Cultivating Calm in Times of Crisis

I don’t know about you, but this past week my emotions have been jostling each other like contestants on a reality show.

I’ve been sad, happy, angry, joyful, content, fearful, empathic, hurt, grieving, blissful, ashamed, anxious, and much more – sometimes within seconds of each other.

I’ve also wondered at various times throughout the day. . .(read more here)

Take good care?,


P.S. Please check out my free eBook Weather the Storm: A Subtle Yoga Guide for Building Resilience and my new online course, Cultivating Calm in Times of Crisis.

P.P.S. Please join me for a free, 1-hour workshop this Saturday, April 11, at 10 am ET (3 pm UK time), A Journey Through the Body for Greater Inner Awareness, Self-Knowledge and Clarifying Your Sense of Meaning and Purpose in Difficult Times.

Kristine Kaoverii Weber, MA, C-IAYT, ERYT500, YACEP
Director, Subtle® Health, LLC and Subtle® Yoga Professional Trainings
P.O. Box 727
Asheville, NC 28802

Harmon Speaks: A Little Yoga with patty


104 Evidence Based Benefits of Yoga: Why You Should Do Yoga

Originally published here on Health

Ever wonder about the benefits of yoga?

Well, you don’t need to look any further. We went through thousands of research studies to see how yoga can make you healthier. Boy, did we find many!

I remember my own story.

I started doing yoga a couple of years ago as a form of exercise. Since then, I’ve noticed changes in myself. It wasn’t only the physical changes. I also became calmer, happier, and more patient.

That’s how I got to thinking about yoga’s benefits.

What I soon realized was that this ancient practice did more good than what we give it credit for. When I began, I thought it was all about the stretching and poses.

But, I found out it’s much, much more.

So, I’ve decided to compile a list of scientifically proven benefits of yoga.

Currently, there are over 3,000 studies done on yoga. And below, I’ve included a few hundred that are relevant to our health.

To make it easier to go through this long list, I’ve divided the benefits into categories. This will make the list easier to navigate.

Here are some reasons why you should do yoga.

Table of Contents

  1. Brain & Emotional Benefits
  2. Mind & Performance Benefits
  3. General Health Benefits of Yoga
  4. Physical Benefits
  5. Yoga Helps in Your Relationships
  6. Role in Pain Relief
  7. How it Helps in Preventing Illness


Yoga’s Benefits on Your Brain & Emotions

How does yoga affect your mood and emotions?

Here are some changes in our brain, our way of thinking and perception that happen.

1. Attending Yoga Classes Lifts Up Your Mood

Yoga has similar effects to exercise.

During yoga, the body releases hormones that help improve mood and lowers stress. This is why many feel happier after a class.

Besides doing poses, yoga includes meditation and breathing. The latter two help improve focus and mindfulness.

A Boston University study compared its effects walking. Their focus was to see which improved mood, anxiety and GABA levels more. GABA, or Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid, is a neurotransmitter. It helps calm your brain down. It also works to regulate anxiety.

After 12 weeks, the yoga group had bigger improvements in mood and anxiety.

To check for GABA levels, the scientists used magnetic resonance spectroscopy scans. These scans showed increased thalamic GABA levels in the yoga group.

Also, the study links the improvements in mood and anxiety to the higher GABA levels.

Another experiment compared yoga to swimming.

Here, yoga decreased anger, tension, and fatigue more in both men and women. This led the team to conclude that for mood enhancement, aerobic exercise isn’t your only choice.

If you don’t know where to start, here’s a great 20 minute yoga workout for beginners to get you going.

2. Yoga is a Proven Stress Reliever

Stress can come in many forms. These include mental, physical and emotional.

Physical exercise is a proven stress reliever. This is thanks to endorphins released by the body during exercise.


Endorphins are brain chemicals that help lower our feeling of pain. They also make us feel more positive.

As a result, it helps reduce your stress levels.

Yoga’s physical aspect helps lower stress the same way other kinds of exercise do. But, it has extra health benefits. That’s because yoga includes mental, emotional and spiritual aspects as well.

Altogether, these features help you unwind, lower stress and relax.

Here’s a review that shows yoga lowering stress. Plus, it also reduced symptoms related to it.

So how does yoga fare against other proven stress management therapies?

A study in the journal Cognitive Behavior Therapy sheds light. It shows that yoga produces similar results in stress reduction as cognitive behavior therapy.

