Many physical and mental conditions respond to Yoga

Depression, PTSD, Anxiety, Panic Disorder, Epilepsy + Alcohol Dependence

 (Top Groups see below for STHIRA-SUKHA)


= The major Para-sympathetic nerve (regulates the heart, digestive glands and the immune system) ((regulated by Prefrontal cortex))

- Seems to increase rapid control of HRV (heart rate variability) = like 007, allows you to be cool, calm and function well.  Yoga poses have also been shown to do this.

HRV is the rate at which the heart rate changes and is linked with having the flexibility to manage stress.

A low HRV is associated with many disease states.

Slow, deep breathing (esp long exh) seems to tone the Vagus Nerve, increases HRV and improves ANS balance (autonomic nervous system) improving PNS (parasympathetic nervous system) tone and affects the messages relayed to the brain = how we feel and how we think which lead to reconnection and reappraisal of your perception of self.

Imbalances in the NS (nervous system) are associated with negative affective states.  Small changes are best and trials showed that short concentration exercises and short periods in meditation produced best results.

Yoga breathing corrects ANS imbalances such as over-activity of the stress response, dysfunction in emotion regulatory systems and inhibitory neurotransmitters and so can relieve even extreme responses to stress including PTSD and; anxiety; insomnia; intrusive memories; over-reactions; distorted body perceptions; disconnectedness and loss of meaning (emotional numbness, pointlessness, often experienced after shock or bereavement)

Chanting and Ujjayi enhance Oxygen supply to cells and enhance the function of the PNS.

Low HRV and low GABA-ergic Activity are associated with:-

- Depression and

- Epilepsy which are stress sensitive and respond to increased GABA levels.

- Alcohol dependence

- General anxiety disorder

- Panic disorder


Yoga has been shown to be effective in reducing the symptoms in drug resistant epilepsy and depression

Relaxing in a variation on Pose of a Child
Relaxing in a variation on Pose of a Child

GABA – The Gamma amino-butyric acid system

GABA interacts with dopamine/serotonin etc: hormones relating to how we feel emotionally.

Under-activity of the Gamma amino-butyric acid system can be the cause of low mood and depressive states.  Higher levels induce feelings of tranquillity.

This system is less active pre-menstrually yet even so in studies of patients practising Yoga their GABA levels rose even pre-menstrually.

High GABA levels are associated with less anxiety and more resilience.

Low or abnormal GABA levels are seen in people suffering from:

- Anxiety

- Depression

- Epilepsy

which conditions are often treated with pharmacological agents that increase GABA system activity.   Yoga has been shown to improve the symptoms of all these conditions.

The levels shown in brain scans were higher after Yoga practice.

This raised the question – is it the result of exercise?

A trial was therefore done comparing Yoga with walking

The Yoga group did 2 sessions a week of one hour

The Walking group did 3 sessions a week of one hour

Results:  the same pattern of improvement was seen in depressed subjects as seen after treatment with SSRis. 

This is not proof that Yoga helps depression but proof that Yoga leads to a greater increase in GABA levels than walking and the subjects reported more positive effects (I think the writer meant affects – negative affect being showing signs of depression, positive = the opposite)

Conclusion:  Yoga seems to correct imbalances in the PSN and GABA systems and is associated with reduction of symptoms in people suffering from Epilepsy, Depression and PTSD.

The change in GABA levels was greater in experienced Yoga practitioners demonstrating that regular practice leads to even greater improvement.

Gently warming up, effortlessly upright
Gently warming up, effortlessly upright



 Mindfulness comprises the 3 following elements:

1.    Focus on the breath, bodily sensations and sensory stimuli (sounds etc)

2.    Conscious awareness of the present moment (as opposed to being spaced out or in a trance state)

3.    A non-judgmental attitude

In this trial 8-week Trial the MBSR involved weekly classes incorporating 40 minutes of (a), (b) and (c) below PLUS anytime mindfulness exercises, eg mindful washing up etc:

(a)   sitting (= seated meditation)

(b)   Yoga poses (asana) done gently with awareness and

(c)   bodyscan which is relaxation mentally experiencing the body, I believe Yoga Nidra in this case and think Kumar’s top down going over every cm of the body would be as good.

