How Yoga "works":
Dr. Don Glassey's take on Why Yoga Works
Mind / Body Information:
link to Harvard University's Mind-Body Medical Institute
Yoga and HIV:
Tension inhibits the flow of blood, lymph and life energy in the body. Tension also prevents toxins from being flushed out, and diminishes the circulation of electromagnetic energy. Numbness, coolness and stagnation set in, feeling is reduced, and the biological and electrical resources needed for health decrease. Diminishing the feeling and experience of life within the body, or in specific parts of the body, in effect separates mind and body.
Relaxation, the counterbalance to tension, is an essential component of yoga. Asanas require firm holding and attention to specific areas of the body, and relaxation and attention to the rest of the body, along with deep breathing practices. Everyone breathes, but rarely are the breaths full and unrestricted. This is particularly the case when a person is stressed. It is a truism that breath is life, yet most people do not experience a full life because their breath is restricted.
Yoga's contemplative approach (unlike aerobic exercise, which raises the heart rate and blood pressure, and stimulates the adrenal system) activates the relaxation response. It facilitates the currents of blood, lymph and prana which recharge the body's energy reserves and thus evokes feelings of calm and peacefulness. Conscious breathing induces the relaxation response and its ancillary immune-enhancing effects, and the use of relaxation and breathing techniques to reduce stress levels has been shown to mitigate the negative effects of stress on immunity. In addition, the deep breathing, relaxation and concentration which accompany yoga enable detachment; the easily agitated and distracted mind becomes calmer.
Learning to breathe fully also brings more oxygen to the brain and body. Most people breathe into the top third of their lungs. However, the large blood vessels which collect and transport oxygen to the body are located more in the bottom third. Yogic breathing encourages full use of the lungs= capacity. The brain requires three times as much oxygen as the rest of the body and thus an increase in supply of oxygen has a direct effect on the brain: more oxygen to the brain increases alertness and encourages better mental functioning. In addition, increasing oxygen flow to the body's systems encourages them to function more efficiently and effectively.
A third effect of breathing is to connect the body to its battery, the Solar Plexus, where potential energy is stored. The body has two kinds of energy, kinetic energy (produced by movement and expression) and potential energy (matter and mass). When tapped through yogic breathing, potential energy is released, resulting in physical and mental rejuvenation. In addition, concentrating on and consciously regulating the breath allows greater amounts of life energy to be stored in the nerve centres and the brain.
Inactivity is directly associated with much of what is usually considered to be the effects of aging or illness. According to Alice Christensen, in her book Easy Does It Yoga, inactive people spend more weeks bedridden, visit doctors more often, have a lower opinion of their health, and die younger than those who maintain an active lifestyle. Inactivity also contributes to a shallow breathing pattern, which decreases the flow of oxygen to the body and brain, causing sleepiness and sluggishness. From this example, it is clear that it is the yoga practitioner's physically active lifestyle which leads to claims of better health, greater longevity, and increased mental alertness.
It is easy to see how a person with the inactive lifestyle described above would also experience feelings of depression and anxiety, and how yoga acts to counteract that effect of inactivity. The body responds to disuse (and pain) by tightening the muscles around the area that is painful or stiff, and this tension often creeps into the rest of the body. As well as creating unnecessary tension and pain in your body, the creeping of muscle contraction from an affected area into the rest of your body can have an effect on your breathing. When your intercostals (the rib tissues) contract, the rib cage and chest are constricted, making breathing difficult, and as we have seen, shallow breathing has all sorts of negative effects.
The expansion of muscle contraction from an affected area to the rest of your body is caused by an overall contraction of the fascia and muscle. The fascia is the membrane, or sac, that holds your body together. It covers, supports and separates the body's muscles. Due to inactivity, the muscles themselves have become weak, and have lost muscle tone and mass, and the fascia has responded to that loss of tone by tightening up. This contraction is a natural reaction to injury or weakness and is part of the body's healing mechanism, the purpose of which is to impede movement so that healing can occur. In addition, slow and progressive contraction of the fascia is a natural process which begins in young adulthood and can be exacerbated by injury or illness. Fascia can also be stimulated to contract by the nervous system, for example, during activation of the fight-or-flight response or other perceived threats to the body/mind. As a person becomes older, it takes less stimulation to contract the fascia, and once contracted, the fascia will take longer to release.
