The Physiology of Yoga

    Breath: The Incognito Master of Balance

Have you ever been struggling for balance in the middle of class, with your foot burning and eyes shifting, as your teacher delivers the cue, “Don’t forget to breathe!” In the midst of your frustration whilst trying not to topple over in natarajasana (dancer pose), you’ve probably formed a (silent) rebuttal along the lines of “Of course I’m breathing! It’s my darn leg that’s the problem!” While it is indeed very likely that you’re experiencing muscular fatigue in your leg, the breathing cue nonetheless carries more weight than you might think.

Many yogis are probably already familiar with some of the philosophy 10463728_10100192994948456_7742401807369315323_o(from both a spiritual and physiologic standpoint) behind the importance of breath in yoga practice. The breath, or manifestation of prana (which translates as “life force”), is a powerful tool that can be utilized to both calm and ignite the mind and body. By focusing on the breath, we are able to take a vacation from the constant chatter in our minds, as well as to activate the parasympathetic nervous system (more on this in a later post) to bring our physiologic processes into a more restorative state. While these are important aspects of breathing, they still overlook the role that the actual act of breathing can have on our balance.

On a macro scale, the act of breathing has been shown to influence our postural sway. As we breathe, our chest cavity expands and retracts rhythmically, slightly shifting our center of mass. Our bodies then compensate for this shift by adopting a slight sway. Several studies (1,2) have demonstrated that an increased rate of breath results in increased postural sway, a compensatory mechanism that maintains balance. Therefore, by slowing down and controlling our breath as we do in yoga, we shift our center of mass less often and thus decrease our postural sway.
Balance is controlled on a micro scale in our bodies as well. While there are several factors that play a role in this, a central player, known as the vestibular system, is located inside the ear. The vestibular system is a series of fluid-filled canals that control the way we perceive and orient ourselves in space. Intricately connected to the brain via a cranial nerve, the shifting of the fluid of the vestibular system lies in close proximity to the Eustachian tube, a small canal made up of both bone and cartilaginous material that connects the nasal cavities to the ear.

The influence of the Eustachian tube on the vestibular system and our sense of balance has been highlighted in several scenarios. In one study (3), Eustachian tube injury was linked to the development of vertigo in SCUBA divers. Similarly, another study (4) identified patients with Meniere’s disease (a disease which causes periodic episodes of vertigo) had decreased Eustachian tube function when compared to healthy individuals. While these studies are observatory and do not offer a physiologic explanation as to why Eustachian tube defect and balance are related, investigation into the anatomy of the nasal and ear cavities provides a logical explanation, as the proximity of these two structures allows for interaction between the systems. When we practice deep, slow breathing (especially
ear-anatomyujjayi breathing which constricts the back of the throat, shunting air towards the nasopharynx cavity) we are able to generate a pressure gradient which can travel from the nasopharynx cavity, down the Eustachian tube to the ear, and thus exert a pressure on the outside of the semicircular canals, providing some stabilization to the fluid inside. This stabilization prevents random, rapid motion of the fluid and has a subtle effect on the brain, resulting in a more stable and balanced neural input from the cranial nerve to the brain’s balance centers. 

A useful visual of this system is to imagine a half-filled plastic water bottle. If this water bottle is placed on its side on a counter and shaken, the fluid in the water bottle will move rapidly from side to side because of the pressure difference the water and air inside the bottle create.  However, if this water bottle is submerged underwater in a bathtub and then subjected to the same disturbance, the fluid inside will shift around less violently because the external pressure generated by the water in the tub provides a stabilizing, inward pressure on the bottle. This system also exists in our bodies, with the breath exerting an external pressure on the middle and inner ear to stabilize our vestibular system.

To bring this back to the mat: When we are struggling in natarajasana, frantically shifting our hips back and forth, that deep breath just might help incite a subtle change that will settle our bodies and minds. While the breath has other profound effects and the vestibular system is not the only physiologic process that affects our sense of balance, the application of mindful breath as a means of steadying the vestibular system can be utilized to help us in our yoga practice.

So go ahead and take a nice, deep inhale—that breath will help in more ways than you think.

For more information about Jessica, please scroll down to the previous post, or visit her bio HERE. 

1. Kitajima N, Sugita-Kitajima A, Kitajima S. Altered Eustachian Tube Function in SCUBA Divers  
    with Alternobaric Vertigo. Otology and Neurotology 2014; 35 (5): 850-856
2. Park JJH, Luedeke I, Luecke K, et al. Eustachian tube function in patients with inner ear
    disorders. European Archives of Otto-Rhino-Laryngology 2013; 270 (5): 1615-1621.
3. Hunter IW, Kearney IE. Respiratory Components of Human Postural Sway. Neuroscience
    Letters 1981; 25(2):155-159
4. Byung YJ. Respiration effect on Standing Balance. Archives of Physical Medicine and
    Rehabilitation 1991; 27(9):642-645

The Physiology of Yoga

Hi all!

