Proprioception sends information about pain, heat, cold, and other sensory phenomena to the spine from around the body through two types of nerve fibers: A delta nerve fibers carry electrical messages to the spinal cord at a rate of approximately 40 miles per hour (“first” or “fast” pain). C nerve fibers carry electrical messages at a rate of approximately 3 miles per hour to the spinal cord (“slow” or “continuous pain”). If our child falls over and cries, or if we bump our head on something hard, rubbing the area appears to provide relief. Gate theory suggests that the activation of the “faster” A delta fibers through pressure and touch allows the messages to reach the spine and brain first to shut the gate on the pain carried by the “slower” C fibers.
This helps explain why asana, vinyasa, and prasara are effective in self treatment of pain.
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Nociceptive messages can be overridden by other signals in the manner described above. Yoga, it would then be concluded, can change a pain message due to some of these differences in nerve fibers.
Multiple factors determine how the nerve gates will manage the pain signal, such as the intensity of the pain, competition from other incoming proprioceptive messages (touch, vibration, heat, and so on), and signals coming from the brain that reprioritize the pain (cognitive pain management skills). The message can be: Permitted to pass directly to the brain Altered before entering the brain Prevented from entering the brain (such as with mantra, meditation, hypnosis, and anesthesia)