Yoga can help inhibit and perhaps even reverse this process (whether it is due to injury, illness, or inactivity) by facilitating gentle, non-aggressive stretch and release of the fascia and muscles. It is extremely important to note that the advantage arises from the gentle nature of yoga, and it=s non-doing approach which does not activate the sympathetic nervous system. The stretching helps develop the ability to relax muscles at will. As muscles stretch, they lengthen; this lengthening of the muscles is beneficial because longer muscles are more efficient and less prone to injury. Even if you are currently unable to move a certain part of your body, or its movement is restricted, practicing the yogic breathing and the preparatory steps for an asana can help improve its function. Studies have shown that when you think about moving a part of your body, electrical impulses to that area increase. Continued stimulation of an area with these impulses is a crucial part of regaining its function.
The practice of yoga asanas (or postures) addresses wellness on a whole-body level. Asanas affect the spine, maintaining its flexibility and strength through proper exercise. This in turn increases circulation, ensuring the supply of nutrients and oxygen to the nerves. In addition, asanas work on the internal body, stimulating key pressure points which govern the flow of life energy or prana (also known as qi or chi). The internal organs are also massaged and stimulated by the body's movement into and out of asana, which tones them into functioning more efficiently.
Many of us respond to the normal stresses of life with what could be considered self-destructive behaviour. For example, when I don't get enough sleep, I reach for coffee the next morning to override the tiredness I feel, despite all yogic teachings to the contrary, and even though I know and have experienced coffee=s negative effects, on both a large and small scale. This is self-destructive behaviour. In fact, I need to look at the cause of my sleeplessness, and address that problem, rather than overriding its symptom with stimulants. Grabbing fast food when I'm in a rush is also self-destructive; I would have been better to plan fewer things to do and left the time to eat properly, because the ultimate result of poor eating is ill health. Even in the short term, I will feel consequences of not having eaten properly, such as fatigue.
In contrast, yoga practice can be considered self-constructive1 behaviour, behaviour which is psychologically beneficial and health-promoting, as we have seen above. The way I treat my body sends it a message: enjoyable exercises, yoga postures and restorative relaxation tell the body "All is well". Yoga is a way of communicating with the inner self, counteracting helplessness and weakness, and increasing self-esteem.
Beyond the way we treat ourselves, our bodies also respond to the way we think. Try this exercise: Clench your fists and jaw, and wrinkle your eyebrows. At the same time, think of something you don't like, and repeat firmly in your mind, "I can't stand this!" You will soon begin to have feelings of anger and frustration. Maintain it long enough, as we frequently do, and you will experience physical and chemical changes that are observable in rising blood pressure and a faster heart rate.
When we are afraid or threatened (often experienced as anger), the sympathetic nervous system is activated to release adrenaline, increase muscle tension, raise blood pressure, dilate the pupils, and increase the heartbeat. This is called the fight-or-flight response, characterized by sympathetic nervous system dominance. It is activated whenever threat is perceived (perceived being the key word) by the bodymind.
Being in a prolonged fight-or-flight state leads to what is called psychosomatic illness. It impairs immune system function as well as having many other negative effects. Contrary to popular understanding, psychosomatic illness is not "All in your head". Illness of this nature is as serious as any other. Take, for example, stress-induced heart attacks. They are still heart attacks, clearly no less serious or real than heart attacks from other, so-called physical causes, such as blocked arteries. Psychosomatic illness is simply illness experienced as a result of the effect of psychological distress on the body.
How one reacts to stress has more influence on wellness than the severity of the actual stress event. Positive coping behaviour leads to healthy immune function, while poor coping behaviour does just the opposite. Feelings of helplessness are especially destructive to immunity in times of stress, but as they decrease, the stress response lessens and the immune system flourishes. Through yoga, a practitioner develops and fine tunes a sense of her or his body. She learns that she can move her body safely, and with practice increases her strength, and flexibility. She or he can also experience the deep feelings of well-being that are available during relaxation, which is the integral and essential conclusion to a yoga practice. These combine to develop what is called in the psychological literature an internal locus of control. In lay language, this can be understood as empowerment, a clear antidote to feelings of helplessness.