While I already know many of you from working behind the desk for the past year, I would like to officially introduce myself as a new manager at Coolidge Corner Yoga. I am thrilled for the opportunity to become more involved with this awesome community of people that has come together in an effort to “feel good, do good.”

In addition to my role as manager, I will be utilizing my academic and athletic background to create a new blog component to the CCY website,  The Physiology of Yoga. To give you an idea of where I’m coming from, I have trained as a physiologist for the past nine years, working in a variety of different settings. I completed a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, minoring in sports medicine, at Pepperdine University in 2010. While obtaining my degree, I was involved in research investigating how the body controls the
return of blood from the peripheral circulation to the heart. Following graduation, I had the privilege of working with a psychiatrist, helping to grow and administer a new therapy program for patients suffering from depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric illnesses. After helping establish this program, I moved to San Diego, where I earned a Master’s degree in exercise physiology from San Diego State University. There, my focus was on the biochemistry of both exercise and nutrition. During this time, I was lucky enough to conduct research on the effects of several styles of military training, as well as to produce a novel paper on the effects of Bikram Yoga on new and experienced practitioners. After completing this work, I realized I wanted to pursue an even deeper understanding of the human body, so I moved to Boston to complete a second Master’s degree in human physiology at Boston University. During this time, I expanded my knowledge in several realms of basic science while gaining a greater understanding of how airway smooth muscle and vascular smooth muscle physiologically respond to various life stressors.

I have also been an athlete my entire life. I started swimming at age seven, trained with a national team at the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs during high school, and went on to swim for a NCAA Division I team in college. During this time, I was able to learn from some of the top trainers and nutritionists in the country. Training at this high intensity for over a decade provided me with a complementary, experiential education, which allowed me to begin drawing connections between my academic and athletic backgrounds.

However, it was not until I took up a consistent yoga practice in college that I truly began to see the deep, interconnected nature of my athletic and academic training . From the moment I stepped into my first class, I knew yoga would be an influential force throughout my life. During class, I would find myself repeatedly making connections with what I was learning in the academic realm to things that would surface, both physically and mentally, during my practice. These connections solidified my belief in the power that a yoga practice can have on our lives. I have developed a passion for raising awareness and understanding of how our bodies and minds can benefit from yoga and the yogic lifestyle. Undoubtedly, there is a wealth of information on the positive outcomes that can result from yoga. However, sometimes this information can be lost  on the general public because of the overwhelming body of literature and overuse of scientific jargon. I hope to utilize my broad scientific knowledge base to condense and interpret the existing literature into “bite-sized” portions for the CCY community, as well as offer new perspectives on how our physiology relates to our yoga practice.

The Physiology of Yoga  will feature original content on a variety of topics including the physiology of yoga, kinesiology, nutrition, mindful living, and much more. I look forward to contributing to the knowledge CCY has to offer and am always open to suggestions if there is a particular topic you would like to see highlighted. I am here to translate the science behind issues that are directly impacting our community.


-Jessica Pate 

Let's Talk Nutrition

Phytonutrients: Nature’s Preventative Medicine

Regardless of your diet, pumping up your consumption of fruits and vegetables has some incredibly positive health benefits. For example, cherries alone are a good source of potassium, which is great for muscle contractions, and Vitamin C, which is necessary for the growth, development and repair of all body tissues, formation of collagen, absorption of iron, boosting the immune system, wound healing, and the maintenance of cartilage, bones, and teeth.  

To name just a few of their benefits, diets generally high in fruits and vegetables:

●      decrease obesity
●      prevent heart disease
●      protect against certain cancers

As if that’s not enough, fruits and vegetables are also packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and numerous phytonutrients. Phyto-what? Unlike vitamins and minerals, these non-nutritive chemicals found in plants are not essential to sustain life. They are, however, valuable in the prevention of disease and may optimize other aspects of human health. You might call them Mother Nature’s preventative medicine. Currently, thousands of
phytonutrients have been identified, and their benefits range from positively effecting hormonal processes to acting as antioxidants and reducing the risk of disease. Some phytonutrients you may have heard of before include: carotenoids, flavonoids, phytoestrogens, sulfides and thiols, phytosterols, and isothiocyanates. One of the phytonutrients most touted in the media today is resveratrol, which is found in peanuts, grapes, and red wine. Popular for its anti-aging benefits, resveratrol is also linked to antioxidant, antibiotic, antitumor, anti-inflammatory, and cardio-protective effects.