Here, employees from large companies did 10 sessions of yoga. This was enough to cut their stress. It also helped improve behavior and other factors related to stress.

3. Yoga Reduces Anxiety Levels

Along with stress, yoga helps reduce anxiety.

Anxiety can come from many things. These include fear and uncertainty.

Yoga helps reduce worrying by lowering our cortisol levels.

It also decreases that feeling of nervousness that can sometimes overcome us. This is especially true when there’s something we’re uncertain of.

German researchers did an experiment to see how this works.

They found that 3 months of Iyengar yoga helps emotionally distressed women. It was able to reduce their stress and anxiety levels.

Besides these effects, the women also had more vigor. They were less fatigued and had a better overall well-being. Those who had back pain and headaches also reported relief from these problems.

Additionally, the researchers noted the yoga group’s salivary cortisol decreased significantly.

For followers of hatha yoga, you’ll be glad to know that it works just as well. Especially as a relaxation therapy for anxiety and stress reduction.

This is based on a study by the University of South Australia.

Here, 1 hour weekly sessions of hatha yoga improved stress and anxiety levels. The 10 week program also helped participants be more relaxed.

4. Yoga Helps Fight Depression

Depression affects over 15 million adults in the U.S.

The condition carries the most burden among mental and behavioral disorders. This is according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The worse thing about it is it takes away the most years out of our lives.

Depression is often linked to illness and disease. The thing is, it can be caused by many different things.

For anyone with depressive symptoms, yoga can help you be more active. It also aids in reducing your feelings of depression.

The GABA neurotransmitter we mentioned earlier is linked to depression and anxiety. Scientists found that lower GABA levels are associated with depression.

For their study, they relied on specialized MRI machines. These devices let them measure GABA levels in the brain of teenagers with depression.

The team then compared the teens’ scans with those who weren’t depressed. This led them to discover that the depressed teens had lower levels of GABA.

Yoga helps decrease feelings of depression. It does this in part by boosting GABA levels.

A study by UCLA researchers used 5 weeks of Iyengar yoga to test this. They found that yoga reduced symptoms in adults with mild levels of depression.

The classes focused on postures believed to help reduce depression. This included inversions, backbends and standing poses.

In the end, participants reported less depressive symptoms and anxiety. They also had more positive moods and lower levels of negative mood.

5. It Gives You A More Positive Outlook on Life

Having a positive outlook and mood helps you be happier. More importantly, it makes you healthier.

According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, being positive is healthy for everyone.

It reduces your chances of getting sick. Plus, it protects against diseases like diabetes and hypertension.

The institution also notes the importance of emotional vitality. This includes having the feeling of enthusiasm and being hopeful.

Together, these help us cope with stresses in life. Additionally, it provides us with emotional balance.

Harvard professor Shawn Achor, an expert in positive psychology, says it is vital. He notes that 75% of predicting one’s success at work relies on optimistic behavior. That is, the ability to see challenges as a way to improve. And, having a positive support system.

Yoga helps foster the 4 important attributes. All 4 are essential for a happier, healthier life.

  1. Emotional vitality or that sense of enthusiasm
  2. Optimism
  3. Social support
  4. Self-regulation ability

Here’s some proof.

Researchers collected data from 312 participants during a week-long free yoga camp. Analysis of the data showed that integrative yoga practices have many positive effects.

Pranayama (breathing), asana (postures) and relaxation improved positive emotions. And, they reduced the negative ones. This allowed participants to feel better.

6. Practicing Yoga Reduces Hostility, Anger, and Violent Tendencies

We all get angry at some point or another.

Sometimes we hold grudges or feel hostility towards others.

Studies have found that those who practice yoga are able to reduce that level of anger and hostility.

The practice also improves anyone’s violent personality.

Yoga helps us stay calm even in stressful or hostile situations. It does this through its relaxation and meditation practice.

Plus, it improves overall self-control as well. This lets you keep your temper in check when anger creeps up.

Researchers learned that yoga helps students reduce their violent personality traits. It also improves their balanced personality trait.

Additionally, yoga reduces verbal aggressiveness. This is when you attack a person instead of their position or argument. Some examples of verbal aggressiveness include bullying and criticism.

A study shows that 8 weeks of integrative yoga helped cut down verbal aggression.

