5 Physiological Fun Facts for Yoga Teachers and Practitioners


5.) FACT: People who lose weight often still feel heavy and commonly maintain the body language and movement characteristic of an overweight person.

REASON: A conflict exists between the body schema (which is largely up-to-date on the current state of the body, but is largely unconscious) and body image (which relates to how we feel about our bodies, can lag behind the state of the body, and of which we are conscious.)

RELEVANCE: It may take unconventional activities to help a student realign his or her body schema and body image. e.g. Wobble boards have been shown to be effective.

REFERENCE: “The Body Has a Mind of Its Own” by Blakeslee and Blakeslee


4.) FACT: The busiest skeletal muscles in the body are the extraocular muscles (i.e. more than 100,000 moves per day.)

REASON: We don’t see over a broad area as clearly as we think we do. The illusion that we can is created by rapid saccades by which the eye is constantly moving to take in sights from the point at which our sight is best. You can prove this to yourself by fixing your gaze forward, and then–from the side–draw a playing card at random so the face is towards your cheek while holding the card out to one’s side at shoulder height, and then–eyes still fixed forward–gradually move it in an arc at arm’s length towards one’s center-line until you can make out which card it is. You might think you’d be able to make it out at say a 30-degree angle from center-line, but you’ll find it’s almost directly in front of your eye when you can make it out. If if isn’t: a.) your eyes made a cheating saccade so quickly you didn’t notice it or, b.) you are an android and have eyes (and nervous system interface) that aren’t constructed on the same principles as the human system of vision.

RELEVANCE: One may want to brush up on eye yoga. Yes, there is such a thing.

REFERENCE: There’s a section on exercises for the eyes in Swami Saraswati’s “Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha” (commonly called APMB.)


3.) FACT: The gut has its own nervous system (i.e. the enteric nervous system) that can interact with our body’s nervous system, and increasing evidence suggests that it’s not always mental stress that causes stomach aches, but sometimes problems in the gut result in mental / emotional turmoil.

REASON: There’s a lot that remains unknown at the moment, but a lot of research is going on in this area. It seems reasonable to guess that there’s probably an evolutionary advantage for the digestive tract to be able to express its dissatisfaction in a way that changes behavior (and emotions are all about behavior change.)

RELEVANCE: Unexplained depression or emotional outbursts may have unexpected origins.

REFERENCE: I can highly recommend “Gut” by Giulia Enders, but I’ve also heard great things about the more recent “I Contain Multitudes” by Ed Young, though I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet myself.


2.) FACT: The problems that can arise due to hyperventilation aren’t about oxygen levels, they are about too little carbon dioxide.

REASON: Lack of carbon dioxide can cause arteries and arterioles of the brain and spinal cord to constrict.

RELEVANCE: Introduce kapalbhati and bhastrika with caution.

REFERENCE: H. David Coulter’s “Anatomy of Hatha Yoga” chapter on breathing (Ch. 2) deals with the physiology of breathing in an excellent fashion.


1.) There are oh-so-many more than five senses in the human body. Within the realm of “felt sensation” alone there’s not only touch (one of the five senses we usually think of), but also: thermoception (sense of temperature), nociception (sensation of pain), proprioception (sense of the location and motion of our various body parts, and balance (which relies on vision and proprioception but also vestibular sensation.)

REASON: Without these sensations we couldn’t function as we do. I don’t have to tell experienced meditators how difficult it can be to simply stand up or walk when proprioception is dampened by the pins-and-needles from sitting cross-legged such that one doesn’t notice one’s drooping foot.

RELEVANCE: At some point one should begin to practice relying on proprioception more and visual confirmation less. (Proper drishti–focal points–rarely allow one to visually confirm one’s position.)

REFERENCE: Besides the book mentioned in #5, check out David J. Linden’s “Touch.” I’ve also begun reading a Harvard Medical School Guide entitled “Better Balance” that gives insight into how to improve the sense of balance–particularly if one serves senior citizen students.


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