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Friday, September 13, 2013

Friday Q&A: Forehead Massage and Endorphins

Q: I was wondering if you could help me find out if there is any medical evidence that endorphins are released when we roll our forehead on the mat in yoga? Some of the teachers that work for me say that and I just wondered if there is any medical evidence to support that? Or it just feels really good?

Chair Forward Bend
tugging the forehead skin down toward the eyes
A: Thanks for the interesting question!  I am uncertain if your are referring to rolling the forehead on your yoga mat from side to side, while in Child’s pose or rocking the forehead forward and back in a similar position. A technique I was taught by one of my early teachers was to place the forehead on the floor or a low prop like a block while in Child’s pose and then to push the head forward and give a slight tug to the forehead skin towards the chin. My teacher claimed this would have a calming effect on the nervous system, and that moving the opposite way (moving the skin of forehead toward the crown of head) would stimulate the nervous system. I have observed some truth in this pronouncement in my own practice and share it with my students. I cannot find any specific scientific study to explain what might be happening in the brain, but it seems possible that this has some feedback to the autonomic nervous system to shift from sympathetic to parasympathetic (Fight or Flight to Rest and Digest). Whether this is a result of the neurotransmitter class called “endorphins” or not, I also cannot say. But it does feel really good! I found the following info about endorphins on wisegeek.org and it indicates that massage can cause a release of endorphins, so I guess it is possible that this little scalp maneuver could support that assertion:

“Any type of physical activity that causes pain, such as exercise and eating spicy foods, releases endorphins in the brain. Excitement, laughing, crying, or engaging in risky activities can trigger the release as well. The body also releases them while relaxing with a massage, dancing, or when falling in love.
 

Endorphins, also known as endogenous morphine, are an arrangement of amino acids known as opioid peptides. These chemicals function as neurotransmitters that help regulate moods, sleep patterns and the way one responds to pain and stress. When present in the body, endorphins act as a natural painkiller and are able to provide a sense of comfort, wellness and happiness.”

Additionally, in Yoga as Medicine (by our contributing writer Timothy McCall), Timothy shares a similar exercise on pages 11 and 12, this one done while sitting, with the heel of the hands creating the same effect I describe above. Timothy notes that most people find the drawing of the skin down is more calming to the nervous system, but does not theorize exactly why. Yours truly is pictured doing the exercise! 

If this idea is new to you, give a whirl and let us know what you observe.

—Baxter
 

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