The further I explore yoga practice, the more I'm convinced that, from a physiological perspective, it's a very sophisticated system of 'nervous system training'.
When we stretch muscles, we're not significantly altering their structure over time - we're encouraging the nervous system to 'allow' us a greater range of movement and 'reset' it's existing range.
When we load the body safely, more and better quality 'matter' gets laid down - making our bodies stronger and more resilient to whatever life throws at us.
When we actively move through ranges that we're no longer habituated to, we're stimulating mechanoreceptors and 're-awakening' muscles - helping us to improve our levels of mobility.
When we subject the body to low levels of 'stress' (as we do in asana practice) - proteins and endorphins are released that create the 'feel good' factor many of us associate with yoga practice.
When we meditate we're not only changing the ways in which the brain functions during practice (dialling down beta waves and dialling up alpha and theta waves) - we're literally changing the shape and structure of the brain over time.
When we engage in breathing practices we're consciously overriding the 'lower' brain functions with higher brain functions in ways designed to affect our energy levels (regulated by...the nervous system!).
And when we encourage the body and mind to find a sense of calm we're creating the right environment for the 'rest and digest' branch of our nervous system to do its thing (and dialling down the 'fight, flight, freeze' branch at the same time).
That's not to deny the original spiritual intentions of the practice - although the 'flow state' that we sometimes enter into in practice can reduce a sense of self and induce a sense of 'being at one with things'.
Could it be that this psychological response is linked to the non-dualistic philosophy that underpins hatha yoga practice…?
Perhaps - who knows for sure. Either way, the nervous system’s responses to yoga is a fascinating topic and one that I’ll enjoy exploring further as I continue to deepen my understanding of this wonderful practice.