7. Yoga Helps Keep You Calm

Yoga helps calm and relax us.

It does this through meditation, breathing and poses.

During yoga, you concentrate on the here and now. This lets you shift your mind away from your stresses, anxieties, and fears.

The shift helps slow your breathing and heart rate. Also, it lowers blood pressure and increases blood circulation.

An experiment done at the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons proves this. They found that yogic breathing helps shift one’s balance from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system.

This helps relieve stress.

The reason is that our sympathetic nervous is related to our stress and anxieties. Our parasympathetic nervous system meanwhile, is what calms our stress response systems.

Boston University study also notes that yoga increases our brain’s GABA levels. This results in a calming effect that helps improve our mood.

For their experiment, they compared yoga and reading. This allowed them to see which activity affected GABA levels more.

Surprisingly, reading for 1 hour didn’t have any effects on GABA. But, a similar 1 hour yoga session increased GABA levels by 27%.

8. Yoga Practitioners are Happier

Want to cheer yourself up?

Skip the fridge.

Try yoga instead.

Yoga improves our mood and upping our GABA levels. Plus, it has other positive effects on our brain as well.

  • It affects the area of the brain that’s associated with having a more positive outlook.
  • Yoga lowers your cortisol levels. This is the hormone that heightens our stress response.
  • Practicing yoga increases your body’s serotonin levels. Serotonin is often called the “happy hormone”. This is because it aids mood regulation and prevents depression.

Do note that these effects are only temporary if you only do one session here and there.

But, for long-term practitioners it’s different. There’s proof from their brain scans.

Scans reveal that yoga effected changes in their brain structure. It did so helping them be more resilient to stress. And it gives them a happier outlook on life.

Research also shows that those who did yoga meditation were happier. They were more satisfied with themselves compared to those who didn’t do yoga or meditation.

The University of Maryland School of Nursing confirmed this in a large survey. It found that 86.5% of those who did yoga agreed that it improved their level of happiness.

It helped them stay healthier and sleep better. Yoga also improved their social relationships and weight maintenance.

9. Yoga Helps Give You Inner Peace (Peace of Mind)

Yoga helps us gain inner peace and calmness. It does this by unifying our body, mind, and spirit.

In doing so, it reduces our emotional and psychological stresses and anxieties. These include fear, anger, regret, frustration, and desire.

Researchers found that yoga’s therapeutic effects cover a wide range of conditions. It affects many aspects of living that help improve our well-being and quality of life.

In short, yoga helps us physically and mentally. Plus, it lets us achieve inner peace.

One of the best things about it is that you can practice anywhere.

You can do yoga at home, while traveling or the park.

10. Yoga Improves Emotional Resilience

What do Navy SEALs know about being successful?

It’s all about being resilient.

These specially trained individuals are always ready to handle physical and mental challenges.

Resilience or having “grit” is the best predictor of success. This is according to University of Pennsylvania researcher Angela Lee Duckworth.

It gives you the ability to see things through, even in tough times. This way you’re ready for the long haul.

Duckworth observed this by analyzing West Point Military Academy students. She learned that grit was a better predictor of success. It was better than SAT scores, class rank, leadership ability and physical aptitude.

Yoga also helps develop our level of resilience. It does so by fostering tolerance to stress and emotional well-being.

A study by the Dru Education Centre in the U.K. confirms this.

Participants in the yoga group saw improved mood profiles and positive psychological attitudes. Yoga allowed them to cope better with work stress. And, they did so with more composure, confidence, and a clearer mind.

The good news is, anyone can use yoga to be more resilient to stress. This is true for when you’re at work, or at home.

It helps you cope with relationship stress as well. These include dealing with your boss or in family life.

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Welcome! It’s Safe To Land Here

I recently had the opportunity to share Restorative Yoga with Mindful Magazine’s Senior Editor, Kelle Walsh.

After our session we sat down to talk about — the healing conditions that we cultivate for our body, mind and spirit – when we allow our bodies to be held, completely, by the support that is underneath our body and allow our breath to flow freely through us.

This meeting turned into a featured article in this month’s Issue of Mindful Magazine. Here is just a short teaser of a deep and beautiful exploration of the practice that Kelle shares from her own experience.

The Magazine is available on newsstands all this month, and visit to practice a free soft belly breathing meditation with me.

