Getting Back on Track
As we head into the new season we can reflect on the toll that winter takes on our bodies and minds. Lack of exercise, that is so often present in the winter months, leads to central weight gain and loss of energy. The increase of central fatty tissue deposits tips the scales toward a variety of metabolic imbalances, including increased resistance to insulin, reduced testosterone production in men, and increased production of Estrone that leads to increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer in women.
These imbalances are compounded by nutritional deficiencies of Vitamin D from lack of sun exposure, and of other minerals and vitamins due to reduced intake of fresh vegetables and fruit. These nutrients are critical in providing support for hormone regulation and their shortage further worsens the metabolic imbalance. This imbalance in turn causes lack of energy, sex drive, mood fluctuations, reduced ability to handle stress and reduced REM sleep. Lack of REM (deep) sleep contributes to further metabolic dis-regulation that worsens the symptoms discussed.
One of the markers of this state of increased stress is Heart Rate Variability or HRV. High HRV is a sign of physiologic resilience and is one of the measures tested before the child is born to see whether it can withstand the stress of going through the birth canal. It continues to serve as a critical marker of well being in adulthood that gives us insight into how healthy and unhealthy lifestyle practices affect our health.
Graph 1 shows how HRV can be affected by different mental states with the biggest improvement seen in meditation with appreciation.
The HRV is reduced in stress states and has been connected to increased body inflammation, heart disease, gastrointestinal disorders such as IBS, and depression.
There is evidence that increased HRV maintains a healthy and balanced autonomic nervous system, synchronizes emotional experiences, and stimulates production of proteins and hormones in the brain that in turn effect everything from mood, to memory, to stress reduction, to pain perception.
Evidence further shows that we can increase HRV and thereby create a balanced mind-body state through three main healthy practices: exercise, meditation, and anti-inflammatory diet; all of the elements contained in a Yoga practice. Yoga is based on five key principles: Proper relaxation (savasana) • Proper exercise (asanas) • Proper breathing (pranayama) • Proper diet (vegetarian) • Meditation (dhyana). Each of these components alone has been shown to positively affect HRV. The effect is even more powerful when they are all practiced on regular basis.