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Description: Have you heard the exercise is good for reducing stress? How about Yoga? How about Pilates? How about deep breathing? Of course, you have, but do they REALLY lower stress levels and if they do HOW do they do that? How would a neuroscientist approach these questions? Well, he or she would likely NOT take up Pilates to deal with stress simply on the recommendation of their young adult children. If stress is driven by, among other things, the adrenal glands (a big part of fight/flight) which are located on top of  our kidneys within our “core” (mid-torso) region what do the things on the above list have to do with adrenalin production? Maybe those things calm your mind resulting in less stress signals being sent into the adrenals. But then, why is it that people who are in very good shape like competitive tennis players are so good at shrugging off a bad point and staying focused on their match? Could it be that they are better at relaxing or is that too complicated an explanation? So, consider this, what would a neuroscientist need to see in the way of evidence that would convince them to start taking Pilates to reduce their stress levels? Think about that for a moment and then read the article linked below to see a “case study” account of just such a process.

Source: Why One Neuroscientist Started Blasting His Core, James Hamblin, The Atlantic.

Date: December 24, 2019

Photo Credit: Ashley Cooper / Getty

Article Link:

So, did you follow the research and reasoning described in the linked article as it was undertaken by the searchers whose study it discusses? It suggests that stress reductions do not simply occur when our higher cognitive processing centers and calmed, thus reducing stress signaling. The stress processing pathways are much more complex that previously thought and much more decentralized that previously theorized. It makes sense given the fundamental importance of a nimble and complex stress system for coping with our experiences in the world. From an evolutionary perspective that sort of complexity makes sense, it supports rapid adaptive responses by not requiring all stress to be managed in thoughtful, top down sorts of ways. The technique of using rabies to map neural pathways is rather amazing just by itself. While the one study discussed does not answer all of the questions posed up at the top of this post it was enough o convince one neuroscientist to seriously take up Pilates so maybe it is worth a closer look! Oh, and it leads into broader understandings of psychosomatic illness, placebo effects, and fascinating things called allostasis and interoception (see some of the articles linked in the references section below).

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Prior the release of this study and the line of theorizing it reflects came along why did we think exercise was a good way of reducing stress?
  2. What does the research study discussed in the article add to or suggest we consider changing about our understanding about how the human stress response is modulated?
  3. Why was the neuroscientist described in the article convinced to take up Pilates?

References (Read Further):

Dum, R. P., Levinthal, D. J., & Strick, P. L. (2016). Motor, cognitive, and affective areas of the cerebral cortex influence the adrenal medulla. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(35), 9922-9927.

Khalsa, S. S., Adolphs, R., Cameron, O. G., Critchley, H. D., Davenport, P. W., Feinstein, J. S., … & Meuret, A. E. (2018). Interoception and mental health: a roadmap. Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging, 3(6), 501-513.

Kleckner, I. R., Zhang, J., Touroutoglou, A., Chanes, L., Xia, C., Simmons, W. K., … & Barrett, L. F. (2017). Evidence for a large-scale brain system supporting allostasis and interoception in humans. Nature human behaviour, 1(5), 0069.

Geuter, S., Koban, L., & Wager, T. D. (2017). The cognitive neuroscience of placebo effects: concepts, predictions, and physiology. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 40, 167-188.

Justice, L., Brems, C., & Ehlers, K. (2018). Bridging body and mind: considerations for trauma-informed yoga. International journal of yoga therapy, 28(1), 39-50.