Read more

Humans are Wired for Meditation & Compassion

by Dr. Sid Jordan

When we meditate we approach the true nature of what it means to be human.  Our true nature is to become one with our most compassionate Self.  Meditation is a science of intuition that leads the ego to compassionate expressions that serve the common welfare.

Read more

Want to Relax? Try Yoga

Stress is ever present. Fortunately, we’ve got yoga, which is proven to help reduce stress and the health effects it causes. The best part? You don’t need any prior experience to benefit from the practice. Whether you are at home, work or somewhere in between, yoga is always here to help you relax. We’ll show you how to get started.

A 5-Minute Relaxing Yoga Practice

This short sequence works the body and rests the mind in just five minutes.



You don’t need anything but yourself. If you have a yoga mat, that’s great but not necessary. A towel works, too, or you can just sit on the floor. Find a comfortable spot where you can be alone and uninterrupted for only five minutes. Depending on how your body feels, you may want to use a yoga block, blanket or meditation cushion to place underneath your body to support your body in a comfortable seated position.

You can also take this same yoga and mindfulness practice outside for a change of scenery and influx of nature. Experiencing the vibrant colors, sounds and feel of the outdoors during your yoga practice can provide a positive energy boost.


Let’s start with your breath. This is a great way to slow down, become present in the moment and connect with yourself:

  1. While sitting, allow your shoulders to relax.
  2. Extend your tailbone down and contract your stomach, which will help to straighten your back and lengthen your back from the top of your head.
  3. Inhale for six seconds while pushing your stomach away from your body.
  4. Exhale, allowing your stomach to come back to your body.

Do this four times (or more if time permits).


As you go into each yoga posture think about your own self-care, self-respect and a curiosity toward yourself and your moment-to-moment experience. This will put you in the right mindspace for the exercises.

1. Easy Pose (Sukhasana). Begin in a comfortable seated position, legs crossed. Relax your feet and allow your pelvis to be in a neutral position. Think about how you are breathing. Feel the sensations in your body. Sit for a minute and feel the sensations that come with being unrushed, still and internally aware.

2. Neck Roll: Allow your head to fall toward your chest and slowly move your head around in a full circle to the right three times and then to the left three times. Invite the feeling of letting go. Return to the easy pose and lift the crown of your head up.

3. Shoulder Roll: Roll your shoulders in forward circular motions four times and then backwards four times. When you are finished inhale, bringing your hands over head and exhale, placing your hands together at chest level.

4. Tabletop Position (Bharmanasana):Slowly move onto your hands and knees, placing your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Your palms should be on the floor, fingers facing forward with your weight evenly distributed on your palms. Center your head in a neutral position and soften your gaze downward.

5. Cow Pose (Bitilasana): Inhale as you drop your belly toward the mat. Lift your chin and chest and look up toward the ceiling. Pull your shoulders  away from your ears.

6. Cat Pose (Marjaryasana): Exhale and pull your stomach toward your spine and round your back toward the ceiling. Gently release the top of your head toward the floor.

7. Repeat Cat-Cow five to 10 times in an unrushed and peaceful rhythm.

8. Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana): Tuck your toes under your feet, press your palms into the floor and lift your hips up, extending your tailbone toward the ceiling. Push your heels back and slightly down toward the mat. They do not have to touch the ground. Allow your head to drop so that your neck is long. Stay here for a few deep breaths.

9. Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana): Slowly move your hands to your feet, and release the muscles in the neck and shoulders. Also release the weight of your head and allow your legs to be straight.

10. Cross your forearms. Place your right hand in front of your left upper arm and weave your left arm behind your right upper arm. Press your heels into the floor and extend your tailbone up to the ceiling. Shake your head back and forth to release your neck. Stay here for at least three breaths before releasing the arms from the crossed position.

11. Mountain Pose (Tadasana): Bend your knees, pull your stomach toward your back and roll your body up.

12. Upward Salute (Urdhva Hastasana): Extend your tailbone down. Inhale here and place your hands together at chest level.

13. Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana): Slowly move your hands to your feet, and release the muscles in the neck and shoulders. Also release the weight of your head and allow your legs to be straight.

14. An additional option is to bend the knees slightly to place one palm flat on the floor or onto a block or anywhere on your leg other than your knee and raise the opposite hand over the head. Try to align the shoulders, slightly twist and look up following the length of the extended arm. Do this on both sides.