RESULTS are very exciting because they showed neuroplasticity and that although not every participant found all of the symptoms below completely removed this MBSR was extremely effective for:

Stress (extremely)



Eating disorders


Hot flushes

Quality of life

General anxiety disorder (the improvement was not maintained and whole Yoga such as done in my classes is much better)

Panic disorder (improvement maintained)


Giving up smoking

Sexual dysfunction.

Improvements reported by participants were:

A sense of calm and well-being continuing after time spent practising

Reduced signs of stress and improvements in health

Improved mood and the capacity to handle difficult situations and emotions.

Better memory and attention

Increased quality of life, compassion, empathy, creativity, fulfilment, mastery etc.

This all suggests NEUROPLASTICITY, which means changes in how the neurons (in the brain) talk to each other, physical changes.

RESULTS of this are positive changes in affect (mood, eg one can have a depressed affect), emotions, attention, intentions etc

CONCLUSION = changing behaviour (described above) leads to changes in brain activity which produces changes in the brain structure, in other words not a temporary effect but a change.

The brain areas observed to have been ‘activated’ during meditation are the areas implicated in:



Bipolar disorder and

Numerous other Disease states.

The part of the brain that thickens in meditators has been seen to be smaller in sufferers of Schizophrenia and Bipolar disorders.

Mindfully balanced, this pose requires good, prolonged concentration
Mindfully balanced, this pose requires good, prolonged concentration

PTSD, Anxiety, Stress, Alzheimers, Depression and more

How Yoga is relevant to these, and other, causes of suffering

Please note that although Yoga and Buddhism align very closely, Yoga is aware that suffering is not only caused by the mind, much suffering can be the result of a brain/biochemical disorder or disregulation.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Yoga poses, Yoga breathing and a little meditation was so effective that after 6 months participants (including a Vietnamese war veteran who had already been given very long-term all other forms of treatment for MBSR and Tsunami survivors) improved so much that they no longer met the criteria for suffering from PTSD.

PTSD and Anxiety Disorders including Panic Attacks

The breathing, a time-controlled ratio breathing then adding Ujjayi, was found to be especially helpful.

Schizophrenia and Bi-polar Disorder

The insula is smaller in sufferers of these conditions, its functions include:

-  Integration of thoughts senses and emotions

-  Awareness and control of visceral processes (heart rate, breathing rate, hunger etc)

-  Recognition of facial emotions (which links with Jill Bolte-Taylor’s observation that when the right brain is function unclouded by the left a person can tell if another is lying)

Stress and psychological symptoms

Asana alone was the best predictor of reducing these.

Depression, PTSD and Alzheimer’s sufferers

Have lower hippocampal grey matter.  Cortisol, the hormone produced when experiencing long-term stress, is toxic to the cells in the hippocampus but the good news is that in humans (NOT animals) the cells can re-grow when the stress response is switched off.  Participants in the trial showed increase in the left hippocampus (looks enormous on the graph, around 10 x that of the control group) which is associated with emotion regulation, learning and memory.

Whereas the amygdala, which is activated in response to stress, showed decreased activity during meditation.

The young woman on the left found Yoga very effective in  aiding recovery from depression
The young woman on the left found Yoga very effective in aiding recovery from depression


The functional roles of the area that thickens in meditators are:

-  Working memory and selective attention

-  Emotion – cognition interaction and

-  Moral decision making

Long-term meditators brains were the same as 25 year-olds, they did not show the same signs of aging as non-meditators.

In just 8 weeks there were increases in areas of the brain linked with:

‘Self’ processing and integration

Perspective taking (seeing another’s point of view, compassion and understanding)

Sensory, balance and motor control.


It is our relationship with the world that is the important factor, how we perceive things, not what happens nor what others do to or around us.

MBSR participants compared with the control group shown sad films had low depressive responses but high compassion, when subjected to pain they had a much lower experience of unpleasantness.  They also showed reduced amygdala reactivity (see above) to social anxiety related negative self beliefs.


For Animal Lovers


In case you don't know ...

