Yoga Therapy and the Polyvagal Theory


This is a very "heavy" read in terms of neuroscience, but is utterly important in terms of investigating the mind-body connection. To quote one of the authors, Marlysa Sullivan, "This article discusses yoga therapy's convergence with polyvagal theory to explore the model of yoga therapy for regulation and resilience of the system. The intention is to continue the discussion of yoga therapy's unique framework and how we can remain grounded in yoga therapy's philosophical foundation as we integrate into research and healthcare contexts." Click here to read the full article.



Integrative guidelines for breast cancer

Raquel Forsgren  has summarized a recent study that provides recommendations for integrative practices for individuals with breast cancer. The recommended therapies are intended to assist with managing side effects caused by treatment and to provide supportive care. 

Click here to read the abstract of the research report.

Click here to read her summary, or read below. 

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Nov 15, 2017

Author's Comments / Take Away:

The Society for Integrative Oncology published the first evidence based guidelines recommending different types of complementary integrative therapies for patients with breast cancer in 2014. What is exciting to our yoga community, are the updated guidelines published in April, 2017 now recommend yoga and meditation as an adjunct to conventional treatment for people with breast cancer. 

The authors conducted a rigorous systematic review of published randomized controlled clinical trials between January 1, 2014 through December 31, 2015, organized by specific clinical conditions such as anxiety, stress, fatigue, to name a few. Within the guidelines, a grading system was used (A - I) based on strength of evidence, number of trials, quality of trials, magnitude of effect, statistical significance, sample size, consistency across studies, and whether the outcomes were primary or secondary.

A key point about these Guidelines is the term, recommendation. In the setting of Integrative Oncology, the term, recommendation, is not written as a suggestion that the therapy should be used as standard of care as in other Guidelines. Rather, the recommendation concludes that the therapy should be considered as a viable but not singular option for the management of a specific symptom or side effects.  In essence, adjunct.

For our practical utilization as Yoga Teachers, Yoga Therapists, and Health Care Providers, the Guidelines specifically recommend the following:

1:  Use of music therapy, meditation, stress management and yoga for anxiety and stress reduction,

2: Use of meditation, relaxation, yoga, massage and music therapy for depression and mood disorders,

3:  Use of meditation and yoga to improve quality of life,

4: Use of acupressure and acupuncture for reducing CINV, and

5:  There is lack of strong evidence supporting the use of ingested idetary supplements or botanical agents as supportive care and/or to manage breast cancer treatment-related side effects.

The authors also note that "implementing integrative therapies in a clinical setting requires a coordinated team approach with well-trained providers. Training and credentialing for many integrative providers varies by jurisdictions. Best practices suggest that providers be trained to the highest standard of their profession and educated in other relevant disciplines.

In conclusion, it will be important for the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) to continue to support yoga therapists in leading and participating in clinical studies that further increase the body of evidence in breast cancer and other cancers so that the Guidelines can be updated to include those recommendations. In addition, and even more importantly, is developing a partnership between the IAYT and the SIO to ensure that Yoga Therapists are part of the health care team that support the patient as these individuals have the highest level of credentialing and are trained in specific cancer rehabilitation programs to support the person with cancer.


Yoga improves brain size

This article is reposted from Dr. Axe's website. Click here to read the article in it's entirety. Yoga is important for so many reasons. When practiced with consistency, the potential to transform your life is limitless. Here is just one more reason to consider adding yoga into your daily routine.


Ways to Increase the Size of Your Brain


Strike a pose. Yoga combines breathing, holding postures and meditation, a trifecta that not only protects the integrity of your brain, but thickens layers of your cerebral cortex, too. Brain scans now reveal that yoga changes your brain chemistry in positive ways. It helps build more robust levels of gray matter in brain areas involved with pain modulation. 

Yoga’s neuroprotective properties not only spare the brain from gray matter loss, but they seem to build up gray matter volume in certain regions of the brain, too. This is important because losing gray matter can lead to memory impairment, emotional problems, poorer pain tolerance and decreased cognitive functioning.

In 2015, researchers from McGill University and the National Institutes of Health found that consistency in your practice matters, too. The more years of yoga practice under someone’s belt was associated with positive changes in the left hemisphere, including increasing gray matter volumes in clusters located in the left insula, left frontal operculum, right middle temporal gyrus and left orbitofrontal cortex. These areas of the brain are involved in:

  • Perception
  • Motor control
  • Self-awareness
  • Cognitive functioning
  • Interpersonal experience
  • Inhibition
  • Impulse control
  • Social behavior
  • Memory processing
  • Emotion and rewarding decision making

If you haven’t been practicing for years, don’t worry, your brain is still changing. Those same researchers found that the number of hours of weekly practice correlated with gray matter volume in different areas of the brain, including the hippocampus, primary visual cortex, primary somatosensory cortex/suprior parietal lobule and precuneus/posterior cingulate cortex.

