Yoga’s effect on the adrenal glands is no secret, but just how much our body depends on a tiny gland called the pineal might be. Located near the center of the brain, the pineal gland reacts to bright light to produce melatonin, a serotonin derivative that controls our sleep/wake cycles.
The Pineal and Physical Health
Melatonin is not only important to healthy cell growth, but it also affects the levels of a stress hormone called cortisol. High melatonin levels reduce cortisol, allowing us to sleep at night while low melatonin levels increase cortisol, causing anxiety and disrupting our sleep patterns.
The pineal gland, varying in size from a grain of rice to that of a pea, increases in size during the first two years of childhood and then stays about the same size. Its weight, however, gradually increases after puberty; the level of melatonin falls, and the pineal gland often becomes calcified in adults. Could this evolution explain the sometimes uncanny ability of children to sense the unknown?
The Pineal and Emotional Health
The pineal gland, also known as the third eye, is associated with the sixth and seventh chakras and is believed to be our point of connection with God and higher realms of consciousness. The third eye is the seat of our intuition, inspiration, and vision. Chakra blockages in this area include control issues, over-intellectualizing, addictions, and rigidity.
Practices like meditation, prayer, and Yoga help us to clear blocked energy from the crown chakra and increase our intuition and awareness. According to “Yoga Journal,” the pineal gland can convert melatonin into a powerful stimulant with psychedelic effects on the brain – another possible explanation for the benefits of meditation.
How Yoga Helps the Pineal Gland
In the journal “Medical Hypotheses,” psychiatrist Eric Leskowitz of the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, theorizes that the pineal gland might be the scientific explanation for what ancient Yogis described as the third eye, or crown chakra. If so, the balancing act of Yoga poses, breathing, meditation, and chanting may be all we need to mend our minds and get our circadian rhythms back in sync.
Yoga Nidra, a meditative state of deep relaxation, affects melatonin levels. It restores energy and calms the mind, but it also re-programs the subconscious thoughts and habits that keep us stuck in a state of confusion and anxiety. Science has proven that that melatonin helps us to heal faster, prevents disease, slows down premature aging, contributes to better sleep, and strengthens the immune system.
Whether we look at it from a scientific or philosophical point of view, the pineal gland plays an important role in mental, physical, and physical health. Optimal health of the entire being is Yoga’s mission.