Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Movement, Health, and Community

Last weekend I attended an herbal conference in Georgia. It was a wonderful four days of herbal study, plant walks, and fellowship. Each morning I would wake up, go for a run, do a little yoga, and then get ready for classes. One morning I decided to sleep in. We had been up late and my body needed the extra sleep. The entire next day I was uncomfortable, tight, and irritable. Why had I skipped the one thing that makes me a better student, listener, and all around nicer person?

It was ironic that on this day I would sit through a few lectures on circulation, detoxification, and mood disorders. As I listened to the teachers I found myself fidgeting and shifting in my chair. I was uncomfortable, anxious, and found myself drinking caffeine to stay awake despite the interesting information that was being presented.

In one lecture I learned about the circulatory system. Our circulatory system is our life blood. Literally. Every system in our body depends on the movement of oxygenated blood and nutrients to our tissues, and the removal of wastes. While our heart does a wonderful job at moving blood around the body, it is the lymphatic system that is responsible for the removal of dead cells, toxins, and metabolic wastes. The lymphatic system doesn't contain a pump of its own so it depends on us to move, bend, and twist to keep lymph circulation going. In the old times, people knew that movement was critical to health and if a person was still for too long their body systems began to fail and their mood would likely become melancholy and depressed.

The importance of regular movement is often overlooked. It plays a critical role in our physical, mental, and emotional well-being as it moves blood, supports detoxification, and facilitates the release of endorphins (feel good chemicals),and increases confidence. Simple movements like sun salutations are a wonderful way we can move our body fluids and keep the body healthy. In one study of 40 participants, researchers found that after 10 days of practicing yoga the baseline levels of cortisol (our stress hormone) decreased, inflammation markers decreased, and in another study of schizophrenics, one yoga class decreased anxiety and increased feelings of well-being. (

The yoga world also contains a built in community. This weekend herbalist James Snow spoke of the biopsychosocial model of health and how important it is to have a strong social network. He explained the relationship between inflammation, mood disorders, and anti-social behaviors and the negative feedback loop this creates. It made me think about the amazing trifecta of benefts that yoga provides. Yoga is a place where we move the body (detoxify & reduce inflammation), increase our mood (endorphins), and connect with a social network (reduce inflammation & increase endorphins). Pretty cool stuff!

So, if you thought all you were doing was exercising your body during your weekly yoga class, think again! Your yoga is creating a positive feedback loop between your mind, body, and your community! How cool is that!