Yoga Therapy

Yoga Therapy and Self Regulation

November 28, 2022

How does yoga therapy help to self regulate?

Shanie Matthews

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Self regulation…what do those two words mean exactly?

When we think of our moods or thoughts, we often don’t think about how we are in control of these powerful aspects of our lives whether consciously or subconsciously. This is because our state of being is dependent on our inner world and how we are able to regulate or control these inner workings.

Our inner world, as discovered by such explorers as Stephen Porges, PhD, developer of the Polyvagal Theory or Sara Lazar, PhD, Professor and Researcher for the Harvard University Neuroscience of Yoga and Meditation, have found that we have critical tools at our disposal that can help us regulate how we feel and the inner world that we live in. Both breathwork and mindful movement have shown through research and study to have effect on unique ability to provide us with a conscious intelligence to self regulate. With this self regulation we have a better ability to feel more at peace, which extends out into other aspects of our life.

“Only when we are in a calm physiological state can we convey cues of safety to another.”

― Stephen W. Porges

How does this regulation work exactly?

The involvement of conscious breathwork and mindful movement creates influence over our autonomic nervous system and which of the two sides to this system are activated: the parasympathetic or the “rest and digest” or the sympathetic or “fight, flight or freeze”. These two aspects of the autonomic nervous system are continually at play in our world, but the one that tends to be most active in today’s society is the sympathetic nervous system. What the body most desires, though, is for the two to be equally active.

And that is where yoga therapy can play a major roll.

The incredible ability that yoga offers to bring the parasympathetic into action while also releasing places of tension in the body create a power force in stepping into our own ability to regulate the emotions that we want to feel. Through the use of yoga therapy tools a person’s emotional state, physical health, cognitive abilities and social well being flourish because of this connection to self regulation.

As noted by Steven Porges in his Polyvagal Theory, a regulated nervous system helps us to know when we are physically and emotionally safe. The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in the body, extending from the brainstem to the gut. Among other functions, it sends sensory information from the body’s organs to the brain and supports parasympathetic nervous system activity. Creating a framework of self regulation in our lives through bringing the tools of yoga therapy supports the vagus nerve and allows an optimal state of social and psychological functioning. This state of a regulated nervous system translates to our ability to perceive safety through relaxed facial muscles, calm tones of voice, an increased range of hearing capabilities and more mobility of the head and eyes. This nervous system regulation also allows us to engage socially.

Yoga therapy tools for nervous system regulation

Yoga Therapy is an interplay between breath, body sensations, and physiological states. When helping a client find serenity within we use the Polyvagal Theory as the roadmap; yoga and mindfulness exercises as our vehicle. Integrating the two helps to us to understand intrinsically what is happening inside the body and what is needed to support one’s own well-being. This inner study of self regulation has no end to who it can help and the conditions that it can alleviate.

Examples of useful tools…

There are simple yoga therapy techniques that help us to support the autonomic nervous system regulation. A few examples include,

  • simple, yet effective, eye movements can relax and strengthen the muscles around the eyes; 
  • forward and backward bending postures bring balance to the sympathetic and parasympathetic; 
  • using breathwork and vocalization like chanting to relax the larynx; 
  • utilize deep relaxation styles like yoga nidra that offers the chance to relax all of the facial muscles while potentially regulating the activity of the vagus and cranial nerves.  

Allowing the tools of yoga therapy to become a part of your life gives you the ability to create self regulation. This gift to self allows a person to sustain states of inner peace and connection with others, expanding the boundaries of one’s limited experience of self, whether healing from chronic pain, a traumatic brain injury or rising above the burdens of an eating disorder.

In other words self regulation creates connection and a happier life. Yoga therapy, through healing the nervous system, allows us to individually support our own journey while lifting others up on this path to happiness, health and wellness.

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