Four Ways Yoga Can Boost Your Brain

October 12, 2016

Four Ways Yoga is Good For Your Brain

By Tracy Dye

It is well known that yoga offers a host of physical benefits ﹘﹘ but did you know that stretching your muscles can also be good for your brain? Take a look at four ways yoga can help you make some serious headway in your health.

It can make worries — and pounds — melt away

Everyone experiences stress from time to time. While intermittent periods of stress are normal, chronic or severe stress can affect much more than your mood.

Research has shown that stress can be extremely detrimental to brain health. Stress can cause certain cells within the brain to malfunction, impair memory and even lead to brain shrinkage.  

The Mayo Clinic touts yoga as an effective way to naturally reduce stress and improve overall health. A study published in the American Journal of Managed Care also found that using restorative yoga for stress management can help you lose weight.

Restorative yoga is an extremely gentle form that uses relaxing movements and extended periods of stretching to help individuals de-stress. The style is focused on meditative principles and relaxation rather than caloric expenditure. Despite this, the participants of the study who practiced yoga still managed to lose more subcutaneous fat than the control group who practiced more standard stretching exercises. So how did this gentle yoga practice help participants lose weight?

According to the study: “One explanation for the difference may be that restorative yoga reduces levels of cortisol, which rises during times of stress and is known to increase abdominal fat.”

Yoga can decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression

Along with the ability to decrease general stress, taking things to the mat can also mitigate symptoms associated with mental health disorders like anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

According to several studies cited by Harvard Health Publications, yoga can potentially tame the stress response in a way that can encourage healing for those suffering from the aforementioned disorders. One study in particular found that it significantly decreased the severity of symptoms in war veterans who experienced PTSD and used alcohol to self-medicate.

It can halt age-related decline

Aging can bring concerns about mental decline, with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimating that as many as 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease.

A recent pilot study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease provides findings that indicate yoga could be a formative tool in preventing brain decline in older adults. Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles recruited 29 middle-aged and older adults who reported concerns over their memory and cognitive functioning.

The participants of the study were divided into two groups. One group was given a series of memory enhancing techniques (MET) that included evidence-based activities to improve memory and language skills. The other group began a yoga program.

At the conclusion of the 12-week program, brain scans found that all participants experienced greater communication between parts of the brain that control language and memory. Moreover, participants in the yoga group experienced an even greater increase in things like mood and attention span.

Yoga can make you happy

A happy brain is a healthy brain and, when it comes to improving mood, yoga is the exercise of choice.

A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that practicing yoga increased levels of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is known for its effect on mood, which is why lower levels of the chemical are often found in people with anxiety and depression.

For the study, participants took part in a 12-week fitness program one group walked for one hour, three times a week, and the other participated in yoga. At the conclusion of the study, it was found that the yoga group experienced a greater increase in GABA levels than the walking group. This was found both through self-reporting of participants and the results of brain scans conducted through magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging.

Get started

Columbia Association offers a variety of yoga and group fitness classes to help you enhance your overall health and quality of life. Learn more about CA’s health and fitness services here.


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