15. Child’s Pose (Balasana): Softly come to your knees in a kneeling position. Extend your hands forward in front of you. Allow your torso to relax down and back onto your thighs. Allow space between your knees  and the toes to touch. If possible, allow the buttocks to touch the  heels of your feet.

Breathing Exercises

We do it mindlessly, over and over, but with a little thought, the process of breathing can be transformative.



The key components of yoga include postures, meditation, relaxation, and breathing exercises. These features of yoga are not exclusive and do complement each other, but the one that transcends most profoundly is breath. Breath is often thought of as the guide in all areas of yoga. Yoga helps bring more awareness to the breath which has both physical and psychological benefits. When we are stressed, we often will hold or shorten our breathing or breathe in a short, stilted manner. Being able to continue to inhale and exhale calmly and deeply throughout life is a tremendous stress reliever.

Throughout yoga class, teachers will remind you to regulate your breath and this is one of the most transferable skills that you can very quickly take off of the mat and into your everyday life.


Below are a few breathing practices that you can do anywhere, anytime, to get back in touch with your breath. Consider these exercises a stress-relieving pause whenever you need it.


  • Sit comfortably with your legs in a comfortable cross-legged position and close your eyes.
  • Inhale from the bottom of your belly, then into your chest and imagine filling up your body with breath all the way up to your throat.
  • Exhale from your throat, chest and belly.
  • Repeat five times.


  • As long as you don’t have any knee problems, sit in kneeling position with your heels underneath your hips. If you have any knee problems, sit comfortably with your legs crossed.
  • Place one hand above your heart and another on your belly (it doesn’t matter which; choose whatever comes naturally).
  • Close your eyes and inhale and exhale to the mantra, or repeated saying, of “let” on the inhale and “go” on the exhale.
  • Repeat at least five times before placing your hands on your thighs and opening your eyes.


  • Begin in a child’s pose with your knees on the ground and your hips on your heels resting on the backs of your feet and your hands outstretched in front of you.
  • Tuck your toes and lift your hips up and back into downward facing dog
  • Inhale into a plank pose (kumbhakasana), or the top of a push-up, with your shoulders over your wrists and a straight line between your shoulders and your heels.
  • Exhale as you lift up and back into downward dog.
  • Repeat five to 10 times inhaling into plank and exhaling into downward facing dog.
  • Rest in child’s pose.


By Ari Isaacman Bevacqua, LaShone Wilson and Lara Atella

Originally posted here 

Breezeway Yoga prepares for the Soul of Creativity Art and Yoga Event!

We have been hard at work preparing to bring the Soul of Creativity Art and Yoga Event to Knoxville! What does that mean? We visited a few of the local news stations to spread the word, demonstrate some acroyoga, and show off a few of the incredible pieces the artists will be selling, as well as talk about how this event will benefit East Tennessee Children’s Hospital.

See you November 1st at Breezeway  Yoga Studio!


KSO and Yoga at The Mill & Mine

If you’re looking for a little music to go with your next yoga session, how about considering bringing in the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra to perform a few tunes?

That’s precisely what happened October 4th at Mill and Mine. The orchestra put on a little night music while instructors from multiple yoga studios led movements as part of KSO UnStaged: Flow.

Organizers said the event was a great way to merge the yoga and orchestra communities.

“It’s a big part of how I teach, but to have it live just takes it to the next level, and makes it an experience that you really feel in your body,” yoga instructor Jennifer Beyt Coffin from The Glowing Body said.

Other participating yoga studios included Real Hot Yoga and Breezeway Yoga.

Originally appeared on

Things your Breezeway Massage Therapist Wants You To Know

Stay in communication with us

  • Please tell us if a technique hurts. If there is extreme muscle tension,  you might experience some pain, so just let us know!
  • Not every client likes every technique or style of work, so please let us know if you do not enjoy part of your massage.
  • Bathroom breaks can happen! If you need to take a moment for any reason, we are more than happy to accommodate. 


We are not here to judge your body.

  • We are focusing on the deeper structures: fascia and muscle tissue, and not thinking about cellulite, stretch marks, or any other items you might be concerned about.
  • Your Massage Therapist is the last person you should shave your legs for. 


Sometimes we will make recommendations for your health.

