Science: Brain Garbage, Breath & Yoga

Uncategorized Mar 12, 2019


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.

Hang in there. I know this seems like a lot, but you can present information like this in a yoga class. In fact, this is the way yoga teaching has to evolve in order maintain credibility. Teacher training is the biggest profit for yoga studios and almost everyone is a certified yoga teacher. If you’ve graduated from a training and feel lost in a sea of unknowing-hear this-you can stand out. 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.

First of all, pronounce it right.

Don’t be that teacher.

Glymph sounds like nymph and the second part of the word is the same sound as emphatic. Glymphatic. If you still need help, google how to pronounce glymphatic. Helpful hint: you can do the same for the names of muscles, sanskrit words, and philosophical terms.

Let’s take a closer look at the glymphatic system.

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 move the spine is in flexion (forward-folding), and extension (back-bending). This type of movement helps stimulate the cerebral spinal fluid drainage from the brain.

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 bring their awareness to the breath, you can add, “Scientists also found that the glymphatic system functions optimally during a deep inhale.” (Dreha-Kulaczewski, 2015) (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, “Studies show the way we move the spine in flexion and extension in yoga also moves and contributes to the performance of the glymphatic system.”

If you feel comfortable you can add in a bit about how this is related to Alzheimer’s disease, and how the glymphatic system has been shown to remove the protein that builds up in the brain and becomes the hallmark diagnostic of the disease.

Note the importance of referencing that an actual study has been done. It removes the perception that you are making this information up, and demonstrates that you do honest research. Most of all, you are crediting the researchers and authors of the work, and that is 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.


Dreha-Kulaczewski, 2015. Inspiration is the Major Regulator of Human CSF Flow. Journ Neurosci 35 (6): 2485-2491.

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.


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