The Science Behind Yoga and Your Brain

The Science Behind Yoga and Your Brain

As an avid yogi myself, just saying the word “ yoga ” makes me feel peaceful – it might sound crazy but I think it has something to do with the brain-body connection that’s been hardwired into my practice. The peace from anxiety and overthinking, and the relief from old injuries and pain I’ve found within a regular yoga practice over the last 15 years has changed the way I move through the world from day to day. These experiences are in no way unique to me: many people have found the power of yoga practice (asana) and breath work (pranayama) healing – and the coolest part is that it’s been studied and scientifically proven time and again to be powerfully effective for both your brain and your body. Mistakenly, this ancient practice of the mind, body, and breath is often considered in the mainstream as “a form of exercise ,” or perhaps another common misconception is that yoga is “just stretching.” However, spend 5 minutes talking to any enthusiastic yogi and you’ll surely get an earful about how yoga practice includes exercise and stretching for sure, but it also about the well-researched ability to make positive long term changes to not just your body – but interestingly – your brain too. Let’s swan dive right into the science behind why regularly practicing yoga can spark healing and positive changes in the human brain. 1 of 5 The Obvious: Yoga does wonders for your bod.

Many people hear the word yogi and picture a hyper-flexible-person with their body in a pretzel shape; maybe a foot close-by an ear, leg over a shoulder and questionably angled arm wrapped in a way that looks both painful and impossible. While yes, advanced poses are admired by many yogis, you might be happy to hear that pretzel poses aren’t exclusive to where the juicy goodness of yoga comes in! Many of the benefits of yoga such as basic increased flexibility or loosening of muscles and connective tissues around bones and joints come into play from just participating in basic practice. You don’t have to go wild to get it goin on! Beginner to intermediate level practice will help build strength , increase flexibility and balance – and has been proven to decrease rates of arthritis, chronic pain, carpal tunnel, back pain, and increase blood flow to the heart (amongst many other positive associations). Moving your joints through their entire range of motion on a regular basis not only feels great but also helps prevent degeneration and stiffness. Consider yoga an anti-aging recipe for your muscles, bones, and joints. To keep them healthy, it helps to keep them movin’! These physical effects only skim the surface, because this article is about your brain and yoga – however in holistic medicine we look at the body as a whole. When your whole body is happy – your brain is happy too! Less pain in your body translates to less mental health diagnoses, headache disorders and a general calmer state of wellbeing. Because lets face it – no one wants to feel creaky. 2 of 5

The Less Obvious: Yoga Has a Positive Impact On Brain Health.

The most current research studies on yoga and its connections to brain health have revealed the positive long term changes that occur in your brain with regular practice as noted by MRI and close monitoring of brain activity. One of the highlights of this research is the effect that yoga has on increasing gray matter density. How exciting! I know, I know…that actually doesn’t sound so exciting until you understand what it means. Gray matter which takes up about 40% of your brain, consists of your brain’s cells (or neurons) and PS it’s actually pink not gray (ignore that confusing detail). This gray (pink) matter in your brain is responsible for many high level functions such as memory, self awareness, learning, control of your five senses, and muscle control. The reason that we care about increasing gray matter is that essentially the more gray matter you have in certain parts of your brain – the better those areas perform. Also if you didn’t know – each part of your brain is responsible for different actions, reactions and processes. So let’s bring it back home….increasing gray matter = better brain function in that specific area, wherever you get more gray matter- the better that part of the brain works. What we’ve learned is that yoga increased gray matter density in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. When these areas of your brain perform better, you then have better: Emotional and impulse control

Focus and concentration

Decision making

Self Control

Better evaluation of rewards and consequences

Sweet! All important and beneficial mental benefits while also enjoying a feel good physical practice – this is where I make a joke about literal and figurative growth. Start growing your grey/pink brain matter my friends. 3 of 5

Yoga Decreases Feelings of Stress and Anxiety

Anxiety: If you have anxiety, you know – the tricky part is that you spend a lot of time worrying about things you can’t control. It’s a terrible feeling and it’s 100% unproductive! You can’t change what you can’t control right? A pillar of yoga that you can take off the mat to everyday life to majorly combat anxiety is staying present. No this is not just a thing hippies say. This is actually especially helpful for individuals with anxiety. The more present – or “in the moment” you are – the less time you have to worry about things you can’t control. It’s not as simple as just telling yourself to “stay present” either – despite what many people believe – it doesn’t actually work just like that when it comes to your brain. In yoga you are actually training your brain to get better at “riding the wave” when things are hard or stressful (I.E. during situations that normally would make you very anxious, you just […]


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