To the body/mind, threats include not only fear, but also things like worry or stress, time-pressures, and self-judgement. Negative thinking and self-judgement lower self-esteem and immune function, in addition to creating physical tension. The Yogic approach can be thought of as non-doing or non-striving. In a Yoga practice, the instructor facilitates an environment in which respecting one=s self and body is encouraged. Students are instructed to stay within their physical capacity, to listen for their own body cues to move more, or move less. The quiet, tranquil environment of a yoga sadhana encourages slow and mindful movements of the body and breath, increasing the parasympathetic nervous system dominance associated with the experience of pleasant emotions and bodily homeostasis.
Homeostasis is the the dynamic internal balance of the body's functioning. Jon Kabat-Zinn describes it this way: "The body has evolved finely-tuned regulatory mechanisms that are controlled by the brain and mediated by the nervous system and the secretion of hormone messenger molecules into the bloodstream to ensure that the conditions throughout the body that are necessary for the optimal functioning of its cells are maintained". The homeostatic system serves to buffer our body from many outside changes and stabilizes our internal chemistry. It also includes built-in repair mechanisms that allow for the recognition and correction of problems such as broken bones, cuts, and infections.
Once your body has become accustomed to the positive yogic body/mind state, you can induce and experience this state "off the mat" (i.e., outside of your yoga practice). It also facilitates a more easy return to homeostasis following the experience of a body/mind threat such as those mentioned in Part III. In this way, your yoga practice can, in a sense, "vaccinate" you against illness. Prompt and easy return to homeostasis is important because as we have seen, being in a prolonged fight-or-flight state can lead illness.
In summary, the benefits of yoga described in this series of articles include:
enhanced immune function;
increased parasympathetic nervous system dominance;
facilitation and enhancement of the body's return to homeostasis following stressful situations;
promotion of the flow of blood, lymph and prana which recharges the body's energy reserves;
inhibition and perhaps reversal of fascial contraction;
prevention of loss of muscle tone and mass;
increase in oxygen flow to the body's systems, encouraging them to function more efficiently and effectively;
increased circulation, ensuring the supply of nutrients and oxygen to the nerves;
massage and stimulation of internal organ function.
Yoga also reduces the effects of stress and induces feelings of calm and peacefulness; combats depression and anxiety; counteracts helplessness and weakness; increases self-esteem and internalized locus of control (empowerment); stimulates key pressure points which govern the flow of life energy or prana; increases mental alertness and enhances longevity. In general, it has been shown that yoga does indeed facilitate overall mental and physical health and wellness.
Alice Christensen, The American Yoga Association=s Easy Does It Yoga: The safe and gentle way to health and wellness, (Fireside Books, 1999).
Eleanor Criswell, How Yoga Works; An introduction to Somatic Yoga, (Freeperson Press, 1989).
Annalisa Cunningham, Stretch and Surrender: A guide to yoga health and relaxation for people in recovery, (Rudra Press, 1992).
Sam Dworkis, Recovery yoga: A practical guide for chronically ill, injured and postoperative people, (Three Rivers Press, 1997).
Georg Feuerstein and Stephan Bodian (eds.), Living Your Yoga: A comprehensive guide for daily life, (Putnam, 1993).
Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness (The Program of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Centre), (Delta Books, 1990).
Sam McLellan, Integrative Accupressure, (Perigee Books, 1998).
Swami Visnu-devananda, Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga, (Three Rivers Press, 1988).
By Nicholas Mulcahy
In 1996, I was in the hospital, on my deathbed with PCP, 38 Tcells and a 250,000 viral load. My sister handed me a magazine with an article about a local yoga class for people with HIV," says Frank Holliday, a New York City artist. "I decided to go to the class if I survived the hospitalization."
Now attending classes two or three times a week, Holliday has a CD4 count of 500, an undetectable viral load and renewed energy. "My improved health is undoubtedly due mainly to my protease cocktail, but the yoga also played an important role," he says.
"Yoga cleanses and heals the body it doesn't just 'work it,'" continues Holliday, whose most recent show of paintings was a New York Times Critic's Pick. "Yoga addresses both the body and the spirit. I need both to be strong to deal with HIV."
Appropriated from a centuries-old Indian philosophy, yoga is practiced today mainly as a physical regimen composed of hundreds of postures or poses the best known is the cross-legged, seated lotus position to promote relaxation and improve quality of life. Although yoga's utility for PWAs has never been researched as extensively as, say, aerobics, yoga teachers and their students with HIV report a wide range of benefits, from increased physical strength to stress reduction and related emotional and spiritual well being. And nonHIV research has found that yoga can reduce heart rates a sign of physiological restfulness. Yoga and yogic breathing have also been shown to improve lung function.
