Koshas and the Vagus Nerve

A Review of the Koshas

The concept of the “koshas” in yoga philosophy refers to layers or sheaths that describe the various parts of an individual’s consciousness and existence. The koshas represent different dimensions of the human experience, from the most physical to the most spiritual. There are five koshas, each are distinct but also nested within the other.

In yoga therapy, the Koshas are the framework used to co-create a plan for helping a person to achieve more balance and calmness in their lives.

Here are brief descriptions:

  1. Annamaya Kosha (Physical Sheath): This is the outermost layer and pertains to the physical body. It encompasses the physical organs, systems, and the overall body structure. It is associated with the physical sensations, experiences, and health of the body. The state of the Annamaya Kosha can influence one’s overall well-being, energy levels, and vitality.
  2. Pranamaya Kosha (Energetic Sheath): This kosha relates to the energetic body and encompasses the various energy channels, or “nadis,” and energy centers, or “chakras.” It is associated with the flow of vital life force energy (prana) throughout the body. The state of the Pranamaya Kosha can influence one’s vitality, emotional states, and overall energy balance.
  3. Manomaya Kosha (Mental Sheath): This layer represents the mind and mental processes. It includes thoughts, emotions, beliefs, memories, and perceptions. The state of the Manomaya Kosha can influence one’s cognitive functioning, emotional well-being, and mental clarity.
  4. Vijnanamaya Kosha (Wisdom Sheath): This kosha is associated with intellect, wisdom, and intuition. It encompasses higher cognitive functions, discernment, and a deeper understanding of oneself and the world. The state of the Vijnanamaya Kosha can influence one’s ability to make sound decisions, seek inner guidance, and cultivate wisdom.
  5. Anandamaya Kosha (Bliss Sheath): The innermost kosha represents the state of bliss, joy, and interconnectedness. It’s associated with a profound sense of contentment and spiritual fulfillment. The Anandamaya Kosha is often considered to be the closest to one’s true nature or higher self.

Enter the Vagus Nerve

The vagus nerve is a crucial part of the parasympathetic nervous system and plays a significant role in regulating various bodily functions, including heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, and emotional responses. Its activity is closely linked to the body’s stress response and relaxation mechanisms. The vagus nerve has a direct influence on the autonomic nervous system, which in turn can impact the different koshas. In yoga we might describe the activity of vagus nerve as an energy system, and as the fluctuation of energy.

Making a connection between the vagus nerve’s activity and the condition of the koshas within an individual:

  1. Annamaya Kosha: The vagus nerve’s influence on digestion and metabolism can impact the physical body’s functioning. An overactive vagus nerve might lead to digestive issues, while a well-regulated vagus nerve can promote healthy digestion and overall bodily function.
  2. Pranamaya Kosha: The vagus nerve’s role in regulating heart rate variability and breathing can influence the energy flow within the energetic body. Balanced vagal tone can support a harmonious energy circulation, while imbalances might lead to disruptions in energy flow.
  3. Manomaya Kosha: The vagus nerve’s connection to emotional responses can affect mental well-being. A balanced vagus nerve can help regulate emotions and stress responses, contributing to a healthier mind.
  4. Vijnanamaya Kosha: The vagus nerve’s impact on cognitive functions can influence higher-order thinking and discernment. Optimal vagal tone can contribute to clear thinking and better decision-making.
  5. Anandamaya Kosha: The vagus nerve’s role in promoting relaxation and reducing stress can create an environment conducive to experiencing states of inner bliss and contentment. A well-functioning vagus nerve can support spiritual practices and a sense of interconnectedness.

A conceptual connection can be made between the koshas and the vagus nerve’s activity. Science continues to describe the autonomic nervous system (ANS) in more detail, as we gain a greater understanding as to how thoughts and emotions effect the ANS. Research into vagal tone, heart rate variability, Polyvagal Theory, trauma, PTSD, depression, auto immune disease, and other areas continue to point to connections between ancient wisdom traditions and modern science.

Yoga Research as a means of explaining the magic behind yoga

The part big data plays in dispelling the myth and proving the efficacy of yoga

Yoga is a practice that has been used for centuries to promote physical and mental well-being. As its popularity has grown in recent years, so has the interest in understanding its benefits from a scientific standpoint. Researchers around the world are now exploring the effects of yoga on the body and brain, using a range of techniques to measure its impact.

The benefits of yoga are numerous and well-documented. From reducing stress and anxiety to improving flexibility and balance, yoga has been shown to be an effective complementary treatment for a variety of health conditions.

Recent Yoga Research Articles

Current Yoga Research articles found via PubMed®

Read abstracts on current yoga research articles. Click on the “+ expand” link on the PubMed® page in the link below to see academic affiliations. Clicking on “PMCID” will give you more research detail.


