of course, our bodily systems contribute to our total package of being a human being. So the nervous system is really responsible for taking all of the external information that’s coming in through our senses and then broadcasting this information, this data, to all of those cells in the body.

Each one of these cells has what’s called an integral membrane protein which is kind of like a cellular antenna. This antenna that’s attached to the cell is what’s receiving the information that your brain is broadcasting. So the nervous system’s responsibility is to cultivate harmony between all the cells, tissues, organs, and systems. It’s really key for creating efficiency and productivity and maintaining our survival.

So we have the autonomic nervous system, sometimes known as the subconscious nervous system. This is a part of our nervous system that runs automatically without us having to think about things. This autonomic nervous system, it maintains balance. It maintains homeostasis. Without that autonomic nervous system, we would be in a complete state of chaos and disorder. It’s in charge of running functions such as heart activity, blood pressure, breathing, respiration, intestinal activity, temperature regulation, and much more without you having to consciously make all these things happen. If you had to consciously make all these things happen, you wouldn’t have any resources to create to do other things in your life. You would just be overwhelmed and too busy having to govern these million different processes within the body.

There are two branches of the autonomic nervous system. Number one. We have the sympathetic branch. And number two. We have the parasympathetic branch.

Sympathetic Nervous System

Sympathetic nervous system is correlated with energy production and your body’s ability to deal with the impact of stress. This is often connected to our fight-flight mechanism. This has to do with our ability to survive and really enacting what we call the HPA axis. The HPA axis stands for hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. (Try saying that three times really, really fast!)

Some of the stress hormones unleashed from the adrenal glands include hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. I remember about 15 years ago when I was studying to become an ayurvedic practitioner, one of the big things that we talked about was the impact of negative stress on the body and how this aggravates what we call the Vata Dosha. That’s the dosha connected to the elements of air and ether. We talked a lot about cortisol, and we would read books on this topic, about the damage of excessive cortisol.

When you take these stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, this creates a type of chemistry that’s almost like battery acid. You can imagine when you have all this negative chemistry, this battery acid is eroding away at your systems, your organs, your tissues, and your cells. This, of course, is creating the downward cascade or domino effect of what inevitably is going to lead to severe illness and disease.

Unfortunately, in modern-day times, we are dealing with a large amount of stress. People are overstimulated. You have the news. You have your bills. You have responsibilities. You have all the problems that we’re dealing with in the world, racism, environmental decay as well. All these things that are afflicting our society is a type of stress. Right now, in the news, we’re hearing all about the coronavirus, so everybody’s freaking out about this virus. And how are we going to tackle this problem, and are we going to get sick? Can we travel? All these kind of things that are popping up on a day to day basis is stress, stress, stress, stress.

Our body is constantly under attack. Whereas hundreds of years ago or thousands of years ago, we weren’t bombarded with all this news. Back then we had to worry about surviving predators and other tribes. But that would typically come in a wave and a short spurt, and then it would go away. But now, endlessly, we’re in traffic. We’re going to work, and we’re perpetuating this stress 24/7 within our lives.

This leads to what we call chronic sympathetic state. So that sympathetic branch of the nervous system is always on, on, on. The HPA axis is constantly secreting those stress hormones and the negative chemistry is affecting the tissues and the cells of your body.

Other effects of being in a sympathetic state include increased food cravings. We’re always hungry. We’re always wanting to eat. A lot of times, we’re craving sugar. We want sweets. We want desserts. We want soda. We want sugary beverages. And then this, of course, leads to fat gain.

A lot of times, when we have a lot of cortisol in the body, we start to put fat on, especially around the belly in the midsection, and that begins to accumulate.

Research also shows the brain shrinks when you’re under stress. Think about it.

When you’re under attack, what does your body want to do? It wants to contract. It wants to shrink. It wants to protect itself.

It’s not like you want to expand and open yourself up to the world. You’re under attack. This leads to anxiety, suppresses your immune system, your ability to fight off disease. Your immune system can only take so much attack and so much stress before it just gives in.

If your immune system is suppressed, you become depressed. You’re not feeling good. You’re not able to feel charged up with energy, so naturally, you’re going to not feel super happy and super joyful. You’re going to feel down, and you’re going to have these tumultuous mood swings.

You’re also going to experience decrease muscle mass. You’re going to have fat gain, and you’re going to decrease good quality muscles. So your bone density will also go down as well.

You can see all the negative effects that stress can have on the body when we’re in that chronic sympathetic state. It is not a pretty picture. It’s not the paradigm of being in a state of health and being ultimate which is what this podcast is about.