Each fruit or vegetable has its own unique concoction of phytonutrients. For example, carrots, citrus fruits, and dark green leafy vegetables are high in carotenoids; berries, grapes, and broccoli are high in flavonoids. With that in mind, a greater variety of plants in your diet will contribute to a wider spread of phytonutrients, and thus an increased range of health benefits. Though phytonutrients may be added to increase health benefits, animal products do not contain phytonutrients—only plant foods do.

To introduce more plant diversity into your diet, try the recipe below for a healthy and satisfying serving of phytonutrient-rich vegetables. This recipe also uses the commonly discarded portions of vegetables (the green tops and skin) for added phytonutrient and ecological benefits!

*We’d love some feedback!

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Carrot and Bean Veggie Burgers

(Makes approximately 16, 2-ounce patties)


1 can garbanzo beans, drainedroasting-carrots2

1 shallot, diced
1 clove garlic, chopped
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil plus 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound carrots of mixed colors (we found some at Whole Foods), diced
½ cup cooked brown basmati rice
½ cup quick cooking oats


   Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

   Drain the garbanzo beans and put them into a food processor. Add the shallots, garlic,    turmeric, curry powder, salt, and pepper. Blend until the ingredients are roughly mixed and incorporated. Add 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, carrots, brown rice, and quick cooking oats and blend again until mixed well.

   Form the completed mixture into approximately 16 2-ounce patties. Drizzle the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan and place it on the stove at medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the veggie burgers and fry them until they become golden brown. Flip the patty and brown the other side.

   Remove the patties from the sauté pan and place them on a baking sheet.  Cook the patties at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. While they are cooking, begin preparing the Carrot Top Pesto (below). Once the patties are cooked, remove them from the oven and set them aside to cool. Garnish with Carrot Top Pesto or your choice of toppings as desired and enjoy! (Bonus: These taste great chilled too!)

Carrot Top Pesto


Carrot tops from 1 pound of carrots
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup olive oil


Remove the carrot top greens from the stem. Rinse and dry the carrot top greens, then add them to a food processor. Add the garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil. Blend all of the ingredients together until they are smooth. Serve the pesto on top of the patties or on the side as an accompaniment.

1.Edelstein, S. (2014). Food science: An ecological approach. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning
2.Fruit and Vegetable Nutrition. (2015). Retrieved May 27, 2015 from

Photo Credits


Let's Talk Nutrition!

Happy June CCY family!

As a way of welcoming the warmer temperatures, embracing the opening of local farmer's markets, and hitting the refresh button, we’re excited to start this new, recurring blog feature about food and how it relates to our yoga practice. In this column, we’ll offer tasty recipes and suggest tips for mindfully integrating healthy choices into our routine.

But how does yoga relate to nutrition? Yoga is more than just the physical asana practice—it’s a philosophy and a lifestyle that trickles down to affect all aspects of our being and all areas of our life. If you’re not yet familiar with it, the Yoga Sutras is a foundational guiding text for yogis. In this text, the ancient sage, Patanjali, systematically organizes the philosophy of yoga into 196 sutras (or threads).

In the Yoga Sutras, the eight limbs of yoga are defined. These limbs describe the different facets of the yoga practice, ultimately leading toward enlightenment. In the first limb of yoga a set of five ethical rules (known as yamas) are defined. The yama known as ahimsa, or non-harming, tells us not to harm other living things and teaches us how to make more compassionate choices when it comes to consumption. The second limb of yoga (known as niyamas) describes the five rules for creating a positive environment both inside and outside of our bodies. The niyama known as sauca, or purification, refers to taking care of our bodies and our surroundings.  As it relates to our diet, sauca means choosing foods that nourish our bodies, that are pure from additives and chemicals and that are close to the source (such as

plants), and that receive their energy directly from the sun. Our diet is one way in which we can exemplify these yamas and niyamas in our own lives off the mat. Using the sutras to guide our nutrition choices can help us use our food as a primary means of healing and/or maintaining health.

With that in mind, listed below is one of our favorite green smoothie recipes to get you started! This smoothie is a great blend of green nutrient dense leafy greens, protein packed avocados and hemp seed, as well as sweet fruits for yummy flavor.

Bon Appétit!

Green Smoothie Recipe
· 2 cored apples, with skin, cut  
  into quarters

· 5 kale leaves, snapped in half
· 1 T hemp seed
· 1 medium avocado
· 1 medium banana
· 1 cup berries of choice
· water (add last, filling blender to  
  about 2/3)

Add all ingredients to blender.
Makes sure water line is about 2/3 the way up the blender container then blend! 

         *A vitamix blender is highly recommended.  You can play around with water for    
           desired consistency.


Yogi of the Month: Nidhi Dave

Nidhi Dave

Occupation: Pharmacist

Fun Fact: I always carry snacks on me- for emergency purposes obviously.