(Note: “PubMed® comprises more than 35 million citations for biomedical literature from MEDLINE®, life science journals, and online books. Citations may include links to full-text content from PubMed Central and publisher websites.”)

Google Scholar

Review articles on Yoga Research from 2023 via Google Scholar:


(Note: Google Scholar “provides a simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature. From one place, you can search across many disciplines and sources: articles, theses, books, abstracts, and court opinions, from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities, and other websites. Google Scholar helps you find relevant work across the world of scholarly research.”

Qualitative methods used to measure the body’s physiologic response

Yoga has been widely recognized as a holistic approach to wellness, and its benefits have been documented in numerous studies. However, measuring the physiological changes that occur during yoga practice can be challenging. Fortunately, researchers have developed a range of qualitative methods to assess yoga’s impact on the body.

Heart rate variability analysis is a commonly used method to measure the physiological response to yoga. This technique involves measuring the time between heartbeats, which can provide insights into the functioning of the autonomic nervous system. Studies have shown that regular yoga practice can improve heart rate variability, which in turn can lead to better cardiovascular health.

Cortisol level measurement is another technique that is often used to assess the impact of yoga on the body. Cortisol is a hormone that is released in response to stress, and high levels of cortisol can be detrimental to health. Studies have shown that regular yoga practice can reduce cortisol levels, which can lead to a range of health benefits, including reduced anxiety and improved immune function.

Brain imaging techniques like fMRI and EEG scans have also been used to study the effects of yoga on the brain. These techniques allow researchers to visualize changes in brain activity during yoga practice, providing insights into the neural mechanisms that underlie the benefits of yoga. Studies have shown that regular yoga practice can increase activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is associated with improved cognitive function and emotional regulation.

Breath analysis is another technique that can be used to assess the physiological response to yoga. This involves measuring the volume and rate of breath during yoga practice, which can provide insights into the functioning of the respiratory system. Studies have shown that regular yoga practice can improve respiratory function, which can lead to better overall health and well-being.

Overall, these qualitative methods provide valuable insights into how yoga affects the body. By using these techniques, researchers can draw conclusions on the efficacy of yoga and yoga therapy, and develop evidence-based recommendations for individuals looking to improve their health and well-being through yoga practice.

Smartphones assist in Big Data collection

 In recent years, yoga has become increasingly popular as a form of exercise and stress relief. However, despite its widespread use, there is still much that is not fully understood about how yoga affects the body. Now, Smartphones and wearable technology enable personal data collection for yoga practitioners. Individuals willing to share their personal information are adding to the collective knowledge for yoga research. Yoga works. Let’s prove it.

Wearable devices, such as heart rate monitors and blood pressure cuffs, have been used in medical research for many years. However, the use of these devices in yoga research is a relatively new development. By wearing these devices during yoga practice, researchers can collect data on how the body responds to different poses and breathing techniques.

Smartphone apps have also been developed specifically for yoga practitioners. These apps can track breathing patterns, heart rate, heart rate variability, and other vitals, allowing users to monitor their progress and make adjustments to their practice as needed. Some apps even use artificial intelligence to analyze the data collected, providing personalized feedback and recommendations.

The use of big data analysis in yoga research is another exciting development. By collecting and analyzing data from large numbers of yoga practitioners, researchers can identify patterns and trends that would be impossible to detect in smaller studies. This can lead to a better understanding of the physiological effects of yoga, as well as the potential benefits for specific populations, such as those with chronic pain or mental health conditions.

Overall, the use of smartphones and wearable technology in yoga research has the potential to revolutionize our understanding of this ancient practice. By providing new insights into the effects of yoga on the body and mind, this technology is helping to pave the way for more personalized and effective yoga practices in the future.

Research has shown that yoga is not only a physical practice but also a mental and emotional one. In addition to the physiological responses mentioned above, there are several other benefits of practicing yoga. For instance, practicing yoga regularly can lead to improved flexibility, balance, and posture. This is because yoga involves holding poses for an extended period of time, which helps to stretch and strengthen the muscles.

In addition to the physical and mental benefits, practicing yoga can also help to improve overall well-being. By focusing on the breath and being present in the moment, yoga helps to cultivate mindfulness and self-awareness. This can lead to a greater sense of inner peace and contentment, which can have a positive impact on all areas of life. Overall, the physiological responses mentioned are just a few of the many benefits of practicing yoga. Whether you’re looking to improve your physical health, reduce stress, or cultivate greater mindfulness, yoga has something to offer everyone.


The scientific research on yoga is still in its early stages. By measuring the physiological changes that occur during yoga practice, researchers are beginning to understand how it works and how it can be used as a therapeutic tool. With continued research, we can expect to see more insights and discoveries about the potential of yoga to transform our lives.

