(HealthyResearch.com) – Yoga has soared in popularity in the past decade. Celebrities post Instagram pictures of their postures, and fitness clubs offer all types of yoga classes. There are good reasons for its popularity; Yoga has been shown to offer several benefits. In addition to improving your flexibility and balance, yoga can even improve your brain.
Yoga Helps Mind, Body and Spirit
Bring on those downward-facing dog and sun salutation poses to help all parts of your mind and body. Researchers are building up the evidence that yoga “is good for your body, health and mind,” Jonathan Greenberg, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research fellow in the department of psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, told NBC.
From treating anxiety and depression to easing insomnia, yoga can make a difference in how the brain functions. Researchers have found that yoga may even ease stress.
All the deep breathing and meditation techniques that are part of yoga affect the HPA axis (or hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis), explained Greenberg. The HPA axis is in charge of your sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which heightens your fight or flight response. It also controls the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which relaxes you.
When you practice yoga techniques, your SNS decreases while your PNS gets a boost. Your heart rate and blood pressure may both improve. Researchers also have discovered something extra cool about yoga’s effect on the brain. Because your brain and body are in sync, as yoga relaxes you physically, your brain gets cues that everything is fine and the fight or flight response is not needed.
Now that’s a good reason to take a deep, relaxing breath!
Yoga Brings Brain Gains
Researchers at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine used MRI scans to analyze the changes in the brain by people who practiced yoga regularly. What they found was that certain areas of the brain were more enlarged with additional hours of yoga practice each week.
Three specific areas of the brain improved for the yogis who participated in the study:
- Increased brain volume in the somatosensory cortex, which acts like a mental body map.
- Improved brain function in the superior parietal cortex, which directs attention.
- Enlarged hippocampus, which helps to reduce stress.
These yogis spent 70 percent of their practice on physical movements, 20 percent on meditation, and 10 percent on breath work.
Yoga Eases Anxiety
Yoga can reduce anxiety more than walking, according to a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Researchers discovered that practicing yoga increases your brain’s GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) levels.
The research participants who practiced yoga improved their moods and had less anxiety than the group assigned to exercise by walking. Those differences were due to changes in GABA levels.
Yoga Can Help with Pain
Those suffering from chronic pain sometimes have less gray matter in their brain. In turn, reductions in gray matter may result in problems coping with pain, memory concerns, and even emotional challenges. In contrast, practicing yoga regularly can build up the levels of gray matter in the brain. While more research is needed, yoga may turn out to be a helpful way to manage pain.
Whether you decide to practice yoga to improve your flexibility, ease anxiety or help you get a good night’s sleep, this form of exercise may change your life for the better. Namaste!
~Here’s to Your Health & Safety!
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