Why Does Yoga Work?

Dear Yogis

Last week, I wrote about Eddie Stern and the vargus nerve. He started his lecture by asking ‘Why does yoga work?’ Having established the significance of the parasympathetic nervous system and the vargus nerve, he then wanted to know: ‘how do we make the vargus nerve stronger and reap more benefits from yoga practice for a wider assortment of conditions? Here comes the science bit. Concentrate, as Jennifer Anniston used to say!

Four things improve Vagus nerve tone. The first is breathing consciously which changes the PH level of the blood and balances the parasympathetic (PSNS) and sympathetic (SNS) nervous systems. If we live life on the acceleration pedal, SNS overload, the system reorganises to a new reality of overstimulation with a higher heart rate and higher blood pressure. Conscious breathing, lengthening the exhale, breathing with sound (Sound of the Sea breathing) and breathing with vocalisation (like Om-ing) hacks into the nervous system and presses on the brake pedal.

Number two is chanting and singing. The vagus nerve is connected to the vocal cords and the muscles at the back of the throat and so is toned by chanting. Number three is posture practice. This is because of Baroreceptors which are all over the body sensing blood flow and blood pressure and sending messages back to the brain to make adjustments. Yoga postures, by making us concentrate and use strength while consciously breathing and slowing down the heart rate, bring balance to this monitoring system.

The last thing which tones the vagus nerve, I like this one, is behaviour. Things that negatively affect vagus nerve tone and heart rate variability are; anger, irritation, judgment, criticism, stress, overwork. The opposite, things like gratitude, compassion, love and positive thinking, have been shown to tone the vagus nerve and improve heart rate variability.

Do Yoga!

Yoga Retreat

There’s two places left on my September 9th-16th retreat. You’re very welcome to come. By the way, if you play a stringed instrument and you’re more interested in an orchestra retreat than yoga retreat, check out Strings In Greece. There are places left for this year’s trip, Friday 25th May to Sunday 3rd June. I’m going along to teach some Yin Yoga. I started visiting Kythera in 2004 when Chris Shurety started his musical retreats using Kapsali’s Amphitheatre. Eventually, inevitably, I spotted someone with a yoga mat and so finally, predictably, I started my yoga retreats there.

Home Studio

It’s getting hot in my little studio; the fan is on setting 2 and the window flung open! I have added a 6.00 class on Tuesday and taken off the 6.00 Thursday class until the demand returns. See what’s available here. (I update this every Friday before posting this email.) You can book here.


Andy Gill is running a workshop on Pain-Free Shoulders in your Yoga Practice. It’s tomorrow, Saturday 21st from 14:00 to 16:30 at Globe House, London, SE1 3JW. It’s £25. He will be teaching shoulder anatomy, ‘de-bunking yoga myths on what constitutes healthy movement for shoulders’, how to stay injury free and shoulder rehabilitation practices. I’m definitely going to this! My shoulder hurts! To book this workshop contact Andy at andy@andygill.yoga or 07913-615984

Yoga in the news

The Telegraph asked this week if Yoga improves your skiing. The journalist goes skiing with a snowboard champion who is also an Ashtanga ‘master’, Emilien Badoux, who aims to bring this feeling of calmness to all his yogis and skiers.

This piece from Health 24 tells us of medical research into four chronic conditions: 4 ways yoga can improve chronic health conditions. This is what Eddie Stern was saying – treat the underlying condition which is apparent in the nervous system.

The Evening Standard tells us, in London Marathon week, ‘Why you should take up yoga if you want to be a better runner’.

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