The Effects of Yoga on Brain Health

Old people doing yoga

How Yoga Can Be Beneficial for Cognitive Function

Stronger, more flexible muscles and better balance aren't the only benefits of practicing yoga regularly. Yoga sessions also improve brain health and may even help you reduce your risk of developing dementia.

Yoga Prevents Declines in Cognitive Ability and Memory

The cerebral cortex, located in the front of your brain, and the hippocampus, located under your temples, are essential for memory, learning, information processing, and cognitive (thinking) skills. Unfortunately, these areas shrink with age, which can cause memory issues and difficulty learning new skills.

Practicing yoga actually thickens these crucial parts of the brain and helps you keep your mind and memory sharp. According to a review of 11 research studies published in Brain Plasticity in 2019, yoga had a positive effect on the function and structure of the prefrontal cortex, cingulate cortex, and brain networks.

Yoga could help you reduce your risk of age-related brain health issues or make memory problems, dementia, and other issues less severe. Participants in the studies showed improvements in their cognitive abilities after practicing yoga once or twice a week for two to six months.

If you or a loved one already has memory problems, yoga might reduce your risk of developing dementia. In a study led by UCLA neuroscientists, people who had been having memory issues were assigned to a Kundalini yoga class or a memory training group.

Although both groups had improvements in verbal memory after 12 weeks of either yoga classes or memory training, only the yoga group saw improvements in visual-spatial memory skills. Visual-spatial memory is used to visualize numbers when adding or subtracting in your head, read maps, or tell how far away you are from an object. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans showed significant changes in brain connectivity in the yoga group but not in the memory exercise group.

Your Ability to Plan and Make Decisions Could Improve With Yoga

Do you struggle with multi-tasking or decision-making? Increasing the size of your prefrontal cortex with yoga could help you enhance these and other crucial executive functions, like planning and problem-solving. If impulse control is a problem for you, strengthening your cortex with yoga just may make it easier to consider all the options before you act.

Yoga Can Help You Control Your Emotions

Yoga also increases the size of the amygdala, the part of the brain that activates when you feel fear, pleasure, anger, or sadness. The amygdala helps you process and control these strong emotions and transfers pivotal events to your memory. Thanks to your yoga practice, you may notice an improvement in the way you manage your emotions and handle stressful or difficult situations.

Yoga Is a Natural Stress Reliever

When stress threatens to become overwhelming, yoga offers a natural antidote. Yoga decreases stress hormones, helps you feel calmer and more in control, and balances your nervous system. Practicing yoga also eases muscle tension in your neck and shoulders and enhances the relaxation response.

The benefits of yoga extend beyond your sessions. In fact, you may find that you feel less stressed and calmer throughout the entire week. In a study published in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2018, researchers reported that practicing Hatha yoga significantly decreased stress, anxiety, and depression in women. Hatha yoga combines yoga poses with meditation and deep breathing.

Scientists believe that stress could be one of the factors that cause the hippocampus to shrink. By reducing your stress level with yoga, you'll protect this crucial part of your brain.

Are you ready to improve your brain health with yoga? Get in touch with us for information about our yoga classes.

Sources:

International Journal of Preventive Medicine: The Effect of Yoga on Stress, Anxiety, and Depression in Women, 2/21/18

Harvard Health Publishing: Yoga for Better Mental Health, 6/12/21

NCBI: Brain Plasticity: Yoga Effects on Brain Health: A Systematic Review of the Current Literature, 2019

UCLA: To Reduce Pre-Alzheimer’s Cognitive Impairment, Get to the Yoga Mat, 5/10/2016

Frontiers in Human Neuroscience: The Effect of Yoga Meditation Practice on Young Adults’ Inhibitory Control: An fNIRS Study, 9/13/2021