"You don't need to be flexible or acrobatic to do yoga," says Niranjana Zisa, an HIV positive instructor at New York City's Integral Yoga Institute. "The purpose of yoga is to find a sense of stillness wherever you are in a posture and in life." This stillness is at the center of yoga's healing potential, according to Avra Diamond, an instructor at AIDS Project Los Angeles. "The postures quiet the mind and open up the body. The process relieves tension and allows energy to circulate, releasing the body's natural power to heal and regulate itself."
Zisa of the Yoga Institute gives this specific example: "The liver is one of the organs most stressed by HIV. In the posture known as half spinal twist, the torso is twisted and liver compressed, pushing out blood and toxins. When you release the pose, new blood goes in and organ tissue is effectively toned."
Yoga's ability to release toxins also raises a red flag for people with HIV, says Jason Heyman, who has taught yoga to PWAs for three years in San Francisco. "Beginners sometimes get sick before seeing the health benefits of yoga because toxins are released as the body is opened up." Heyman recommends gentle yoga classes for beginners and encourages HIV specific group classes. "One of the foundations for a successful yoga practice is having a sangha, or a spiritual community of fellow practitioners."
Heyman says that a substantial portion of his classes is devoted to meditation. "The physical benefits of yoga are great, but the emotional and spiritual benefits are outstanding. In fact, yoga was created so that yogis could meditate more comfortably and transcend the difficulties of the body."
Enzo Lombard, a San Francisco freelance writer, emphatically agrees. After six months of daily practice, along with a macrobiotic diet (but no other change in treatment), Lombard saw his CD4 count jump from the low 200s to 400 and his viral load decrease from 200,000 to 100,000. Yet he is even more impressed with the subjective changes: "Since I began taking yoga seriously, I've had a dramatic improvement in my emotional stability, even more remarkable than the improvement in my lab results. I feel a powerful calm for the first time in my adult life. It's great."
The video Living With AIDS Through Yoga and Meditation is available from Kripa West, 388 Point McKay Gardens NW, Calgary, Alberta, Canada T3B 4V8 (phone: 403.270.9671).
The book Yoga: Moving Into Stillness by Erich Schiffman (Pocket Books/ New York) is also a good introduction.
Alive and Well: A Path for Living With HIV by Peter Hendrickson (Irvington Publishers/North Stratford, New Hampshire) has an excellent section on yoga.
The National Yoga Teachers' Directory appears annually in the July/August edition of Yoga Journal (510.841.9200).
The web site of the Yoga Group, a Colorado based PWA organization includes yoga information and listings of classes in 17 cities.
Table of Contents
By Maggie Spilner
When I hit my 40s, I began to understand why my parents didn't want to get down on the floor with me when I was a kid. Although I exercised regularly, my lower back ached. My shoulders and neck were so stiff that it hurt when I'd turn to look out the rear window of my car. Around that time I happened to pick up a book showing people who were older than me — 20, 30, even 40 years older — who were far more flexible! Their secret? Yoga. I had to try it.
Here are the benefits I found:
Eased back, joint and muscle pain
Heightened body awareness
My first move: I signed up for a women-only class through a local gym. There were about six of us, ranging in age from 25 to 50. We started with simple, gentle poses. Following the instructor's lead, I exhaled as I bent forward. It was OK if I couldn't touch my toes. I went only as far as was comfortable for me.
How it felt: As I practiced in class and at home, I felt tremendous physical pleasure. Lunging with my arms outstretched, my legs felt strong. Energy shot from my shoulders out through my fingertips. Areas in my body that were tight became relaxed, and those that were weak became strong.
What I learned: My greatest breakthrough was learning to concentrate. When I took the time to slow down and immerse myself in what I was doing, I felt my muscles and ligaments stretching, little by little. As I bent, breathing deeply, my arms folded around my head, I felt the muscles in the back of my thighs release as I slowly dropped closer to the floor.
What it's done for me: Today, at age 46, I consider yoga a necessity. When I get out of bed, I do some stretches. This eliminates back discomfort or pain. When I'm working in the kitchen, I'll use the countertop to stretch my whole body from my fingers to my toes. At work, I do gentle neck stretches to relieve the stiffness and pain that develop from working at a computer all day. I hope someday to get myself as flexible as the 70-year-olds I've seen who lie on the floor and bring their toes to their nose!