In the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2007, they did a study, and they said, “Exposures to chronic stress are considered the most toxic because they are most likely to result in long-term or permanent changes in the emotional physiological behavioral responses that influence susceptibility to and the cause of disease.”

Negative stress is a major risk factor, as we’re hearing from the Journal of American Medical Association and many other sources, to our biggest killers today: heart disease, cancer, GI disorders, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, and many, many more.

Now, I want to interject here, not all stress is bad. We have good stress, and we have bad stress. We need some amount of stress and adversity and challenge to stimulate growth, to stimulate good quality production on both a subtle energetic level and also on a gross level as well.

Bad stress happens when one, your body perceives it as a threat and number two, when it is relentless, nonstop, and overwhelming.

Again, we’re talking about cultivating balance here.

Parasympathetic Nervous System

Now that we’ve explored the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system, let’s unpack the parasympathetic nervous system.

Parasympathetic nervous system, sometimes abbreviated as PNS,  is responsible for energy recovery, regeneration, repair, relaxation, rejuvenation.

You hear these words, and it makes you want to let out a sigh, right? You feel like you want to exhale. It’s just like, Ah, we’re yearning to just let go, to relax, and to renew because we are so tightly wound up within our body, within our minds, and within our nervous system.

The sympathetic branch of the nervous system is like the accelerator of a car. The parasympathetic branch is like the brake.

Sympathetic speeds things up, get things going. It’s all about energetic motion and movement. We need that, especially in the morning time. Parasympathetic, we ease off the gas. We put on the brake. We slow down, and we need that at nighttime. For a lot of people, these two are flipped. We’re exhausted in the morning, and then we’re jacked up at night. That’s usually a sign that your nervous system is also out of balance.

The stronger your parasympathetic nervous system is, the healthier you’re going to be. You’re going to have balance between acceleration and taking a break.

Now, this from Dr. Michael Galitzer and Larry Trivieri who are two cutting edge doctors that are really speaking about the importance of healthy parasympathetic activity. They write, “The parasympathetic nervous system is devoted to nourishing, healing, and rebuilding the body. When actively dominant, it stimulates and enhances immune function, circulation, digestion, and overall, gastrointestinal function. It improves functioning of the liver, stomach, pancreas, and intestines. It also lowers heart rate and blood pressure levels while increasing production of endorphins, your body’s feel-good hormones. Only when your body is in a state of parasympathetic dominance are you able to achieve deep levels of rest and recuperation. Achieving and maintaining a healthy parasympathetic state is essential for healing on both the physical and mental emotional levels of your being. Parasympathetic dominance enables you to be more relaxed, content, and fully present in the moment. You are able to meet and respond to daily life challenges both calmly and more energetically.”

This sounds like being in the paradigm of health and wellness! Now you have resiliency. You have almost like a shock absorption system within your body that can absorb stress.

World-class athletes like LeBron James, they understand this. They spend seven figures on getting into the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system because they need time to recover from being on and being at the top of their game. Good friend of mine, all-Star baseball player, now plays for the LA Dodgers, A.J. Pollock, he enacts this. Usher, the famous musician and dancer, he does this as well. These people, they use Yin yoga as a way to get into the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system.

Rest and Recovery are key to high performance.

If you want to perform on a high level, if you want to be the best that you can be, you’re going to have to carve time out of your day, out of your life, where you’re allowing yourself the opportunity to rest, to recover, to press pause.

The Vagus Nerve

Now, you may have heard something called the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve plays a very important role within the parasympathetic nervous system because it is the primary way that the parasympathetic nervous system sends nerve impulses and signals throughout the body. It originates in the brain stem, and it goes all the way down to the colon. So it’s like this superhighway carrying all this important information and messaging throughout the body. Along this highway is an array of nerve fibers branching out into the connective tissues and organs so that it can communicate to these organs to recover and repair. It plays a huge role within the important regulation of many of our internal organs and their functioning including heart rate, respiration, Gastro Intestinal functions, vision, hearing, speech, and control of the skeletal muscular system in the body.

Other benefits of parasympathetic nervous system include managing stress, sleeping better, and regulating inflammation. We know that high amounts of inflammation in the body is also a main cause of disease and illness.

A healthy PNS also leads to healthier cells, better brain performance, and slowing of the aging process, never a bad thing.

Heart Disease

The world’s number one killer is heart disease. Heart disease used to affect men more than women, but this has changed.

We now know that one in four deaths of women is now caused by heart disease – this came from a study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2016 – and that one-third of all Americans have high blood pressure.