These areas of the brain include functions related to:

  • Self-consciousness
  • Self awareness
  • Limbic system (emotion regulation)


Meditate. Numerous studies suggest engaging in meditation structurally changes your brain for the better. In a 2011, Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital researchers published a breakthrough study showing that guided meditation and mindfulness-based stress reduction led to measurable brain changes in areas involved with human memory, compassion and stress. In fact, practicing mindfulness meditation for just eight weeks changes your brain in a way that MRI scanners can detect. (Mindfulness meditation involves becoming aware of what is true moment by moment; to be present and turn attention to what is happening at that moment in a nonjudgemental way.) 

MRI images showed more brain matter density in the compassion, learning and memory centers in the hippocampus compared to pre-meditation scans. Interestingly, gray matter in the amygdala, a stress and anxiety center, shrank. All of this occurred with an average of 27 minutes of meditation practice a day for just eight weeks. 

We know from earlier studies that that mindfulness-based stress reduction bolsters the posterior cingulate cortex, the temporo-parietal junction and the cerebellum areas of the brain. These areas involve learning and memory, emotion regulation, empathy and sense of self.

Prefrontal cortex and right anterior insula areas of the brain were thicker among meditators. These areas impact sensory processing. Researchers say based on the brain-sparing properties meditation has, it could be a way to offset age-related cortical thinning. 

Yoga for improving health and well-being

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The Cochrane Library is a well-known collection of databases in healthcare and medicine which specializes in reporting the results of high-quality research studies. This article selects the current, high-quality research for using yoga in relation to various medical conditions.

L Susan Weiland (Center for Integrative Medicine, University of Maryland) drafted the introduction, curated the collection and contributed to the text, with the assistance of Elizabeth Parker (University of Maryland). Monaz Mehta (Cochrane Editorial Unit) contributed to the text as well. The reviews were collated from the multiple Cochrane groups.

View the original article at

Yoga for improving health and well-being

6 November 2017

Yoga originated thousands of years ago in India as an integrated physical, mental, and spiritual practice based on ancient Vedic philosophy, and is connected to Ayurveda, the system of traditional Indian medicine. During the 20th century, yoga became increasingly recognised outside India, and over the past decades it has continued to grow in popularity worldwide as system for promoting health and well-being. While modern yoga often focuses on physical poses and is sometimes thought of as a type of exercise, the practice usually incorporates one or more of the mental or spiritual elements that are traditionally part of yoga, such as relaxation, concentration, or meditation. For this reason, yoga is considered a mind-body exercise.

There are currently many different types or schools of yoga, each with a different emphasis on and approach to practice. It is widely thought that some of these yoga practices may help treat or prevent physical or mental illnesses, and improve overall quality of life. There is therefore a need for information on the potential health benefits and harms of yoga.

This Cochrane Library Special Collection of systematic reviews on yoga focuses on reviews evaluating the effectiveness of yoga for improving physical or mental symptoms and quality of life in a range of health conditions. It has been developed to bring the best available evidence on the health-related effects of yoga to the attention of the general public, patients, health professionals, and other decision makers, and to inform choices on the use of yoga to improve health and well-being.

This Special Collection has been collated by L Susan Wieland of the Cochrane Complementary Medicine Field, with reviews prepared by the authors and editors of several Cochrane groups (see Acknowledgements).

Musculoskeletal conditions

Free AccessYoga treatment for chronic non‐specific low back pain

Non-specific low back pain is a common, potentially disabling condition usually treated with self-care and non-prescription medication. Current guidelines state that exercise therapy may be beneficial. This review assesses the effects of yoga for treating chronic non-specific low back pain, compared to no specific treatment, a minimal intervention (e.g. education), or another active treatment, with a focus on pain, function, and adverse events.

Health of older people and improving balance

Free AccessExercise for reducing fear of falling in older people living in the community

Fear of falling is common in older people and associated with serious physical and psychosocial consequences. Exercise (planned, structured, repetitive and purposive physical activity aimed at improving physical fitness) may reduce fear of falling by improving strength, gait, balance and mood, and reducing the occurrence of falls. This review considers yoga together with Tai Chi and the Feldenkrais Method as a type of exercise intervention, and assesses the effects of these and other exercise interventions for reducing fear of falling in older people living in the community. 