Animals are the opposite from humans in this respect and suffer terribly.  Having been exposed to stress, in the form of just being held gently in a human’s hands for a few minutes (3 I think) each day, even after 3 months with no stress, the animals did not recover.  

They hardly moved and if given a new environment did not explore, they were permanently damaged.

How Yoga Affects Intelligence, and, How We Affect Others

FLUID INTELLIGENCE (= multi-faceted, problem solving, attention, working memory, cognition, executive functioning)  In meditators and Yoga practitioners fluid intelligence is maintained rather than reducing with age.


A trial in which some counsellors were given an 8-week program including mindfulness meditation, self-awareness exercises, didactic material and discussion showed that the Counsellors, compared with others who did not partake in the program, not only experienced the benefits shown below but also their patients had better outcomes:

Improvements in Mindfulnesss correlated with improvements in burnout, empathy, mood disturbance, perspective taking, conscientiousness and emotional stability.


When we practise Yoga which includes Meditation not only do we feel better but our positive impact on others is greater.


Yoga helps ....

Yoga for PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
Yoga for Depression
Yoga for Anxiety
Yoga for Stress Relief
Yoga for Panic Disorder
Yoga for Bi-polar Disorder
Yoga for Schizophrenia
Yoga for Epilepsy
Yoga for Alcohol Dependence
Yoga for Isomnia
Yoga for Pain
Yoga for Anorexia (Eating Disorders)
Yoga for Hot Flushes
Yoga for Quality of Life
Yoga for Smoking
Yoga for Sexual Dysfunction
Yoga for Ageing 


NETI, Jala Neti

A marvellous healing, cleansing Yoga practice

The purpose of neti is to cleanse the sinuses as well as the nasal tubes and cavities.  This is done with salty water.  It is a blessing for those who suffer from frequent colds, rhinitis and/or sinusitis as it seems to keep these completely at bay.  It also seems to prevent the pain in the ears, that some people find excruciating, when flying.


To Practise (the Jolly way!)

It is a good idea to be familiar and comfortable with ujjayi (drawing breath) alternate nostril breathing (nadi sodhana) and breath holding (antara kumbhaka) before beginning Neti.

Boiled water cooled to tepid is best.  Pour the water into a bowl about 15 cm in diameter.  The most important part is this: add approximately 1 teaspoon of salt to 1 pint of water.  This will make the practice pleasant and comfortable (unlike when you accidentally breathe unsalted water in through your nose when swimming).

Take in a comfortable breath of air as you are going to be holding your breath for a short while.  Lower your nose into the water and, with your mouth closed, waggle your epiglottis, rhythmically and steadily, sort of blocking and releasing the trachea.  You can stop at any time for a breath.  Experiment a little with this waggling and you will find it feels a little like drinking through your nose and the water will begin to flow slowly and in a very controlled way up the nose.  Continue with this, pausing whenever you choose for a breath.  If you find it easy and you are relaxed you just continue with this waggling and after some time, longer than you might expect, the water will trickle into the throat and you can expel as you do when you finish brushing your teeth.

You can do this practice one nostril at a time by simply pressing on the side of the nose with a finger to close one nostril.

When finished you may like to blow your nose strongly through each nostril in turn to complete the cleansing and to prevent the nose from suddenly dripping later on!  Assuming you have no food intolerances, if you practise daily this becomes unnecessary as everything is so pure and clean.

Alternative methods

1.  You can purchase a ‘neti pot’ and perform this practice in a different way but it is not as effective and is rather uncontrolled!  This way you pour the water into one nostril and it should flow out through the other.  This method is, in my experience, not nearly as beneficial but one could presumably use the neti pot with the first method.

2.  The commonly taught method without a neti pot, is to put the nose into a bowl of water and sniff the water up into the nose and then spit it out.

Only to be practised with an expert guiding you to protect against inflammation

3.  A length of cotton can be dipped into warm water then inserted into one nostril and drawn out through the mouth via the throat or through the opposite nostril.  The cotton is then gently pulled to and fro to cleanse the passages.  The westerner could substitute a thin catheter lubricated with antiseptic jelly.  This method has the advantage of accustoming us to procedures that explore internal parts of the body which helps us remain relaxed when undergoing, for instance, medical investigations involving scoping the throat via the nose.

