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The Neuroscience of How Yoga Helps Your Mental Health – Part 6: Transient Hypofrontality
With this article, Subtle Yoga founder Kristine Kaoverii Weber continues her blog series about a research paper exploring how yoga affects psychological health. This is Part 6 of the series. To start at the beginning of the blog posts click here: Neuroscience of Yoga.
My recent blogs have been about an article which lays out a theoretical model for the neuroscience of yoga and self-regulation. You can read that whole article here – for free! Some of these articles can be pricey – so I offer my thanks to the researchers, to the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience journal and to Kripalu for getting these people together in the first place – whew, what a formidable gratitude list, I’m thrilled by how much interest there is in neuroscientific yoga research!
Because I think this stuff is important and because it’s uber dense, I’ve been breaking it down in a series of blogs. You can catch up by starting with the first blog here.
I covered some of the main topics of the article in my previous blogs. So this one’s going to be a little different. It’s about transient hypofrontality.
I know, I know, it sounds like a celebrity wardrobe malfunction, but actually transient hypofrontality is about creativity. It’s something that all of us, even Buzzfeed exhibitionists, ultimately want more of. If you want to geek out on it, here’s some of the original research, which explains which parts of your brain are working in this unique, expansive state of consciousness.
In the article about yoga and self-regulation, Tim Gard and his team needed to explore things like parasympathetic activation, top-down/bottom up processes and vagal tone. They are looking at yoga from a “here’s how yoga shifts the neurobiology of depression, anxiety, trauma and addiction” kind of perspective. Since there is such a dire social need for yoga therapy of this scope, it’s a great area of study.
Transient hypofrontality was not included in Gard’s model because it’s not about self-regulation. It’s really about what happens next. It’s about thriving. Transient hypofrontality belongs to a different realm – one that addiction specialists call “reclaiming,” positive psychologists call “thriving,” Jung called “individuation”, Maslow called “self-actualization,” and yogis might call “dhyana” and “samadhi” This is a realm beyond therapy, it’s the realm of human potential. What are human beings and what can we become? It’s an exciting question because it subverts the medical model (which basically says, “Hey, if you’re not sick, you’re good to go…next!”) and opens up new ways of knowing and being.
Transient hypofrontality is really the juicy essence, the rasa if you will, of the yoga and neuroscience conversation.
Oh, a definition might be helpful.
Transient hypofrontality is an (obviously) technical term meaning large portions of your prefrontal cortex have deactivated and brain activity is now dancing around various circuits.
Your front brain, specifically your prefrontal cortex, is largely responsible for executive function. This is where rational thinking, planning, and problem solving take place. It is also involved in inhibiting behavior – so it acts like your inner parent – it calms you down, inhibits your stress response and uses rationality to solve problems. It’s very important in self-regulation.
But what is human life beyond self-regulation? What’s beyond not freaking out?
There is the hard working, planning, regulating state of the brain and beyond that is the creative state. As if all that effort and study spills over into freedom and easefulness.
Perhaps you’ve had meditation experiences where you were concentrating and focusing and concentrating and focusing and concentrating and then, suddenly, you were sort of gone, it became easeful, light and pleasurable. In transient hypofrontality your front brain has gone offline, processes are dancing around in different parts of your brain, time is less important. Among others, eminent Harvard yoga researcher Sat Bir Khalsa talks about how meditation induces this trans-flow state.
This is the state from which all true creativity arises.
I remember having pangs of guilt when I first started meditating. “You’re just sitting there doing nothing?!” my inner critic harped. “What a waste of time!” But in terms of efficient brain states, the attempt to access transient hypofrontality is a worthy endeavor for anyone wanting more creativity in life.
Meditation helps you use your frontal lobes as a springboard to get out of them. And we all know that it’s in getting out of your head that you get into your heart – warm, expansive, open, curious and full of creativity. In this state you can open to greater levels of insight and awareness.
Kristine Kaoverii Weber is the founder of Subtle Yoga in Ashville and Charlotte, North Carolina. She has been a student of yoga since she was introduced to it in sixth grade. Kaoverii has been teaching yoga for more than twenty years. And her work these days focuses on providing yoga teacher trainings on the 200- hour and 500-hour level. Kaoverii is the director of Sarva Health, an organization which provides holistic yoga-based trainings to enhance community health infrastructure. In particular, Kaoverii developed the first RYT 200-hour training program specifically for mental health and substance abuse treatment professionals to be offered by a major continuing education institution. She is a frequent contributor to national magazines and the author of Healing Self Massage which shows how to use massage as a complement to yoga practice to relieve stress, neck and back pain, insomnia, and anxiety.