The researcher O.Bart made a startling discovery, summarized in an article for the journal Research in Developmental Disabilities. The scientist studied children who had both anxiety and physical balance disorders. The kids in the study—barring the control group which got no intervention—were treated with 1) meds, 2) cognitive counseling therapy, and 3) balance exercises, like yoga poses. Can you guess which treatment was most effective? You got it. It was the balancing exercises. Balance
How come? Here’s what the researchers found: the brainstem’s parabrachial nucleus, which regulates balance, sends a “balanced” or “not balanced” message to the amygdala, the part of the brain that regulates anxiety. The brain, it turns out, doesn’t distinguish between physical balance and emotional balance. In other words, balance is balance. If you’re physically balanced, the amygdala gets a balanced message; if you’re emotionally balanced, it gets the same message.
The parabrachial nucleus sends a message of “Okay, good! We’re well-adjusted, stable and secure here!” to the amygdala when we’re doing yoga, and that helps us feel better emotionally. It doesn’t matter to the brain what kind of balance it is.
That’s an amazing discovery. What it means to us in the real world is that when we engage in yoga balancing poses, we are actually creating emotional balance at the same time. And what’s more important, when we’re feeling out of balance in emotions and feelings, we can employ the physical balance of yoga poses to right our emotional ship.
Wonder why we always feel better after a yoga class? That’s one of the reasons why. Fascinating.
But there was also something else the researchers discovered. Anxiety tends to effect balance and vice versa. Meaning that if we’re anxious, we tend to be less balanced, and if we’re less balanced we tend to get more anxious. It’s a catch-22. So just knowing that we can break that looped-in cycle with a few simple yoga poses is a breakthrough worth shouting from the rooftops. The same kids in the study who benefitted from balance also had improved self-esteem and less behavioral issues. Incredible, really, but it makes sense.
This is a brilliant recognition for at-risk kids, folks with gait, posture, and balance problems, and people who are experience early Alzheimer’s symptoms, like disorientation. It’s also an incredible realization for athletes, fitness aficionados, and those who sit at a desk all day long. It’s something I’d love to see applied to football players who have had repeated head injuries and tend toward early-onset brain and behavioral dysfunctions, like anxiety, headaches, Alzheimer’s symptoms and more. Balance, added to our regimen, in any form, will help us.
Yoga is the quintessential balancing exercise. It’s simple to implement and can be done—in its simplest form—just about any place. So the next time you’re feeling wiped out emotionally, try a yoga class. Or disappear into your office’s restroom, find a stall and balance on one foot. Take a half-vinyasa or two and get your head below your heart and breathe.
Whomever invented yoga poses so many centuries ago in India knew the benefits of balance, creating a set of poses so resilient that it’s supporting us through modern life’s wacked-out, stressful, crazy days. And that’s a gift worth paying attention to, and standing up for, even on one foot.