Taking the first stretch
Contact local colleges, hospitals, YMCA/YWCAs, health clubs and yoga studios for classes. There are many different types of classes. Some concentrate more on stress reduction, others on building power and strength or maintaining flexibility, so observe classes before you sign up.
Working with an experienced teacher is the best way to avoid injury and maximize yoga's benefits. There are many ways to move your body that may look right to an amateur. A teacher can gently correct your positions, so you can feel "from inside" what it's like to get it right.
Equipment: loose-fitting, nonrestrictive clothing and bare feet. Classes usually provide mats and other necessary equipment.
by Dr. Don Glassey from http://www.ofspirit.com/donglassey4.htm
The word yoga means to "yoke" or "unify", to bring together so as to
identify one's awareness with the one Consciousness commonly referred to as
God. Yoga procedures include specific practices designed to remove
limitations that cloud awareness from the direct experience of God or
Samadhi. There are a variety of systems of yoga procedures used for this
purpose, and practices vary according to the psychological make-up and
capabilities of the practitioner. However, when done correctly, the
practices and procedures of yoga are scientific, that is the results are
predictable and repeatable. Yoga signifies union with God through the
practice of specific, scientific spiritual disciplines.
While the overall goal of yoga practices is to facilitate and awaken
spiritual awareness, there are also many documented physical benefits. These
include improved functioning of all bodily systems, and in particular the
immune system is strengthened. Other benefits include the slowing of the
biological aging process as well as an overall reduction of stress
indicators. Clearer thinking processes, improved intellectual skills,
enhanced creativity, and an overall increased appreciation for living are
also some of the many benefits of yoga practice.
Of all the yogic systems, Hatha Yoga is the best known and widely practiced
in the Western world. This presentation will address certain aspects of it's
most widely utilized procedures; asanas (postures), pranayamus (breathing
techniques), and meditation (concentration methods).
It is well known that Hatha Yoga practices place great emphasis on the
spine. The great Indian Master, Paramahansa Yogananda, author of the classic
Yogic text, Autobiography of a Yogi, asserted that the brain and spine
(spinal cord) are the altars of God. He also stated that we worship God in
the temple of the spine. The question then arises as to why the brain and
spine are of such paramount importance to the overall purpose of yoga
practices. That is to say, what is the physiological basis of this focus of
attention in terms of the ultimate goal, and the above-mentioned physical
benefits of yoga. The answer lies in the flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF)
around and within the brain and spine, and in neuropeptides, whose greatest
concentration is in the CSF.
Cerebrospinal fluid is a clear, colorless body fluid similar in chemical
composition to blood plasma and seawater. It flows primarily within and
around the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), supplying it with
nutrients and eliminating waste products. It also physically protects the
brain and spinal cord, serves as a medium for the flow of energy and
information, and is the most conductive fluid in the body.
Neuropeptides (nerve-proteins) are informational substances that are
produced mostly in the brain, and are found primarily in the cerebrospinal
fluid, and secondarily in the blood. They are called "messenger" molecules,
(molecules are the smallest entity that retain the characteristics of a
substance) because they distribute information throughout the body, and
coordinate practically all life processes on a cellular level.
All the systems of the body (digestion, respiration, elimination etc.) are
made up of glands (adrenal, mammary etc.), and organs (heart, liver, lungs,
etc.). Glands and organs are comprised of tissues, (fat, bone, muscle etc.),
and tissues are composed of cells. Cells, therefore, are the fundamental
functional (physiological) and structural (anatomical) parts of the human
body as well as all other living organisms.
At the same time neuropeptides not only coordinate almost all body functions
on a physical level, but also on an emotional level. These powerful
biochemicals are concentrated in the limbic system, the seat of the
emotions, and play an important role in governing our emotions as well.
Neuropeptides are one category of essential body chemicals called "ligands
(from the Latin word ligare, "that which binds"). Ligands are natural or
man-made substances that bind selectively to a specific receptor site on the
surface of a cell. For example, if the cell were a golf ball, the tiny
depressions on the surface would be receptor sites. However, unlike the
number of dimples on a golf ball, each human cell has hundreds of thousands
of receptor sites for neuropeptides, and nerve cells have millions!
