Yoga isn’t just good for your body. Here are 3 important ways yoga benefits your brain – from a scientific perspective…
We’ve all heard how yoga is so good for relieving stress, and part of the reason for that is that it has a calming and relaxing effect on the brain. The benefits of yoga for the brain are numerous. Yoga helps to improve brain function by increasing blood flow and oxygen to the brain, improving cognitive function, and reducing stress and anxiety.
But just why is yoga so good for your brain? What happens in your brain when you do yoga, and why does it have such a positive impact on both our physical and mental health?
According to YogaBasics.com, here are a few interesting ways that yoga benefits the brain:
1.) Yoga retrains the brain to better handle stress and discomfort.
…It might sound obvious, but few of us think about the fact that the habits we follow and the practices we stick with can change the chemical composition of our brains. The brain’s ability to rewire itself based on experiences is known as neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity is the key to why yoga helps us handle stress. For most of us, yoga asanas are a bit stressful. According to Psychology Today, it is the mental determination to remain calm during this discomfort that teaches us to remain calm during other stressful moments in our lives…
Most of your reaction to stress is biological, but a lot is learned from your parents during early childhood. Yoga allows you to break these old habits and teach yourself to respond to stress with deep breaths and relaxed muscles. You can learn this practice on the mat, but the lesson will stick with you in every stressful situation that follows.
2.) People who practice yoga have more brain cells in key parts of the brain.
A study conducted by Scientific American found that people who practice asana have more gray matter (aka more brain cells). That must mean yogis are smarter, right? Well, not exactly. The gray matter that appeared in MRI scans of yoga practitioners was focused in key parts of the brain. Specifically in the somatosensory cortex, the superior parietal cortex, the hippocampus, the precuneus and posterior cingulate cortex, and the visual cortex.
So what does that mean? The somatosensory cortex is linked to body awareness. The superior parietal cortex is linked to attention and our ability to focus. A stronger hippocampus means less stress. The precuneus and posterior cingulate cortex are the parts of the brain that determine our concept of self. This study shows what is happening inside the brain that causes yogis to make the claim that practicing yoga will improve your mind-body connection and help you de-stress.
3.) Practicing asana can serve as a treatment for mood disorders and anxiety.
GABA levels (within the brain) are intimately linked with the ability to regulate moods. People who have mood disorders or experience anxiety tend to have lower GABA levels.
…Scientists have long believed that walking and physical exercise can be beneficial for moods, and they assumed that this was due to an increase in GABA levels. But one study showed that people who practiced yoga had even higher increases in GABA levels than those who went on regular walks…
What type of yoga is best for brain health? Most types will provide similar benefits. If you’re looking for more energy and focus, Kundalini yoga, with its energizing movements and meditative and chanting practices, is our favorite, but just about any type of yoga will help, so go with what feels good to you!
Doing yoga in the morning can be especially helpful for brain function. This is because yoga helps to increase blood flow and oxygen to the brain, which is essential for cognitive function. To improve overall brain health, you should try to practice yoga at least three times per week.