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Natural Awakenings Boston

The Bottom-Up Yoga-Neuroscience Link

Jul 31, 2013 05:09PM

The fifth annual Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research (SYTAR) conference took place in June, in Newton, Massachusetts, and shed light on research findings that connect yoga’s effect on neuroscience, specifically the vagus nerve. Sometimes referred to as the “nerve of compassion,” the vagus nerve branches widely throughout the body, connecting at the brain. It regulates many systems, including blood pressure and heart rate, digestion, the relaxation response, immune function and cellular regeneration.

Dacher Ketlner, the director of the Social Interaction Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley states, “People who have high vagus nerve activation in a resting state are prone to feeling emotions that promote altruism—compassion, gratitude, love and happiness.”

Eighty percent of fibers in the vagus nerve run from the bottom-up. In other words, the flow of information in the vagus nerve tends to run upwards, from the body to the brain, rather than from the brain to the rest of the body. This suggests that using a bodycentered approach, for example breathwork, yoga or creative movement, is an effective way to facilitate changes the vagus nerve regulates such as increasing feelings of well-being, connectedness and compassion; lowering blood pressure; decreasing heart rate; and stimulating the immune system.

Source: Alaine Amaral, RYT, conference participant and yoga therapist at Visions HealthCare, in Wellesley and Dedham. For more information, visit

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