It is the function of ligands to transmit a message to the cell that
coordinate body functions such as metabolism, (digestion and elimination),
and respiration on a cellular level. These cellular processes in turn bring
about dramatic functional changes in tissues, glands, organs, and entire
The life of the cell, and hence in a large part the life of the individual,
is determined by the actions of neuropeptides, of which scientists have
discovered almost one hundred circulating within the body. Almost
all-physical activity, behavior, even our emotions are defined by
microscopic physiological (functional) changes on a cellular level involving
neuropeptides. These physiological changes result in changes in our mental
emotional state in a cyclical process, where changes in our mental-emotional
state also produce changes in our physiological state.
Candace Pert, Ph.D., an eminent, world-renowned neuroscientist, calls
neuropeptides the "molecules of emotion". In Dr. Pert's ground breaking book
by the same title, she uses the analogy of the cell as an engine that drives
all life processes, where the receptor sites are the buttons on the control
panel, and the neuropeptide is the finger that pushes the button and starts
everything. Dr. Pert feels the standard scientific key fitting into a lock
analogy, (where the neuropeptide is the key and the receptor site the lock),
is too static an image for this dynamic process. She uses the description of
two voices, ligand and receptor site, hitting the same note, and resulting
in a resonance that rings the doorbell of the cell to open it.
An example of the interplay between ligands and receptor sites would be
"endorphins", which are neuropeptides in the opiate group. Endorphins are
natural body chemicals produced in the brain in response to pain. They are a
"pain-relieving" neuropeptide that raises the threshold of the mind-body to
pain. A mentally or emotionally stressful condition may prevent endorphins
from reaching their opiate receptor sites on the cells to relieve pain.
Under these conditions a man-made substance, such as heroin or morphine, can
also function as a ligand, and bind with the opiate receptor site and
The circulation of cerebrospinal fluid is of paramount importance because it
contains the greatest concentration of the "messenger molecules"
(neuropeptides) as they circulate throughout the body. The largest volume of
cerebrospinal fluid in the body is found within a space between the layers
of the meninges, a very thin, saran wrap-like, multi-layered covering of the
brain and spinal cord. And there is also recent scientific research that
suggests CSF also may flow outside the brain and spinal cord in the
peripheral nervous system, and within a micro-circulatory system in the
neuroglial connective tissue of the body. Connective tissue is aptly named
because it "connects" and supports literally everything in the body.
It is proposed that neuropeptides, circulating in the cerebrospinal fluid,
reach their cellular destinations via the central and peripheral nervous
system vis a vis CSF filled connective tissue tubules within the nervous
system called neuroglial cells.
"Glial" is from the Greek word meaning glue, which is a misnomer, as glial
cells (the largest number of cells in the brain) are much more than a
supporting structure for the nervous system. They also serve a nutrient
function, and physiologists claim they form a communication network of their
own, which could serve as a transportation system for the all-important
Although some neuropeptides also circulate in the blood, the cerebrospinal
fluid is the major medium utilized by the "messenger molecules".
Neuropeptides can travel the nervous system thousands of miles over the
glial cell/CSF network to bring about dramatic changes in the mind-body on a
cellular level. Consequently, as the major pathway of neuropeptides, the
unimpeded flow of cerebrospinal fluid is of paramount importance to the
optimal functioning of the mind-body.
Another aspect of CSF circulation and the aforementioned beneficial effects
of yoga, involves substances called electrolytes. Electrolytes are
substances that conduct electricity when in a solution, and the CSF contains
two such substances, sodium and potassium. These electrolytes in the CSF
maintain an electrical balance that controls the functioning of the nervous
system, which works by the principle of electricity. The nervous system
regulates and coordinates all the body's systems. Therefore, the optimum
functioning of all body parts is directly related to the proper balance and
circulation of the aforementioned electrolytes in the CSF.
The Hatha yoga system was conceived by the ancient rishis of India to
benefit the mind, body and Spirit of the practitioner. It is our theory that
Hatha Yoga practices assist the mind-body through the positive impact they
have on the circulation of cerebrospinal fluid. It is suggested that the way
yoga works is directly related to CSF circulation, and the role
neuropeptides play as the notes that orchestrate the symphony of all
Asanas (physical postures) help to tone and strengthen the spinal
musculature, enhance the flexibility of the spine, and improve overall
spinal alignment. The body movements associated with the various postures
benefit the spine and enhance the circulation of the largest volume of CSF
within the cranial and spinal bones. CSF circulation within connective
tissue such as muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones would also be augmented
as the yoga practitioner performs isotonic and isometric types of asana
stretches involving the arms, legs and torso.
