Thursday, July 25, 2013

All exercise is not created equal

We can admit that any form of exercise is great. If you go for a 20 minute walk, it's excellent. But when we go in search of deep healing, not all exercise is the same. When I say that Kundalini yoga is the key to my success in managing my diabetes, it is because it deals with the body and mind in a way that simply running doesn't. Below is an explanation.

(An excerpt from my post: Creating the right conditions for self healing-

What the exercise and diet made me realize was my body. My mind and my body were connected. Kundalini Yoga necessarily includes a lot of meditation practices. Mystical at first to those unfamiliar, meditation practice might simply be interpreted as a practice in concentrating. In terms of our bodies, this concentration is a taking control over our autonomic nervous system, and holds what I believe is the key to my successful experiment.
            The Autonomic Nervous System is made up of two branches, the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system’s job is to prompt us to take action. When a stressor is perceived, the autonomic nervous system sends signals to move circulation to the limbs to prepare legs and arms to ready us for running and fighting. It raises the heart rate to circulate the necessary oxygen and quickens the breath. Eye focus narrows and the senses are heightened. All of this in preparation to either fight the stressor or run away. Also importantly, digestion shuts down. We don’t need to digest a taco when we have to run away from an angry dog. Last on the list, and of great importance soon is that it signals the liver to release glycogen to elevate the blood sugar so that cells will have a quick supply of energy ready.
            The Parasympathetic Nervous System does the opposite. It relaxes everything- it slows the breath, moves digestion, stimulates the pancreas, and calms the mind. How the meditation practices of Kundalini yoga intersect is in the harnessing of these two branches. As stressors arise, the sympathetic nervous system kicks in, but in yogic practices we have to redirect thought waves and our actions to remain engaged in a specific exercise- which in yoga might mean making ourselves take a breath in a certain way or continue to hold ourselves in a certain physical posture. By doing this time and time again, we strengthen our control over these two branches, and can keep ourselves from activating the sympathetic nervous system when its not needed.
            When this stress response is not needed also goes back to the Paleolithic era we discussed before. 10,000 years ago, we needed that sympathetic nervous system to let us fight wooly mammoths and other creatures, but in modern times, it tends to do us harm by reacting to things like a boss or homework. How this relates to diabetes and sugar is fascinating.
            As a possible stressor is perceived, the part of the brain called the amygdala signals to endocrine system to release the hormone cortisol. Cortisol tells the liver to release its glycogen so that there is sugar present to fight or run. At specific moments, this is entirely useful. But if a stressor remains for more than an acute moment- for example a homework assignment or long term project- cortisol levels can remain elevated, which continue to release stores from the liver. Furthermore, through this prolonged response, glycogen stores are depleted, and the brain releases a certain hormone called Neuropeptide Y which creates the craving of carbohydrates to replace the sugars being released by the liver. Does ice cream after a bad break up or cookies during exam period sound like a familiar thing?
            In these situations, the parasympathetic nervous system hasn’t had a chance to relax the body, and blood sugar levels are elevated. The pancreas works great stress is put upon our bodies. As it turned out, I started by changing my diet and exercise, and as the meditation came in, realized just how out of whack my control was. Many of us are in this constant state of hyper arousal, and don’t even realize it, creating treacherous conditions.

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