Full disclosure: this post written with artificial intelligence assistance using prompts that I entered into the AI tool “byword.ai.” But, frankly I spent so much time adding to it, removing huge sections, and heavily editing it that I should just claim full authorship! –—Tish Ganey

Improved Heart Rate Variability through Yoga

How to Improve Heart Rate Variability Through Yoga and Pranayama: Exploring the Benefits for the Heart, Nervous System, Cortisol Levels, and Overall Health and Wellness

Heart rate variability (HRV) is a measure of the variation in time between each heartbeat. It is an indicator of the health of the heart, nervous system, and overall well-being. High HRV is associated with good physical and emotional health, while low HRV is linked with chronic stress, anxiety, depression, and poor cardiovascular health.

Understanding Heart Rate Variability (HRV)

What is Heart Rate Variability?

HRV refers to the variation in time between each heartbeat. It is calculated as the difference between the longest and shortest intervals between heartbeats during a given period (usually a minute). High HRV indicates a healthy and flexible cardiovascular system, while low HRV suggests a rigid and overloaded system.

Heart rate variability is a complex and dynamic process that is influenced by many factors, including age, gender, genetics, physical activity, diet, and stress. It is regulated by the autonomic nervous system, which consists of two branches: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the “fight or flight” response, while the parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for the “rest and digest” response.

When we experience stress, our sympathetic nervous system becomes activated, causing our heart rate to increase and our HRV to decrease. This is a normal and adaptive response that prepares us to deal with a threat. However, when stress becomes chronic or excessive, it can lead to a state of sympathetic overdrive and reduced HRV, which is associated with a range of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, depression, anxiety, and chronic pain.

Why is HRV Important for Health and Wellness?

HRV is a sensitive indicator of the body’s response to stress and the state of the autonomic nervous system, which controls the heart rate, breathing, digestion, and other vital functions. By monitoring HRV, we can gain insights into our physical and emotional states, and take proactive steps to improve our well-being.

Research has shown that individuals with higher HRV tend to have better physical and mental health outcomes. For example, high HRV has been associated with better cognitive function, improved sleep quality, reduced inflammation, and lower risk of cardiovascular disease. On the other hand, low HRV has been linked to increased risk of depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders.

Fortunately, there are many ways to improve HRV and promote overall health and wellness. These include regular exercise, mindfulness practices such as meditation and deep breathing, a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and stress reduction techniques such as yoga and massage therapy.

By taking care of our physical and mental health, we can improve our HRV and enjoy the many benefits that come with a healthy and flexible cardiovascular system.

The Science Behind Yoga and Pranayama

Tish Ganey teaching pranayama
Tish Ganey teaching Pranayama
Yoga is a traditional practice that has been around for centuries. It involves physical postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), and self-awareness training (meditation) to promote physical, emotional, and spiritual health. The practice of yoga has been shown to have numerous benefits for the body and mind.

The Effects of Yoga on the Body

Research indicates that regular yoga practice can help reduce stress levels. This is because yoga has been shown to lower levels of cortisol, a hormone that is released in response to stress. Lowering cortisol levels can help reduce anxiety and improve overall mood.

In addition to reducing stress, yoga has also been shown to lower blood pressure. This is because yoga postures can help improve circulation and blood flow throughout the body. Improved circulation can help reduce the strain on the heart, leading to lower blood pressure levels.

Yoga has also been shown to improve respiratory function. This is because many yoga postures involve deep breathing, which can help increase lung capacity and improve overall respiratory health. Improved respiratory function can help reduce the risk of respiratory illnesses and improve overall physical performance.

Finally, regular yoga practice has been shown to enhance cognitive performance. This is because yoga can help improve focus, concentration, and memory. Additionally, the mindfulness training that is a part of yoga practice can help reduce stress and improve overall mental health.

The Power of Pranayama: Breathing Techniques for Improved HRV

Pranayama is a specific type of breathing practice that involves controlling the breath to achieve specific physiological and psychological effects. Research suggests that pranayama can improve heart rate variability (HRV) by increasing parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) activity.

The PNS is responsible for the body’s “rest and digest” response. When the PNS is activated, the body is able to relax and recover from stress. This can help improve HRV, which is a measure of the variability in time between each heartbeat. High HRV is associated with better overall health and a reduced risk of heart disease.

Pranayama has been shown to be an effective way to increase PNS activity and improve HRV. This is because pranayama involves slow, controlled breathing that can help activate the PNS and reduce stress levels. By practicing pranayama regularly, individuals can improve their overall health and reduce their risk of heart disease.

Benefits of Improved HRV Through Yoga and Pranayama

Strengthening the Heart and Cardiovascular System

The heart is one of the most vital organs in the human body. It pumps blood throughout the body, delivering oxygen and nutrients to the cells and organs that need them. The cardiovascular system is responsible for maintaining this process, and any disruptions can lead to serious health problems.

