How Yoga Changes Your Brain: The Science of Yoga
Yoga is a spiritual practice that has been around for over 5,000 years, it involves the incorporation of certain aspects like physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation. Over the years, the practice of yoga has gained popularity worldwide, and many people practice yoga for its physical benefits, such as increased flexibility and strength. Recent research, however, has shown that yoga can also have a profound impact on the brain which is what we will focus on in this article.
Bellow I want to outline the main effects yoga has on the brain and why, with more research, we may see it applied more and more in our approach to dealing with mental health.
Increased Grey Matter
Grey matter, which is the part of the brain that processes information, including sensory input, memory, and emotion, plays a crucial role in cognitive function.
Several studies have shown that regular yoga practice can increase grey matter volume in various areas of the brain, including the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex. The amygdala is responsible for processing emotions, while the hippocampus is involved in memory formation. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for decision-making, attention, and self-awareness.
By increasing grey matter in these areas, yoga can help improve emotional regulation, memory, and cognitive function. In addition, regular yoga practice has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, which can also have a positive impact on brain function. Furthermore, yoga has been found to improve sleep quality, which is essential for overall brain health. Finally, practicing yoga in a group setting can provide social support and a sense of community, which has been shown to have a positive impact on mental health.
It stimulates the prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain associated with higher functions such as decision-making and impulse control.
The prefrontal cortex acts as a bridge between other parts of your brain and helps you make decisions. It also plays an important role in regulating emotions, particularly anger or rage.
The research on how yoga affects this part of your brain is limited—but what we do know suggests that it may improve cognitive function by increasing blood flow to this area. That's because yoga requires you to focus on breathing deeply while holding certain poses for longer periods of time than usual (sometimes up to 45 minutes). This kind of focused attention helps increase oxygen levels in your bloodstream, which can help improve overall cognition by increasing neuron activity across multiple areas within your central nervous system (CNS).
Reduced Stress and Anxiety
Stress and anxiety are common problems in today's fast-paced world. Fortunately, in a study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, individuals who practiced yoga regularly had lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, than those who did not practice yoga.
Cortisol is a hormone that's released when you're under pressure or feel threatened—and it's partially responsible for triggering the fight-or-flight response. When you have high levels of cortisol coursing through your bloodstream on a regular basis, this can put your body into a heightened state of alertness and arousal that makes it difficult to relax or sleep well at night (which may cause further irritability).
The study also found that individuals who practiced yoga had higher levels of GABA.
GABA is a neurotransmitter or your brain’s chemical messenger. Its job is to suppress neural activity in order to prevent your brain from getting overly excited. In doing so, it controls how much fear, stress, anxiety or nervousness you’ll feel. Research shows that yoga increases your GABA levels by 27%. In fact, another study found that yoga is even better than walking if you want to relax and reduce anxiety.
It improves blood flow to the brain.
Yoga is known to improve blood flow to the brain. This can be useful for preventing or reducing the risk of stroke and other brain disorders.
The heart works harder when you do yoga, which helps your circulatory system deliver more oxygen-rich blood through your body. This improves the supply of nutrients to cells throughout your body and allows them to function properly with less pain or inflammation.
Yoga helps you get a better night’s sleep. As you practice, your body will settle into a state of deep relaxation. This can help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly. In addition, yoga can improve the quality of your sleep by reducing stress levels and increasing serotonin production—a hormone that promotes feelings of calmness and happiness.
The brain is made up of networks of neurons that communicate with each other to carry out various functions. Research has shown that yoga can improve connectivity within these networks, leading to better communication and coordination between different areas of the brain. This improved connectivity can lead to better cognitive function, including improved attention, memory, and decision-making.
In a study conducted at the University of Texas at Dallas, researchers found that individuals who practiced yoga regularly had greater connectivity in the default mode network, a network of brain regions that is active when the mind is at rest. The researchers concluded that this increased connectivity could lead to improved cognitive function in individuals who practice yoga regularly.
Other Benefits of Yoga
Apart from the benefits mentioned above, yoga has several other benefits that can help improve your overall health and well-being. These benefits include:
Yoga can help improve the quality of your sleep. A study conducted at Harvard Medical School found that individuals who practiced yoga regularly experienced better sleep quality, less fatigue, and less daytime sleepiness than those who did not practice yoga.
Inflammation is a natural response of the body to injury or infection. However, chronic inflammation can lead to several health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Research has shown that yoga can help reduce inflammation in the body.
A study conducted at Ohio State University found that women who practiced yoga regularly had lower levels of inflammatory markers in their blood than those who did not practice yoga.
Yoga can help improve your balance, which is important for preventing falls and injuries, especially in older adults.
Yoga is well-known for its physical benefits, including improved flexibility. Regular yoga practice can help increase flexibility and range of motion, which can lead to better posture, reduced risk of injury, and improved athletic performance.
Lower Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and other health problems. Research has shown that yoga can help lower blood pressure in individuals with hypertension.
A study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania found that individuals who practiced yoga regularly had lower blood pressure than those who did not practice yoga.
Improved Immune Function
The immune system plays a crucial role in protecting the body against infection and disease. Research has shown that yoga can help improve immune function by reducing stress and inflammation in the body.
Overall, yoga is a powerful tool for improving both physical and mental health. By incorporating yoga into your routine, you can experience a wide range of benefits that can help improve your overall well-being.
Incorporating yoga into your daily routine can have a profound impact on both your physical and mental health. It is a powerful tool that can increase grey matter, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve connectivity in the brain. By increasing grey matter volume in various areas of the brain such as the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex, yoga can help improve emotional regulation, memory, and cognitive function.
In addition, regular yoga practice has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety levels, which can also have a positive impact on brain function. By decreasing cortisol levels in your body, yoga helps regulate your stress response, making it easier to relax and sleep better at night. Furthermore, yoga has been found to improve sleep quality, which is essential for overall brain health.
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