Pulmonary conditions

Free AccessYoga for asthma

Asthma is a common chronic inflammatory disorder affecting about 300 million people worldwide. The breathing exercises, physical postures, and mental or spiritual practices of yoga are sometimes used by people with asthma. This review assesses the effects of yoga in relieving both the physical and psychological distress of people with asthma.

Free AccessBreathing exercises for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Breathing exercises, including those associated with yoga, aim to alter respiratory muscle recruitment, improve respiratory muscle performance and reduce (shortness of breath) in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This review assesses whether exercises are beneficial in people with COPD, when compared with no breathing exercises, while also assessing any adverse effects.


Free AccessYoga in addition to standard care for patients with haematological malignancies

Haematological malignancies are cancers of the myeloid or lymphatic cell lines, and include leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma. To help manage physical and psychological aspects of the disease and its treatment, complementary therapies like yoga are coming increasingly into focus. This review aims to assess the effects of yoga practice in addition to standard cancer treatment for people with haematological malignancies.

Free AccessYoga for improving health‐related quality of life, mental health and cancer‐related symptoms in women diagnosed with breast cancer

Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer among women worldwide. The diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer is often associated with long-term psychological distress, chronic pain, fatigue and impaired quality of life. This review assesses effects of yoga on health-related quality of life, mental health, and cancer-related symptoms among women with a diagnosis of breast cancer who are receiving active treatment or have completed treatment.

Cardiovascular disease

Free AccessYoga for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease

Cardiovascular diseases affect the heart and blood vessels, and they are the number one cause of death and disability worldwide. A sedentary lifestyle and stress are major risk factors for development of cardiovascular disease. Since yoga involves exercise and is thought to help in stress reduction it may be an effective strategy for preventing cardiovascular disease. This review aims to determine the effect of any type of yoga on the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease.

Free AccessYoga for secondary prevention of coronary heart disease

Coronary heart disease is a type of cardiovascular disease and is the major cause of early morbidity and mortality in most developed countries. Secondary prevention aims to prevent repeat cardiac events and death in people with established coronary heart disease. Since yoga involves exercise and is thought to reduce stress it may help prevent repeat cardiac events. This review aims to determine the effectiveness of yoga for the secondary prevention of mortality and morbidity in, and on the health-related quality of life in individuals with coronary heart disease.

Mental health

Free AccessMeditation therapies for attention‐deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common developmental disorders experienced in childhood, and it can persist into adulthood. It can impair academic performance, vocational success, and social-emotional development. Meditation is increasingly used for psychological conditions and could be used as a tool for attentional training in people with ADHD. This review assesses the effectiveness of meditation therapies, including yoga, as a treatment for ADHD. 

Free AccessYoga versus standard care for schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe, and often disabling mental disorder that is relatively common. Many people with schizophrenia are interested in using yoga either instead of or in addition to standard treatment. This review examines the effects of yoga versus standard care for people with schizophrenia.

Free AccessYoga versus non‐standard care for schizophrenia

Yoga is one of many therapies that can be used instead of or in addition to standard care for people with schizophrenia. Other therapies include psychological therapy, expressive therapy, or other types of exercise. This review examines the effects of yoga versus these non-standard therapies for improving psychological symptoms, social functioning, and quality of life in people with schizophrenia.

Free AccessYoga as part of a package of care versus standard care for schizophrenia

When yoga is used to help treat people with schizophrenia, it is sometimes combined with other non-standard therapies, including psychological therapies, expressive therapies, or other types of exercise, into a 'package of care'. This review examines the effects of yoga as part of a package of care versus standard care for people with schizophrenia.

Neurological conditions

Free AccessYoga for epilepsy

Epilepsy is a disorder in which recurrent seizures are caused by abnormal electrical discharges in the brain. Most seizures can be controlled by antiepileptic drugs, but sometimes seizures develop which are resistant to those drugs. Yoga may induce relaxation and stress reduction, which may influence the electroencephalogram and the autonomic nervous system, thereby controlling seizures. This review assesses the effectiveness of yoga in reducing seizures and improving quality of life for people with epilepsy.

Child health

Free AccessPsychosocial interventions for recurrent abdominal pain in childhood

Between 4% and 25% of school-aged children have recurrent abdominal pain severe enough to interfere with their daily activities. For most such children no organic cause for the pain can be found. A large range of psychosocial interventions involving cognitive and behavioural components have been recommended for managing this condition. This review assesses the effectiveness of psychosocial interventions, including yoga, for reducing pain in school-aged children with recurrent abdominal pain.