Favorite Yoga Pose: Wild Thing (Camatkarasana)

When not on your mat, where can you be found? Studying at a local coffee shop, trying a new recipe, exploring a new part of town, or traveling.

How long have you been practicing and what's your latest yoga breakthrough?
I started here at CCY last February. Latest breakthrough- holding wheel (Urdhva Dhanurasana)!

How has yoga impacted your life?
It calms me down, at the same time it energizes me. The breath work has helped me achieve a feeling of content. Practicing regularly has also put me in a mindset of striving for a healthier lifestyle.

Meet Emily Peterson

Yin Yoga Instructor, Reiki Master, and TIMBO Facilitator

Many of you probably already know Emily Peterson through her yin and meditation classes here at CCY. But did you know that she is also CCY’s resident reiki practioner? We interviewed Emily this week to learn a bit more about what reiki is, how it can help you, and how Emily fuses reiki with yin yoga in her private sessions:

1) How and why do you combine reiki and yoga together in your private sessions with clients?

"Reiki and yoga are both healing, life-force-energy-based practices that, when combined, maximize healing potential.

After gaining an understanding of the client’s concerns and areas in which they would like to focus healing, I personalize a yoga and breathing sequence and thoughtfully lead the individual through the series of poses while doing reiki, and accompany him or her as various feelings and sensations arise during practice. The combination of yin and reiki provides a quiet and accepting space for individuals to mindfully experience connections between sensations in the body, emotions, and thoughts. Ultimately, this allows them to gain a greater understanding and sense of agency in their healing process.I also offer stand-alone sessions of just reiki or yin.

Basically, my process depends on:
1) what my client wants and
2) what sort of treatment is going to be most effective in helping them achieve their goals."

2) Being yogis, we can imagine what the yoga part of your sessions entails, but what exactly is reiki and how does a reiki session work?

"Reiki is a Japanese form of bodywork that moves and redirects the life force energy inherently present in all of our bodies. The end results are less stress; a reduction in anxiety and pain; increased energy; an enhanced immune system; and balanced physical, mental, and emotional states.

I begin my reiki sessions by chatting with my client for a few moments about how I can be of help, then we begin. If one offers, I never turn down a hug. For a reiki session, my client lies down on the bodywork table in comfortable clothing and relaxes and breathes while I enlist the help of the universe to facilitate the healing process. My hands will gently hold or hover over specific areas of the client’s body to direct the energy. Afterward, I’ll bring in some water and we will talk briefly about the experience and what support and tools I can offer going forward. Usually, my client is in a bit of post-reiki session haze of bliss, so I just send him or her on their way!"

3) What sort of issues do you help your clients resolve?

"People come in for a lot of different mind-body reasons. Many come in to alleviate or resolve physical pain; for support while undergoing treatment for an illness; to combat anxiety and depression; or just because they want to relax. Through the sessions, there is typically a realization that none of these things occur by themselves and that, to be healthy, we need harmony within our systems. Ultimately, my clients come to a better understanding of how storing and pushing down difficult emotions such as fear, guilt, shame, and grief impact our wellbeing and can lead to illness. Best of all, they realize how good habits create change and long-term health in their lives."

4) What sort of training did you complete?

"I am a 500-hour PranaVayu yoga Instructor and a Usui Reiki Master. I am a licensed TIMBo (Trauma Informed Mind Body Program) facilitator and trainer. I also trained with Sarah Powers to teach Yin and Mindfulness, and trained extensively with Lama Migmar Tseten, the Harvard Buddhist Chaplain. I also trained in biomechanics and therapeutics with Santosh Karmacharya. I love training!!!"
Check out this VIDEO to learn more about TIMBo and Emily’s personal experience with trauma and her recovery.

5) Do you have a favorite story or two about how you’ve been able to help clients through your work?

"I met my client Kathy when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago. We started with reiki and I helped her learn visualization techniques she could use to feel calm and proactive during chemo and surgeries. As she was able, I introduced yin in with the reiki and created a safe space through which she could experience the variety of feelings that the body was releasing through the practice, as well as gently begin to open the tissues that had been so affected by the treatment. We also focused intently on breathing and mindfulness practices that were specific to the healing stage she was in. Being part of and watching Kathy’s healing process is one of the biggest gifts I have ever received.

I have also worked with many people who come in to get support relaxing and dealing with general life stress. Seeing clients who came in tense and stressed out leave relaxed and loose is such a great feeling. Ultimately, I’m excited to support anyone in whatever way I can, and that’s the beauty of what I do—these techniques can be used to solve such a wide variety of issues, big and small."

To book an appointment with Emily and to learn more about her services please visit her website HERE.

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