Strictly speaking these practices are called Vyut-krama – if practised the other way round, the mouth being filled with water which is then expelled through the nostrils, this is called Sit-krama.

Benefits attributed by the Yogis to the regular practice of Neti are:

Relief from and usually cure for rhinitis, colds and coryza.

Improved vision as a result of the effect on the eyes

Enhanced olfactory nerve sensitivity and functioning

Cleansing of the nerves and brain which often relieves and cures migraine

Purification of the skull may lead to clairvoyance (although this is not relevant to Yoga as interest in such things is seen as a distraction from our true purpose)

If practised using a 12 inch thread it is said to remove illness from above the shoulders

Swami Sivananda concluded that irregular breathing and some sicknesses could be attributed to unclean nostrils because practising Neti regularly brings about relief and/or cure.

The Gheranda Samhita (an Ancient Yogic text) says “by this practice … one becomes like the god Cupid.  Old age never comes to him and decrepitude never disfigures him.  The body becomes healthy, elalstic and disorders due to phlegm are destroyed”.



Sthira + Sukha in equal measure = balance, poise, grace and beauty

Sthira = firmness without rigidity

Sukha = relaxation without laziness

Sthira + Sukha in equal measure = balance, poise, grace and beauty.

* * * * * *

STHRA – strength, courage, fortitude

= the ability to protect, promote what is good and right.

Qualities = firm, reliable, dependable, supportive.

SUKHA – gentle, soft, understanding, compassionate

= forgiveness of other people if they are weak or use harsh words.

Qualities = flexible, comforting, kind

Sthira + Sukha in equal measure = balance: aware of others as well as self, confident, strong and gentle, self-assured.

Qualities = encouraging, team-spirited, able to lead and to follow, likes to give and to receive, warm, open, loving.

* * * * * *

Too much:

Sthira = rigid, unbending, obstinate, undiscovered kindness

Sukha = weak, unreliable, irresolute, undiscovered skills and talents

Amanda, alongside, demonstrates these qualities beautifully - even in this very challenging pose her muscle tone is so perfect.that she makes the pose look easy!



John, alongside, naturally takes sthira-sukha in the Shoulderstand

Sthira = static, firm, clearly defined, extending type poses: Warrior and Trikonasana for instances

Sukha = releasing and moving poses, especially in harmony with the breath, done with more subtle awareness:  Cat, Swan and Forward bends

STHIRA-SUKHA equally = Shoulder-stand, Bow etc where you are finding perfect blend of releasing and firming.

Too much Sthira = dominant, rigid, unyielding, harsh, oppressive, obstinate.

Too much Sukha = weak, fearful, unsupportive, self-pitying, critical in a whiney way, indecisive, irresolute, unreliable.


Often fingers are not extended, this is a lack of sthira, more awareness and firmness are needed.  This person probably has much more mental potential than they have discovered.



(a) when done as a shape rather than with awareness of the feel has insufficient positivity.  The practitioner is likely to be unaware of others’ feelings and maybe even of their own and could probably enjoy much more in life.

(b) when done rigidly the back of the neck tightens which prevents it from softening, releasing and bending so the body and legs cannot move into true, comfortable, balanced vertical.  Breathing is likely to be short and there may be tension.

(c) this is a good one for picking up on mixed awareness, often the feet and legs are strongly stretched with the abdomen doing very little.

This imbalance may be reflected mentally, a person is likely to be:

Unnecessarily forceful with others sometimes


Weak and unable to stand up for themselves at other times.

John's character is strong yet relaxed, warm, friendly, peaceful, supportive, trustworthy and more.  Alongside in the Shoulderstand (Sarvangasana), in which he naturally takes sthira-sukha, you can see that the pose looks effortless and his hands just rest quietly in a mudra.   

John, effortlessly balanced, naturally adopts the subtle mudra, Vajroli, in this pose.
John, effortlessly balanced, naturally adopts the subtle mudra, Vajroli, in this pose.