Pranayamas (breathing techniques) are procedures used to enhance the flow
and circulation of "prana" in the body, usually through regulation of the
breathing pattern or rhythm. "Prana", or life force, is said to enter the
body through food, sunlight and breath. It energizes and vitalizes the vital
fluids in the body called "ojas", which include the blood, lymph,
extracellular, sexual and cerebrospinal fluid.
Cerebrospinal fluid is circulated around the brain and spinal cord by two
pumping mechanisms at the top (cranium) and the bottom (sacrum) of the
spinal column. The diaphragmatic breathing practiced in pranayamas activates
the CSF sacral pump at the bottom of the spine. This occurs as dome shaped
diaphragm muscle contracts down on the sacrum on inspiration (breathing in)
pumping cerebrospinal fluid up around the spinal cord into the brain. As the
practitioner concentrates on breathing diaphragmatically, it evokes a
succession of contractions and relaxations of this powerful muscle pumping
CSF through the rhythmic movement of the sacrum, the foundation of the
This flexion and extension (forward and backward movement) of the sacrum
also effects all the spinal bones above it. The connecting joints between
each spinal bone or vertebrae, (aptly called "articular pillars" because
they look like pistons), move in an up and down motion in coordination with
the diaphragmatic contractions and relaxations. Thus, as the sacrum pumps,
the action of the piston-like joints between each vertebrae also pump
cerebrospinal fluid up into the cranium.
Other types of pranayamas such as alternate nostril breathing and Kriyas
(advanced pranayamas) effect the other CSF pumping mechanism within the
cranium itself. In alternate nostril breathing as the practitioner inhales
and exhales, the diaphragm muscle pumps CSF via the sacrum. Also as the
nasal passages fill up with air the spheo-basilar cranial bones behind the
nose (the cranial pump) are activated, and oscillate in a rhythmic motion.
This movement propels the CSF down the spine through the hollow vertical
tube of the central canal of the spinal cord within the spinal column.
Kriya pranayamas effect both the sacral pumping mechanism and the to and fro
oscillations of the spheno-basilar bones. Kriya breath stimulates the
spheno-basilar bones to vibrate propelling CSF down the spine, and also
activate the sacral pumping mechanism. Thus, because Kriya pranayama effects
both the cranial and sacral pumps, it is a particularly powerful technique
in enhancing circulation of CSF around and within the brain and spinal cord.
Another aspect of pranayamas that facilitates CSF circulation occurs as the
practitioner gently holds their breath for brief interludes, or breathes in
a circular pattern up and down the spine (shushuma breath). Temporarily
holding the breath or doing shushuma breath increases pressure within the
chest cavity as the lungs fill up with air. This enlarged air volume in the
chest area, caused by the expanded lungs, exerts a slight pressure on the
CSF flowing around the spinal cord and thereby facilitates circulation.
Temporarily holding the breath, or doing shushuma breath also causes
neuropeptides to quickly release in to the CSF from the respiratory centers
at the base of the brain.
In the ancient Indian text of the Yoga Sutras 1:2, Patanjali explains; "Yoga
is the regulation and cessation of fluctuations and changes which are
ordinarily expressive in the conditioned field of consciousness." The
purpose of meditation (concentration methods) is to still thought processes
by calming the mind. This enables the meditator to experience pure
consciousness without the interruption of the waves of mental activity and
thought. As the meditator assumes a relaxed body posture with the spine
erect, the flow of CSF up and down the spine is enhanced. Then by focusing
one's attention between and above the eyebrows, CSF is encouraged to move up
into the area of the optic cistern, a reservoir of CSF in the same
anatomical area as the "third eye" center.
Meditative techniques such as "mantras", and "kirtan" (chanting) are also
utilized to help the practitioner experience pure awareness without the
interruption of thoughts or feelings. A "mantra" is a word, sound or
word-phrase, which the meditator concentrates upon to keep attention from
being involved with the external physical environment, physical feelings,
moods, or thought processes. "Mantras" are mentally repeated and/or
"listened to" in reiterated cadence, usually in coordination with, and
simulating the audible sound of the in-going and out-going breath. As the
"mantra" is coordinated with the in and out going breath, the practitioner's
attention is focused on the cerebrospinal fluid going up and down the spine.