  • These suggestions are based on what you have told us about your lifestyle and pain, as well as what we noticed during your massage.
  • We might recommend some stretches or even a specific yoga class to further help with any issues.
  • If you can honor these recommendations it will likely extend that wonderful post massage feeling!


Please arrive before or as close to your start time as possible.

  • We often have another massage booked right after yours, so starting late can affect more than just the Massage Therapist’s schedule.
  • We want you to be able to receive your full massage.


You can wear what you are comfortable in.

  • Some people choose to leave their undergarments on and others choose to fully undress for their massage.
  • We are trained in draping techniques to make sure you are comfortably covered during your massage.
  • For some modalities like Ashiatsu, it is easier for the Massage Therapist if you fully undress, but remember to only undress to your comfort level.
  • There are other modalities, like Sports Massage, where your Massage Therapist might ask you to bring athletic clothes.


Feel free to ask us questions.

  • During your massage, you might wonder “Why would that spot hurt” or “Could that be why I’ve been getting headaches”. If you’d like more information, just ask!
  • Keep in mind we are not doctors so we cannot diagnose but we do have knowledge of the human body that can help assess what might be going on.


What to expect after your massage…

  • You might experience some dehydration, so make sure to drink plenty of water after your massage.
  • You may feel sore for a couple of days but if you feel sore for more than 3-4 days please let your Massage Therapist know and we will make some alterations for your next massage.



How Toning the Vagus Nerve Heals Pain

This article was originally published here.

A few simple practices that everyone can do, could be the secret to relieving pain and inflammation. In her article Hacking the Nervous System, Gaia Vince, science journalist and editor of New Scientist, describes how a woman suffering from debilitating rheumatoid arthritis was successfully treated with a device that stimulated the vagus nerve. No pills, no morphine, no side-effects; just stimulating a nerve. Not only that, Gaia goes on to explain that by stimulating the vagus nerve we can find relief from inflammation, depression, anxiety, high blood pressure and other ailments, and we don’t necessarily require a device to do so.

The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in the body. It starts at the base of the brain and runs through the whole torso, through the neck via the vocal cords, then passes around the digestive system, liver, spleen, pancreas, heart and lungs. It is an integral nerve in the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for our rest and digest capacities, a calming and soothing force in our bodies. As opposed to the sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for our ‘fight or flight’ responses.

The tone of the vagus nerve is important to our health and is key to how well our bodies adapt to stress and recover equilibrium after a stressful event. High vagal tone improves the functioning of many of the body’s systems. It reduces the risk of strokes and heart attacks and regulates blood sugar levels. It’s also associated with feeling calmer and more contented. Low vagal tone, however, is linked to cardiovascular diseases, strokes, diabetes, depression, chronic fatigue and other auto-immune disorders, and much higher rates of all inflammatory conditions including endometriosis, Crohn’s, lupus etc.

Stimulating the vagus nerveNo pills, no morphine, no side-effects, just stimulating a nerve.

Restoring the Body’s Natural Balance

Kevin Tracey, a neurosurgeon based in New York, was the first in the West to discover the link between the vagus nerve, inflammation and overall health. In the late 1990s, while experimenting on a rat, Tracey was surprised to find that when an anti-inflammatory drug was present in the brain, it also blocked inflammation in the rest of the body, even though the amount injected was far too small to have got into the bloodstream and been transferred. He finally realised that the brain was using the vagus nerve to switch off inflammation everywhere.

Prior to Tracey’s discovery, communication between the immune system’s specialist cells in our organs and bloodstream and the electrical connections of the nervous system had been considered impossible. However, Tracey’s experiments proved that the two systems were intricately linked. After over a decade of experimentation, Tracey became convinced that by stimulating the vagus nerve he could block inflammation in the body. In 2011, Tracey, in collaboration with Paul-Peter Tak, professor of rheumatology at the University of Amsterdam, conducted a breakthrough experiment where they stimulated the vagus nerve in rheumatoid arthritis patients by implanting an electronic device, similar to a pace maker.

Patients on the trial showed significant improvement and around one-third are in remission–off medication and effectively cured. Measures of inflammation in their blood also went down, and even those who had not experienced clinically significant improvements insisted it helped them; nobody wanted it removed. When the vagal stimulation was discontinued, the symptoms flared up again. When it was restarted, the system normalised. Tak says that vagal nerve stimulation appears to restore the body’s natural balance. It reduces the over-production of inflammatory proteins that cause chronic inflammation but does not affect healthy immune function. A win for everyone.

