Your Brain… on Yoga

Yoga in all its forms has proven its benefits across multiple generations and continents. Interestingly, modern science is now confirming its usefulness for improved mental and physical health and even brain fitness.

Indeed, yoga has been shown to support healthy brain function and stave off neurological decline. That’s particularly good news for those with limited mobility or early onset dementia, as some form of yoga (such as chair yoga, water yoga, yoga for the blind, and gentle yoga) is accessible for a wide majority of people, regardless of age or fitness.

Here are yoga’s effects on the human brain:

  • Recent studies demonstrate a positive effect on the structure and/or function of the hippocampus, amygdala, prefrontal cortex, and cingulate cortex.
  • Psychologically, regular practice has also been shown to lower stress, reduce body image dissatisfaction and anxiety.
  • Brain scans of regular yoga practitioners show they have thicker cortexes and greater gray matter volume and density in several brain regions, including the frontal, limbic, temporal, occipital and cerebellar regions. This research seems to confirm that yoga appears to negate the otherwise normal decline in total gray matter volume that occurs with age.

Interestingly, these beneficial brain changes appear to occur fairly rapidly when yoga is done at least once (one hour session) per week.

Other ways yoga has proven benefits for your brain

  • Twenty minutes of yoga weekly improves speed and accuracy of mental processing to a greater degree than 20 minutes of aerobic exercise (jogging).
  • Yoga helps improve a variety of mental health problems, including psychiatric disorders like anxiety, ADHD, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and schizophrenia, in part by increasing brain chemicals like gamma amino-butyric acid (GABA). Without GABA, nerve cells fire frequently and easily, triggering anxiety disorders, seizures and conditions such as addiction.
  • Yoga also boosts serotonin, and some studies suggest yoga can have a similar effect to antidepressants.
  • Yoga can help improve teenagers’ emotional resilience and ability to manage anger. This is especially helpful as teen frontal brain lobes (the seat of language and reason) are still being formed, leaving them to overly rely on their amygdala (the seat of emotions).

“It appears that the unique combination of physical movement and deep breath work of yoga offers these healthy brain benefits,” sums up Leanne O’Neil, owner of INDY Neurofeedback.

The evidence is clear. Regardless of your age or physical agility, consider finding a yoga class that you can do on a regular basis.

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