Monday, September 5, 2011

Yoga and Neuroscience

A field that has fascinated me for over a decade is the field of Neuroscience. This field has changed the way we look at almost everything in the last 10 years. Books by the thousands now reference areas of the brain as if talking about items on a supermarket shelf the terms are becoming so common place. It is not unusual for an author to write about neurotransmitters like Dopamine or Serotonin, or areas of the brain like the Amygdala or the Hippocampus when discussing their particular point or topic.

So where does that leave Yoga? Well, in fact, right in the middle of it all,... hopefully. Yoga involves humans (most times), so it would be impossible, except with some very skillful surgery and advanced electronics, to be practicing Yoga without using your brain.

Despite what you may be worried about, you don't need to know or understand any of these terms or concepts when practicing Yoga to get the benefits [it's OK if you do though ;) ]. The research on Yoga and the Brain is just starting to come in such as Yoga and GABA. Yoga in this study was shown to increase gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels by 27% in participants after their Yoga session and reduced GABA levels have been identified in people with depression and anxiety disorders.

There will undoubtedly be much more research coming out in the next decade to help us learn about how to best use the best healthy living Yoga principles and eliminate those that provide very little or no help.

This is what is happening to the field of Pain Science. Many treatments such as Physical Therapy and Massage Therapy are radically changing as our understanding of the main role the Brain plays in the experience of pain and suffering. One site in particular that I have come to appreciate above all is A site devoted to deconstructing false Pain and Therapy ideologies.

Two major books that have helped catapult this understanding are:
The Brain that Changes Itself - Norman Doidge
Phantoms in the Brain by V.S Ramachandran and Sandra Blakeslee

Doidge is a Toronto based Psychiatrist and his book fits easily in my top 5 books of all time. It is highly readable and if you have even the smallest amount of interest in what goes on in your attic you will really enjoy it.

Ramachadran is a Neurologist in California and has a number of fascinating videos on Youtube, he is engaging to listen to with his rolling R's and Indian accent making it well worth the time investment.

Of course as soon as there is any new technology or scientific discovery hacks and charlatans will come in and try to use it to explain their own particular kook theories. Take the video below for example. There is a genuine lack of use of Occam's Razor by the proponents of the theory behind SuperBrain Yoga. There is no reason to resort to the convoluted theories that the "experts" in this news program resort to when they explain their experience with SuperBrain Yoga, the fact that people are exercising everyday explains it all away. There are so many problems with the evidence they give for the rest of the purported results it is not even worth getting started.

It is because of the huge amount of this kind of crap in Yoga that I had to learn how to find my way to good sources of information and most importantly how to think. See the links to excellent books on this topic below the video. As well as some of the links on the left side.

There are literally hundreds of books and websites devoted to skeptical inquiry and critical thinking. 3 of the best books I have read in that area are below although there are many more that could easily have fit on this list.

The Invisible Gorilla -Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons.
If you think you can talk on a cell phone and drive take their world famous Selective Attention test here
Why People believe Weird Things - Michael Shermer
How to become a really good pain in the ass - Christopher DiCarlo

I'll write some more on this soon?

1 comment:

lawrence said...
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