The Neuroscience of How Yoga Helps Your Mental Health – Part 6: Transient Hypofrontality

My recent blogs have been about an article which lays out a theoretical model for the neuroscience of yoga and self-regulation. You can read that whole article here – for free!  Some of these articles can be pricey – so I offer my thanks to the researchers, to the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience journal and to Kripalu for getting these people together in the first place – whew, what a formidable gratitude list, I’m thrilled by how much interest there is in neuroscientific yoga research!

Because I think this stuff is important and because it’s uber dense, I’ve been breaking it down in a series of blogs. You can catch up by starting with the first blog here.

 I covered some of the main topics of the article in my previous blogs. So this one’s going to be a little different. It’s about transient hypofrontality. 

cosmic-man

 

I know, I know, it sounds like a celebrity wardrobe malfunction, but actually transient hypofrontality is about creativity. It’s something that all of us, even Buzzfeed exhibitionists, ultimately want more of. If you want to geek out on it, here’s some of the original research, which explains which parts of your brain are working in this unique, expansive state of consciousness.

In the article about yoga and self-regulation, Tim Gard and his team needed to explore things like parasympathetic activation, top-down/bottom up processes and vagal tone. They are looking at yoga from a “here’s how yoga shifts the neurobiology of depression, anxiety, trauma and addiction” kind of perspective. Since there is such a dire social need for yoga therapy of this scope, it’s a great area of study. 

Transient hypofrontality was not included in Gard’s model because it’s not about self-regulation. It’s really about what happens next. It’s about thriving. Transient hypofrontality belongs to a different realm – one that addiction specialists call “reclaiming,” positive psychologists call “thriving,” Jung called “individuation”, Maslow called “self-actualization,” and yogis might call “dhyana” and “samadhi” This is a realm beyond therapy, it’s the realm of human potential. What are human beings and what can we become? It’s an exciting question because it subverts the medical model (which basically says, “Hey, if you’re not sick, you’re good to go…next!”) and opens up new ways of knowing and being.

Transient hypofrontality is really the juicy essence, the rasa if you will, of the yoga and neuroscience conversation.

Oh, a definition might be helpful.

Transient hypofrontality is an (obviously) technical term meaning large portions of your prefrontal cortex have deactivated and brain activity is now dancing around various circuits.

Your front brain, specifically your prefrontal cortex, is largely responsible for executive function. This is where rational thinking, planning, and problem solving take place. It is also involved in inhibiting behavior – so it acts like your inner parent – it calms you down, inhibits your stress response and uses rationality to solve problems. It’s very important in self-regulation.

But what is human life beyond self-regulation? What’s beyond not freaking out?

There is the hard working, planning, regulating state of the brain and beyond that is the creative state. As if all that effort and study spills over into freedom and easefulness.

Perhaps you’ve had meditation experiences where you were concentrating and focusing and concentrating and focusing and concentrating and then, suddenly, you were sort of gone, it became easeful, light and pleasurable. In transient hypofrontality your front brain has gone offline, processes are dancing around in different parts of your brain, time is less important. Among others, eminent Harvard yoga researcher Sat Bir Khalsa talks about how meditation induces this trans-flow state.

This is the state from which all true creativity arises.

I remember having pangs of guilt when I first started meditating. “You’re just sitting there doing nothing?!” my inner critic harped. “What a waste of time!” But in terms of efficient brain states, the attempt to access transient hypofrontality is a worthy endeavor for anyone wanting more creativity in life.

Meditation helps you use your frontal lobes as a springboard to get out of them. And we all know that it’s in getting out of your head that you get into your heart – warm, expansive, open, curious and full of creativity. In this state you can open to greater levels of insight and awareness.

Transient hypofrontality is the evolutionary neurobiology of human potential.

 

7 thoughts on “The Neuroscience of How Yoga Helps Your Mental Health – Part 6: Transient Hypofrontality

  1. This was an email request to add to the comments: Kristine Kaoverii has done a magnificent job of translating this revolutionary paper into a comprehensible, for non-scientists, form. I congratulate her.
    Dr Jonn Mumford

  2. Ok – I am such a geek but Transient Hypofontality may be my new fav term! It sounds cool and IS amazing. If you have ever gotten to that stage/being/feeling etc in mediatition you know what it is. I am loving your blog and it is such a huge part of what I want to bring to my little part of the US down here in Arkansas. The buy in is the most difficult part- have you all experienced this? However, once I get the committment for people to TRY for more than five min one time they get it! I am on a super Mission of More for 2015 and spreading th love on this and similar subjects is a huge part. 🙂 Thank you Kristine Kaoverii for your work on this and I cannot wait to get to complete the training….I know it will transform the way I work.

  3. Thanks Jamie! I’m glad you’ve been enjoying the blog. I love the whole concept too – it’s exciting stuff. I think the buy in piece gets easier with evidence based education. Just understanding that you are not a brain walking around attached to a body but that your body and mind are deeply integrated and equally in need to care. I think this is integral in getting people to try something new. The other piece of course is accessibility. We even leave the word “yoga” out of lots of things we do to not scare people off.

    Great to have you at our trainings! And thank you for doing the work that you are doing out there in the world!

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