Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Why yoga makes me nervous

I find that a challenging yoga class brings a little thrill of fear to me which is not necessarily a pleasant sensation. Before you think me a total loser, check out this new study whose fancy brain-imaging techniques may explain the connection.

Researchers at the University of Manchester used PET scan imaging to see what parts of the brain lit up when people ached in their arthritic old knees. This technique involves injecting a person with a tagged sugar molecule called F-fluorodeoxyglucose or FDG. FDG is concentrated in neurons as they suck up sugar while at work reacting to the task at hand.

Neurobiologists already know which brain pathways activate when volunteers are pinched or kicked or however it is that researchers induce experimental pain. This same 'pain matrix' is also activated by arthritic pain. These UK scientists were surprised, however, to find that pain from degenerative joints "was associated with increased activity in the cingulate cortex, the thalamus, and the amygdala. These areas are involved in the processing of fear, emotions, and in aversive conditioning."

So if yoga induces pain in degenerating knee joints--and despite all those gentle adjustments from the instructor, I find it often does--aging yoginis might feel fear.


S said...

There are so many things in India that our ancestors have devised to keep us healthy. In the state of Kerala (called God's own country), you will find lot of old, healthy people compared to not so old, sick people in other states of India. Kerala is known for Ayurvedha, Yoga and Kalari (not only a martial art with sticks, but also a way of life like Karate). Maybe this is keeping them healthy. There are so many things we do not know about old customs and do not want to believe becuase we do not know about them. But i am sure anything that hurts should not be done in Yoga - beacuse they ae only stretching and relaxing exercises, it should not cause anything more than a mild discomfort.

Mauigirl said...

Sad that the pain causes a feeling of anxiety and fear. When I managed to get myself to actually show up for yoga class, I found it restful and regenerating. But my knees don't bother me. Perhaps you should ask if there are classes that are less strenuous so you can avoid the pain and get only the benefits. Or, just don't do the most difficult poses (as I didn't) if you find them too taxing.

Femail doc said...

Thanks Stdoc and MG for comments: I'm afraid if I limited myself to that which didn't cause a bit of knee pain in yoga, I'd do no yoga at all.

Mauigirl said...

Well...they do say, "No pain no gain!"

I do find I get very stiff a day or two after I first start yoga but as I get more limber things improve. So there is always hope!