How yoga can change your brain

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(NaturalHealth365) Thinking about adding a new exercise to your routine in the next few weeks?  Maybe it’s time to finally try (or stick to) a good yoga practice. If you do, expect more than just your body to get rewarded from your efforts.

Research shows that yoga offers some specific and impressive brain benefits, too!

Yoga can boost your brain health in these major ways, research says

This ancient practice used to have a reputation for being an “out-there” practice reserved for free-thinkers and traditional Eastern practitioners. But in the past few decades it’s grown massively in popularity. These days, you’d be hard-pressed not to find a yoga studio or two in almost every major city around the country.

But this form of exercise isn’t just for increasing your flexibility and balance – although those are some well-documented health benefits!   Researchers now know that yoga offers specific brain benefits for better cognition and mood, and may even change the structure and shape of your brain itself.

Here are a few recent studies that highlight this incredible brain-boosting effect:

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  • A recent systematic review published in a 2019 volume of Brain Plasticity found that regular yoga practice has been shown to beneficially promote changes in various parts of the brain, including the hippocampus (involved in memory), amygdala (involved in emotions), and prefrontal cortex (involved in personality and executive functions like decision-making).  Studies also show that yoga may “mitigate age-related and neurodegenerative declines,” since these areas are known to atrophy (weaken and shrink) with age.
  • Another 2018 study published in Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience found that compared to 13 age- and sex-matched controls, 13 experienced yoga practitioners had “differential structure and function of specific brain regions involved in executive function, specifically working memory.” Imaging studies specifically found more gray matter (brain tissue) in parts of the experienced yogis’ hippocampus.
  • Additional research shared by Psychology Today suggests that yoga promotes the release of a chemical called GABA in the thalamus, which is a chemical that promotes anti-anxiety and stress relief.

Beyond brain health: Here are 5 benefits to you can quickly enjoy

Yoga benefits are well-documented in the research, and overall this ancient practice is safe for people from almost all walks of life. Here are five additional health benefits of regular yoga practice as shown in the literature:

  1. Increases flexibility, balance, and postural awareness
  2. Alleviates stress, anxiety, depression, and even symptoms of certain mental illnesses like post-traumatic stress disorder
  3. Reduces the amount of inflammation in the body
  4. Promotes healthier eating habits
  5. Relieves chronic pain from conditions like fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, low back pain, and migraines

So, how often should you get out your mat and downward dog your little heart out? While there’s no set amount, many yoga instructors recommend aiming for at least two sessions per week – although once a week for an hour has been shown to decrease anxiety and stress.

Getting proper instructions from a certified yoga instructor is a great option, since you can get real-time corrections on your form plus gain inspiration from practicing your flow with other people. But the good news is there are plenty of free yoga sessions to find online! Just be sure to chat with your doctor before starting a new exercise.

Lastly, don’t get overwhelmed once you realize how many types of yoga there are. From vinyasa to hatha, there are plenty of styles to try. The key is to find a style that fits your goals, modify your flow to respect your current physical ability, and be consistent.

Remember, just a 10 minute session practiced a couple times per week can offer some great results for your body and brain health.

Sources for this article include:

IOSpress.com
Sciencedaily.com
Psychologytoday.com
NIH.gov
Healthline.com
Livestrong.com