One of the benefits of improved HRV through yoga and pranayama is that it can help to strengthen the heart and cardiovascular system. By practicing these techniques regularly, you can lower your blood pressure, reduce your risk of heart disease, and improve your circulation. This can help to ensure that your heart and cardiovascular system are functioning at their best, and reduce your risk of heart attack, stroke, and other related conditions.

Enhancing the Nervous System Function

The nervous system is responsible for regulating many of the body’s functions, including our stress levels, emotions, and physical health. When the nervous system is functioning properly, we feel calm, relaxed, and in control. However, when the nervous system is overactive, we can experience anxiety, stress, and other negative emotions.

By improving HRV, we can enhance the function of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for rest, digest, and repair functions. This can help to promote relaxation, improve sleep quality, and reduce the risk of chronic stress-related illnesses. In addition, by practicing yoga and pranayama regularly, we can learn to control our breathing and calm our minds, which can further enhance the function of the nervous system.

Regulating Cortisol Levels and Reducing Stress

Cortisol is a hormone that is released in response to stress. It is an important hormone that helps the body to respond to stress, but when cortisol levels are chronically elevated, it can lead to a range of negative health effects, including anxiety, depression, and weight gain.

One of the benefits of yoga and pranayama is that it can help to regulate cortisol levels in the body. By practicing these techniques regularly, we can reduce inflammation, promote relaxation, and provide a natural way to manage stress and improve mental health. This can help to reduce our risk of chronic stress-related illnesses and improve our overall quality of life.

Boosting Overall Health and Wellness

By improving HRV and enhancing the function of the heart and nervous system, yoga and pranayama can help to boost overall health and wellness. These practices have been shown to improve immune function, promote healthy digestion, reduce pain, and improve cognitive function, thus providing a natural route to better health and vitality.

Furthermore, practicing yoga and pranayama regularly can help to improve our self-awareness and mindfulness. By becoming more aware of our bodies and our thoughts, we can learn to better manage our emotions, reduce our stress levels, and improve our overall quality of life.

Yoga Poses and Pranayama Techniques for Improved HRV

Best Yoga Poses for Heart Health

When it comes to maintaining a healthy heart, yoga is one of the best forms of exercise. Not only does it help to improve cardiovascular health, but it also promotes relaxation and reduces stress. Some of the best yoga poses for heart health include:

  • Bridge Pose: This pose helps to improve circulation and strengthen the heart muscle. To practice, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Lift your hips up towards the ceiling, keeping your feet and shoulders on the ground. Hold for several breaths before lowering back down.
  • Cobra Pose: Cobra pose is great for improving respiratory function and opening up the chest. To practice, lie on your stomach with your hands under your shoulders. Slowly lift your chest off the ground, keeping your elbows close to your body. Hold for several breaths before lowering back down.
  • Fish Pose: Fish pose is another great pose for improving circulation and opening up the chest. To practice, lie on your back with your legs extended and arms by your sides. Lift your chest up towards the ceiling, arching your back and placing the top of your head on the ground. Hold for several breaths before lowering back down.
  • Supported Shoulder Stand: This pose not only strengthens the heart muscle, but also helps to improve thyroid function and reduce stress. To practice, lie on your back with your legs extended and arms by your sides. Lift your legs up towards the ceiling and then use your hands to support your lower back as you lift your hips off the ground. Hold for several breaths before lowering back down.

Pranayama Techniques to Increase HRV

In addition to yoga poses, pranayama techniques can also be very effective for increasing heart rate variability (HRV). HRV is a measure of the variation in time between each heartbeat, and is an important indicator of overall cardiovascular health. Some of the best pranayama techniques for increasing HRV include:

  • Deep Breathing: Deep breathing is a simple yet effective technique for promoting relaxation and increasing HRV. To practice, sit comfortably with your eyes closed and take slow, deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth.
  • Alternate Nostril Breathing: This technique helps to balance the nervous system and increase HRV. To practice, sit comfortably with your eyes closed and use your right thumb to close your right nostril. Inhale deeply through your left nostril, then use your ring finger to close your left nostril as you exhale through your right nostril. Continue alternating nostrils for several breaths.
  • Ujjayi Breathing: Ujjayi breathing is a powerful technique for calming the mind and increasing HRV. To practice, sit comfortably with your eyes closed and breathe in and out through your nose, constricting the back of your throat slightly to create a “whispering” sound.

Combining Yoga and Pranayama for Maximum Benefits

While yoga poses and pranayama techniques can be effective on their own, combining the two provides even greater benefits for heart health and overall well-being. By practicing yoga and pranayama regularly, we can improve the function of the heart and nervous system, promote relaxation, and reduce stress. So why not give it a try and see how it can benefit you?

Full disclosure: this post written with artificial intelligence assistance using prompts that I entered into the AI tool “byword.ai.” –—Tish Ganey