Science Short: Brain Garbage, Breath & Yoga

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The glymphatic system is the lymphatic system of the brain and it has an exciting relationship to yoga.

You may have heard of the lymphatic system, which is the network of vessels that removes wastes and toxins from the other organs of the body. Glymphatic is the word lymphatic combined with the word glia, which are the cells in the brain that had an unknown function until recently.

Glia are non-neuronal cells of the brain and nervous system. They do not transmit signals via an electrical event - called action potential - but function rather like connective tissue in the brain.

Wait, huh? I mean it's true but the above knowledge is not going to inform your yoga classes.

How can some knowledge of the glymphatic system help you teach a yoga class?

Because yoga students are catching on that they are just a profitable number in a room where a teacher is presenting a class of movements and canned spirituality. More and more, students are looking for the why. Why yoga? You can give them the why. This is to help you understand the science to present in the context of a class, and because you care enough to do a bit of research right here, rather than regurgitate some 200-hour training packaged knowledge; your students are going to see that you care about them. As a teacher, you deserve to know the information that will give you passion, will give you a why, and validate your love for teaching.

It is now known that yoga can enhance the lymphatic drainage from the brain (Whedon, 2009). When we do yoga asana, two of the main directions that we more the spine is in flexion (forward-folding), and extension (back-bending).  

As we age, the function of the glymphatic system may become less reliable, resulting in age-related diseases such as Alzheimer's disease. The hallmark of Alzheimer's is an accumulation of a protein called amyloid beta in the brain. A study was performed comparing mice with a healthy glymphatic system to mice that had a genetically-modified, damaged glymphatic system. Results showed an accumulation of amyloid beta in the mice with the damaged glymphatic system. In normal mice, the amyloid beta protein was able to clear rapidly through healthy glial cells assisting in fluid flow (Yuhas, D., 2012).

In a yoga class, there is not much time to speak all of this to students. So how can you deliver this information in a class? I suggest this way:

  • In the beginning of class when students are settling into a grounding posture, offer something like "Our bodies are designed to be in balance. In order to accomplish this miracle, what is no longer needed must be removed." (So much better than the "release what no longer serves you" outdated and rote phrase, right?)
  • Continue like this, "One of the ways our bodies removes waste is through the lymphatic system, which rids the body of unwanted toxins and unwanted materials from our cells." Pause, change their position, they are falling asleep.
  • "Scientists used to think that the brain was the one organ that could not clear wastes, until recently. The brain's hidden lymphatic system, called the glymphatic system, was discovered."
  • As you are bringing their awareness to the breath, you can add, "Scientists also found that the glymphatic system functions optimally during a deep inhale." Suddenly everyone in the room will be deeply breathing.
  • As you are introducing the first movements of the spine such as cat/cow, cobra series, sun salutations, explain "the way we move the spine in flexion and extension in yoga also moves the contributes to the performance of the glymphatic system, studies show."

Note the importance of citation to an actual study. It removes the perception that you are making this information up, and demonstrates that you do actual research. Most of all, you are crediting the researchers and authors of the work. That's some good, good karma. 

Maintaining the integrity of the yoga practice is up to us, the teachers who know and can deliver the value of the benefits. We are scholars and teachers, researchers and healers. This is the work that honors you.

For more on the amazing health benefits of yoga, visit the GreenMedInfo database on the subject. 


Whedon, J.M., 2009. Cerebrospinal Fluid Stasis and Its Clinical Significance. Altern Ther Health Med. 15(3): 54-60.

Yuhas, D., 2012. Brain's Drain: Neuroscientists Discover Cranial Cleansing System. Scientific American August 12. Available Online.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of GreenMedInfo or its staff.

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