For those of you who are toying with the idea of yoga, new research confirms that it does more for your body than makes you feel good. Not only does it improve our sleep, lower our cholesterol and generally calm us down (among many other well-documented benefits), yoga actually changes our brain, protecting us against the decline in gray matter brain volume as we get older. In short, yoga keeps you mentally young. *Whips out yoga mat in the office*...
In a May 2015 study published by the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience using MRI scans, it was found that those with a regular yoga practice had brain volumes that were roughly the same as those much younger than them, suggesting that yoga keeps our brains from shrinking.
As reported by Psychology Today, the positivity surrounding a regular yoga practice is more than anecdotal; the gray matter that's protected is largely found in the left hemisphere of the brain, which is directly linked with positive emotion. PT explain that the brain activity associated with our parasympathetic nervous system (the relaxed one) is mostly found in this left hemisphere, as are feelings of happiness and joy.
As for their conclusion? "Regular practice of yoga may have neuroprotective effects against whole brain age-related GM decline. Additionally, our results suggest that more weekly regular yoga practice is associated with larger brain volume in areas involved in bodily representation, attention, self-relevant processing, visualization, and stress regulation. Distinct components of yoga practice (postures, breathing exercises, and meditation) or combination of these predicted GM volumes of these brain areas differently, in keeping with the nature of the processing taking place in those structures. Furthermore, certain brain changes continue to occur after several years of practice, as reflected by the link between increasing yoga experience and increasing brain volume in areas subserving autonomic integration, emotional processing and regulation, hierarchical sequential organization, and in a brain area implicated in either the monitoring of the transition between innocuous to painful sensation or in experiences characterized by insights into the unity of all reality and feelings of peace and joy. Most of these experience-related changes were located in the left hemisphere suggesting that increasing years of yoga practice progressively tunes the brain toward a parasympathetically driven mode and positive affective states. Together these findings provide a neural basis for some of the beneficial effects of yoga. Finally, the current study involved yoga practitioners who were otherwise typical North Americans. As such, if the observed structural brain variances are indeed related to yoga training, they should be within the reach of the average person and not reserved to a select few."
On that note, we give you three yoga poses for increased happiness. Altogether now, 'ommm'.