Chanting involves repeating aloud, over and over again, a certain specific
series of Sanscrit or English words about some aspect of God. The chants are
short, reiterated affirmations that reinforce the purpose of meditation,
which is to experience pure consciousness or God. Chanting is also another
method utilized to help remove the meditators attention from thought
processes or moods as the practitioner concentrates on the sound of the
chant rather than mental activity.
The high and low pitch "tones" of the chant resonating within the body also
enhance CSF flow. This occurs because the vibrational sound of the chant has
a stimulating effect on the liquid medium of the CSF as it circulates around
the brain and spinal cord. Lower pitch "tones" resonate in the chest and
abdomen areas, and effect the CSF within the spinal column. Higher pitch
"tones" resonate in the head, and therefore impact on the CSF as it
circulates within the cranium.
Thus, as the yogi or yogini practice physical postures (asanas), breath
techniques (pranayamas), and concentration methods (meditation), the overall
circulation of cerebrospinal fluid is greatly enhanced, and thereby the
functioning of the all important neuropeptides. These powerful body
chemicals may also play a role on the physical level in the overall goal of
yoga practice to experience God consciousness on the spiritual level.
Although the experience of pure consciousness or God is difficult to define
in words, Paramahansa Yogananda described God as; "ever-present,
ever-lasting, ever-new joy". God consciousness, as described by Master
Yogananda, could in part be related to the physical effect of two of the
body's most marvelous ligands, serotonin and the aforementioned endorphins.
Serotonin is a natural body chemical, which enhances mood and our feeling of
well-being. It is released from the cells that line the walls of the
ventricles, two cavities within the upper part of the brain where CSF is
produced. It is also secreted from the supraependymal cells that line the
central canal of the spinal cord, the major pathway of CSF. As the
cerebrospinal fluid flows more freely around the brain and spinal cord, it
stimulates the above-mentioned cells to release serotonin.
When endorphins are released from the brain into the CSF, the result is a
feeling of euphoria, bliss and expanded consciousness. Therefore, the
combined effect of these two body chemicals circulating more naturally in
the CSF creates physical feelings of joy and well being as well as a
sensation of expanded consciousness.
When the cerebrospinal fluid is circulating freely we are truly "in the
flow", as the neuropeptides are able to go where they need to go to
coordinate life processes on a physical and emotional level. This enhances
our ability to maximize our potential as human beings physically, mentally
and emotionally. Yoga works because it facilitates the circulation of the
fluid of life; the liquid light called cerebrospinal fluid, and thereby
enhances the functioning of the all-important neuropeptides.
It is no wonder then why two of the most distinguished Western healers had
such reverence and regard for cerebrospinal fluid. In the words of Randolph
Stone, D.C., D.O., founder of Polarity Therapy, CSF is the "elixir of life".
And A.T. Still, father of Osteopathy, characterized it as the "great river
of life in the body."
About Dr. Donald J. Glassey:
The author was born in 1946 in Brooklyn, NY, and educated at
Michigan State University (BA with Honor), the University of Pennsylvania
(M.S.W.), and Pennsylvania College of Straight Chiropractic (D.C.) where he
subsequently taught chiropractic technique, history and philosophy. He is a
former national staff instructor for Network Chiropractic seminars, a Reiki
Master, and also taught Toggle Recoil chiropractic technique nationally.
After studying and researching many forms of body and energy work for over
ten years, he developed Cerebrospinal Fluid Technique (CSFT) in 1996. Dr. Glassey
is also a graduate of the Florida Academy of Massage. He is currently practicing
as a licensed and Nationally certified Massage Practitioner in Ft. Myers, Florida.
He is also a member of the Florida State and American Massage Therapy Associations
as well as the National Certification Board of Therapeutic Massage and Body Workers.
For more info, see Dr. Glassey's website: www.healtouch.com/csft
Epstein, Donald, Establishing a Network Chiropractic Practice,
Network Spinal Analysis Seminars, Innate Intelligence Inc., 1995
Carlson, Richard and Shield, Benjamin editors, Healers on Healing,
Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., Los Angeles, CA, 1989
Epstein, Donald, Network Chiropractic: Module C, "Communications in
the Network office", Innate Intelligence Inc., 1990 Ibid, page 1
Epstein, Donald, "The Vitalistic Practitioner"
© Copyright 2000 Dr. Don Glassey, M.S.W., D.C., L.M.T.