Yoga’s documented positive effects on the brain may be the reason you are looking for to finally try it or may inspire you to recommit to your current practice. Researchers at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Bethesda, MD found that practicing yoga over a long period of time slowed down age-related loss of brain cells or gray matter. They used MRI scans to reach this conclusion.
Yoga Prevents Loss of Gray Matter
People who practiced yoga for years at a time as they aged, incorporating postures, breathing, and meditation, displayed less of the typical decline in gray matter than those who did not. The study abstract explains that these yogis experienced brain protection in the left hemisphere when compared to non-practitioners and that this suggests “yoga tunes the brain toward a parasympathetically driven mode and positive states.”
The parasympathetic nervous system calms our “fight-or-flight,” responses and slows the heart rate. MedicineNet explains that it also increase digestive and glandular activity and relaxes the sphincter.
Yoga Boosts Brain Areas That Relieve Stress and Increase Awareness
One of the study’s lead authors, Chantal Villemure, also told Scientific American, “We found that with more hours of practice per week, certain areas were more enlarged.” For example, the visual cortex and areas of the brain relating to attention and our brains’ neurological map of the body were enlarged in frequent practitioners.
Yoga has a beneficial effect on the areas of the brain relating to self-calming, visualization, mindfulness and body awareness. Similarly, a previous study from UCLA found that long-term meditation thickens brain matter and increases connections between brain cells, both of which are beneficial to overall brain function. These vital studies provide empirical evidence of what many practitioners of yoga and mindfulness have attested to for centuries: yoga feels good and is good for your mind, body, and soul.
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