A lot of times, these are treated by statin drugs. Statin drugs are controversial. You have some doctors that believe this is the most effective way of treating it. I’m not a doctor. I’m not telling you to stop your statins if you’re taking them, but it’s debatable on whether that is the most effective way of treating heart disease or not.

Researcher, Dr. Thomas Cowan, who’s dedicated his life to studying heart disease has found that its primary cause is because of a decreased functioning of the parasympathetic nervous system.

Now, a lot of this information that I’m sharing with you guys in this podcast is in my book, A Journey into Yin Yoga. This was one of the biggest revelations while I was writing this Yin yoga book. I was passionate about yin, and I just wanted to share it with as many people as possible. But when I started writing the book, I didn’t know about all this. I didn’t know about this new wave of doctors and research that was coming out and saying, “Hey, one of the biggest causes of the biggest diseases of our time is because we’re constantly in that sympathetic branch of the nervous system.”

If we can switch over into the parasympathetic branch, a lot of this suffering could be alleviated. A lot of this illness and this disease could dramatically decrease. The beautiful thing is that when you do something like Yin yoga or meditation to trigger the relaxation response, a lot of these modalities cost nothing or very little, especially when you compare it to the doctor bills and the cost of pharmaceutical drugs. Learning about the research of Dr. Thomas Cowan and Michael Galitzer and others blew me away, and that’s why I wanted to do this podcast. I wanted to get this information out to you.

Now I want to share something with you from my book here, and this is from Dr. Cowan who wrote an article called ‘What’s the Real Cause of Heart Attacks.’

He describes it this way.

“This is the process. First comes a decrease in the tonic healing activity of the parasympathetic nervous system. In the vast majority of cases, the pathology for a heart attack will not proceed unless this condition is met. Then comes an increase in the sympathetic nervous system activity, usually a physical or emotional stressor. This increase in sympathetic activity cannot be balanced because of chronic parasympathetic suppression.” Dr. Cowan goes on to conclude his article by stating, “If heart disease is fundamentally caused by a deficiency in the parasympathetic nervous system, then the solution is obviously to nurture and protect that system which is the same as saying we should nurture and protect ourselves.”

Again, the great athletes know this. The great performers know this. But does the common person know this? Do they know how important self-care is? Taking time out of their day to practice Yin yoga to trigger the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system.

The Medicine of Yin Yoga

Now we’ve explored in depth the consequences of chronic stress, of sympathetic dominance and chronic inflammation. We know the cause of diseases that kill millions of people a year across the globe are linked to this parasympathetic nervous system not being activated. So the question becomes where does Yin yoga fit into this picture?

Well, it’s relevant in so many different ways. And this is a very, very important message.

The intention behind Yin yoga is to slow down to allow your body’s natural and innate intelligence to achieve balance.

In your Yin yoga practice, you will diminish the sympathetic nervous system, and you will engage the parasympathetic nervous system. You will find balance in homeostasis. Those stress hormones of cortisol and adrenaline, they will decrease. And then the feel-good hormones, the good chemistry, the serotonin, the dopamine, the endorphins, they will increase. Your inflammation will lower. Your limbic brain associated with the fight or flight will be downregulated because of the positive activation of the prefrontal cortex area of the brain. Now your entire brain is fully integrating. You now have coherence. You have harmony. And then the body’s rest and repair mechanism is fully activated. The connective tissues in the body are properly hydrated. They’re strong. They’re resilient. They’re durable. You’re injury-resilient. This is the key to health and longevity. And we have a problem because so much suffering, sickness, and death could simply be prevented by just simply living a life of greater balance. Yin yoga along with a healthy diet, exercise, proper lifestyle, meditation, good quality sleep will tremendously increase your quality of life.

Yin yoga is not a luxury. It is an absolute necessity.

Thomas Edison said, “The doctor of the future will give no medicine but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet, and the cause and prevention of disease.”

You see, the unwise, they deal with symptoms. But the wise, they look at the root cause of what is causing the symptom. If you want to change the fruits, you have to change the roots. You have to go deep into the system. You have to do a deep dive into looking. What is causing this issue? Whether it is a disease or whether it is a disease as existing in the planet, we have to have wisdom to figure out what is the true cause and not just address the symptom.

All right, you guys. That is it for this one.

Let’s finish now with the ultimate prayer.

“May we bring strength where there’s weakness.

May we bring courage where there is fear.

May we bring compassion where there is suffering.

And may we bring light where there’s darkness.

May we be ultimate.”