In the Spring of 2015 I went to a weekend long workshop with David Williams in Burlington, VT. Many of you were there; all of you would enjoy hearing him speak. David Williams has been practicing Ashtanga yoga for over forty years and is now 65. His stories and ocean of knowledge are invaluable. One thing that continues to pop back into my head was his mention of the difference between Endorphins and Adrenaline. Now here goes an attempt at science, not my forte, but with a little research I’m starting to understand how these powers work in our bodies.
TRYING TO DEFINE ENDORPHINS AND ADRENALINE
Endorphins are neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that send messages from our brain throughout the entire body and vice versa. Endorphins are generated in the pituitary gland and hypothalamus. While they are naturally occurring in our body, it is possible to generate more through eating, exercise and excitement. Endorphins communicate with opiate receptors in our brain which gives humans that “natural high” or euphoric state. You cannot be addicted to endorphins… Sounds good.
Adrenaline is a hormone. It occurs naturally in our body but is typically released only when we need it. The release of Adrenaline is an adaptation that was developed along with the fight or flight response. This release blocks feelings of pain, creates heightened senses and provides a sudden boost of energy for survival. Adrenaline can be triggered by anything from an intense film to extreme sports or a traumatic experience. It stimulates heart rate and dilates blood vessels and air passages. While “bursts” of adrenaline occur naturally, prolonged or induced adrenaline experiences may be harmful and should be avoided… Sounds scary.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN???
Again, I'm not a scientist, neurologist or a doctor.... This is the best I could figure out this morning....
In my research of endorphins I found words like coping, euphoria, well-being and happiness. In my research of adrenaline the words that came up were extreme, intense, danger and fear. This is the simple but taxing ability to distinguish between pleasure and pain. In yoga it’s that moment when something inside says “I don’t think I should do this today” or “This doesn’t feel right”. LISTEN; often times the Self is the last thing we want to listen to but listening and moving forward (or maybe taking a step back) is the real fight, pushing beyond and ignoring this voice is the flight, the escape or the easy way out. The choice is really between intelligence and ignorance.
David Williams stressed the importance of not creating an adrenaline experience when you practice Ashtanga, it’s dangerous and actually the opposite of what Yoga is trying to do. Find the practice that feels good and stick with that. Know that what feels good will definitely change from day to day and year to year. Trying to stand on one hand is really fun for me right now, but I genuinely hope I’m over it by the time I’m fifty.
“The best yogi is the one having the most fun.” -David Wliliams