Neurobiology of Yoga

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1 Lesson

by David Vago, Ph.D.

The following course will provide you with the latest scientific understanding of the brain mechanisms by which self-transformation is possible through yoga practice. Contributions from core components of yoga practice, including postures, breath regulation, ethics, and meditation, are all described in a comprehensive conceptual model supported by underlying neurobiological processes. Neuroplasticity in brain networks of self processing are described as a result of continued practice – contributing to adaptive mental habits and management of stress. The course concludes with summarizing four primary factors that contribute to self-transformation, including an emphasis on body awareness (interoception), perceptual inference, neurovisceral integration, and increased inhibitory control over cognitive, emotional, autonomic, and behavioral output.

About our instructor

David Vago is research director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine and director of the Contemplative Neuroscience and Integrative Medicine (CNIM) Laboratory at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. He is an associate professor in the department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and department of Psychiatry. He is also a research associate in the Functional Neuroimaging Laboratory (FNL), Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), Harvard Medical School. He has completed post-doctoral fellowships in neuroimaging and mind-body medicine, as well as the Stuart T. Hauser Research Training Program in Biological & Social Psychiatry. David has previously held the position of Senior Research Coordinator for the Mind & Life Institute and is currently a Mind and Life Fellow, supporting the Mind and Life mission by advising on strategy and programs. He received his Bachelors Degree in Brain and Cognitive Sciences in 1997 from the University of Rochester. In 2005, David received his Ph.D. in Cognitive and Neural Sciences with a specialization in learning and memory from the department of Psychology, University of Utah. Dr. Vago’s research interests broadly focus on utilizing translational models to identify and characterize neurobiological substrates mediating psychopathology, to better predict outcomes and potential biologically-based diagnostic and therapeutic strategies for those suffering with mental illness and chronic pain. Through mixed research methods of systems biology, neuroimaging, predictive computational modeling, connectomics, genomic and neuroendocrine science, innovation, cognitive-behavioral and first-person phenomenological analyses, Dr. Vago focuses on one basic question – “What are the basic neurobiological and physiological components that constitute adaptive mind-brain-body interactions and their therapeutic relevance in psychiatric settings?” Dr. Vago has a number of research initiatives that are ongoing, including Mapping the Meditative Mind, in which he has partnered with contemporary meditation and yoga teachers, as well as scholars to investigate states of meditation across the spectrum of formal meditative expertise.

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