Fitness Magazine

9/11 Anxiety and Yoga (Rerun)

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Baxter
Some years ago, when Nina and I were working on a series of yoga classes for stress management, I read the book The Relaxation Response by Dr. Herbert Benson, and an interesting finding from the work he did has stuck with me. He noted that his blood pressure patients who meditated regularly not only saw improvements in their blood pressure readings, but they also had certain substances in the blood stream that increased or decreased. One of those substances was lactate, or lactic acid, which is a byproduct of cells using sugar or glucose for fuel. It had already been noted back in the 60s that folks with anxiety disorders often had elevated levels of lactate in their bloodstream compared to individuals without anxiety. Since meditation seemed to lower lactate levels, it seemed like a great potential treatment.
More recently, an article in Scientific American looked at lactate and other markers in the body that could account for why some folks develop panic disorders, an extreme form of anxiety. Studies done in the last two years point to the pH in the brain as a possible causative factor in the experience of fear, and by extension, anxiety. It seems a more acidic pH in the brain is associated with more active trigger of the fear centers in the brain. In fact, there are receptors at individual synapses, the spaces between two nerve cells, that respond to elevated levels of acid. In the area of the brain strongly associated with the emotion of fear, the amygdala, this increase in local pH can trigger fear responses.
9/11 Anxiety and Yoga (Rerun)They also noted that carbon dioxide levels, when increased in the blood stream and the brain, lead to greater acidity. Other studies have demonstrated that patients with panic disorders are more likely to have an event if they inhale a higher concentration of CO2, compared to non-anxious individuals. These researchers also addressed the lactic acid phenomena that Dr. Benson noted years before: patients with panic disorder tend to generate excess lactic acid in their brains. We all generate lactic acid in our brains as sugars are burned as fuel, but for people with panic attacks, even normal mental activity to lead to an accumulation of lactic acid in the brain.
So if an increase in pH in the brain could be a trigger for anxiety and panic attacks, either due to a real or simply a perceived danger, whether due to CO2 build up or lactic acid build up in certain areas of the brain, how could yoga diffuse this situation? Well, way back in the 60s it was already observed that the “relaxation response” that arose from simple meditation practice could lower the pH in the blood stream. This might indicate that it could be lowered in the brain, too. So I’d give high marks to establishing a regular meditation practice, even if only for ten minutes at a time. Secondly, certain pranayama practices could theoretically lower blood CO2 levels slowly and gradually, especially those that favor a longer exhale over inhale ratio. That sounds like it would be worth a trial as well. And finally, the authors of the study noted that: “one of the many beneficial effects of aerobic exercise training (like running or cycling) is that metabolically active tissues (including the brain) become more efficient at consuming–removing—lactic acid.”  And although not all yoga asana practices are aerobic, some are to a certain degree. So, physiologically, your asana practice, especially if it is more vigorous, could be the third prong in your yoga tools approach to anxiety, panic attacks and fear.
Here is a link to the 2010 Scientific American article here so you can get more details on the work I’ve alluded to: And may you and yours be safe and anxiety free this 9/11 anniversary. 

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