Body’s natural balanceVagal nerve stimulation appears to restore the body’s natural balance.

However, the technology for vagal stimulation develops, the Western medical world’s understanding of how the body manages disease has changed forever. Tak says:

It’s become increasingly clear that we can’t see organ systems in isolation, like we did in the past. It’s very clear that the human is one entity: mind and body are one… We didn’t have the science to agree with what may seem intuitive. Now we have new data and new insights.

At last, science is catching up with what yogis and other mystic and healing traditions around the world have known for thousands of years.

Vagal Tone and Meditation

In 2010, Barbara Fredrickson and Bethany Kok, psychologists at the University of North Carolina, conducted an experiment to see if the relationship between vagal tone and well-being could be harnessed without the need for implants. Volunteers had to record the strength of emotions they felt every day and their vagal tone was measured at the beginning of the experiment and at the end, nine weeks later. Half of the participants were taught a meditation technique to promote feelings of goodwill towards themselves and others. Those who meditated showed a significant rise in vagal tone, which was associated with reported increases in positive emotions. Kok explains:

That was the first experimental evidence that if you increased positive emotions and that led to increased social closeness, then vagal tone changed.

Pranayama Study

Similarly, in 2010 at Nepal Medical College, Kathmandu, researchers Pramanik, Pudasaini and Prajapati, demonstrated the immediate beneficial effect of Humming breath (Bhramari pranayama) on blood pressure and heart rate, both linked to the functioning of the vagus nerve. The study proved that the breathing technique, even when done for only five minutes, stimulated the vagus nerve, activating the parasympathetic system which calmed the heart rate and lowered blood pressure.

Healing traditionsScience is catching up with what healing traditions have known for thousands of years.

The study was carried out to evaluate the immediate effect of Bhramari pranayama by recording the heart rate and blood pressure of volunteers before and after 5 minutes of this slow breathing exercise. The subject was directed to inhale slowly, up to the maximum of about 5 seconds, and then to exhale slowly, up to the maximum of about 15 seconds, while keeping each thumb on each external auditory canal, index and middle finger together on two closed eyes, and ring finger on the two sides of the nose.

During exhalation, the subject must chant the word “O-U-Mmmma” with a humming nasal sound mimicking the sound of a humming wasp, so that the laryngeal walls and the inner walls of the nostril mildly vibrate (Bhramari pranayama, respiratory rate 3/minute). After 5 minutes of this exercise, the blood pressure and heart rate were recorded again. Both the systolic and diastolic blood pressure were found to be decreased, with a slight fall in heart rate. Fall of diastolic pressure and mean pressure were significant. The result indicated that slow pace Bhramari pranayama, done for 5 minutes, stimulated the vagus nerve, activating the parasympathetic system, which calmed the heart rate and lowered blood pressure.

We can use this knowledge to boost our own health and reduce levels of inflammation by toning our vagus nerves with simple daily practices. In Yogic traditions, the vagus nerve is sometimes linked with the kundalini serpent, as it reaches all the way from the colon to the brain with upward pulsing neurons. As such, a number of yoga techniques can be effective in strengthening this vital nerve.

Yoga techniquesTechniques include breathing practices, chanting and loving kindness meditation.

Vagal Toning Techniques

Simple ways to boost your vagal tone and reduce inflammation are:

  1. Humming breathing (Bhramari pranayama)–the easiest way to do this is simply to breathe in through your nostrils then hum as you exhale slowly. There are many variations but this is a good way to start.
  2. Ujjayi breathing–breathing with the glottis partially closed, as this also stimulates the vocal cords which are intrinsically related to the vagus nerve.
  3. Alternate nostril breathing (Nadi Shodhan Pranayama)
  4. Chanting
  5. Singing
  6. Talking–anything that stimulates your vocal cords is going to help.
  7. Loving kindness-meditation
  8. Washing your face with icy water–cold water on your face stimulates the vagus nerve–remember this next time you’re feeling really stressed out.

There is a reason why we groan when we’re in pain, why birthing women moan deeply, instinctively we’re activating our vagus nerves by stimulating the vocal cords. Regular practice of the techniques mentioned above will raise your vagal tone, boosting your immune system, reducing any inflammation and contributing to feelings of well-being and contentment. No pills necessary!