We’ve learned that yoga can make us limber like Gumby, help relieve anxiety and pain, and reduce blood pressure. And, poses like Salutation Sun and Downward Dog can help get us into serious shape. But what about our brains?
A research review not only suggested that yoga is good for our brains, but that it actually makes them work better. Find out how yoga contributes to a healthier brain below.
We all know that yoga can help keep your body looking great over time, but according to a small study, it can help your brain age pretty nicely too.
The study tested 81 older adults who had mild cognitive impairment, who were told to either practice Kundalini yoga or memory enhancement training.
Both groups saw some boosts in their brain function, but the yoga-practicing peeps saw their memories improve more, and saw improvement in executive brain functions –– or their ability to plan, focus, and juggle tasks.
A research review showed that mind-body exercises change your brain for the better and improve its structure in adults.
Both of these studies should be taken with a grain of salt, though. More research is needed to prove how helpful yoga is in improving how our brains age –– it still may be worth breaking out your mats and giving yoga a try, though.
According to a small 2013 study, yoga helps give your brain more gray matter. Gray matter is where most of our brain cells live. It also helps some important parts of brain function, like the five senses, memories, muscle control, and awareness.
Gray matter, with the help of white matter, is what keeps your body moving and functioning. But since brain cells live in the gray matter, the thicker the gray matter, the more likely it is that your brain can function in a better way.
One study showed that thicker gray matter in certain areas of your brain can help your brain stay in tip-top shape by helping with:
- emotional control
- impulse control
- self awareness
Another fun fact about yoga is that it keeps cortisol levels in check. Cortisol is a hormone that’s made by adrenal glands that helps your brain regulate your mood –– aka, it’s your body’s natural stress hormone.
Having too much cortisol can lead to some not-so-fun health concerns, like:
- weight gain
- poor sleeping habits
- low energy
- high blood pressure
- anxiety or depression
A healthy amount of cortisol is important to help keep your body relaxed, your blood pressure low, and your stress levels low.
According to the above study, practicing yoga can reduce cortisol levels enough to help keep away some diseases that stress can bring, like diabetes and heart disease, and lower the chances of anxiety and depression.
According to previous research, “Yes.” This isn’t the first time researchers have linked exercise and cognitive performance, though most previous studies focus on aerobic activity.
One possible explanation for yoga’s superpowers on our brains is the “mind-body connection,” using thoughts to positively influence some of your body’s physical responses.
A combination of meditation, breathing, and body awareness may very well explain the increased brain function. We’d like to see the researchers study practicing yogis (rather than just newbs) in the future. And hey, if this research is one more reason to roll out the yoga mat, then we’re in!
It isn’t clear how much yoga it takes to give us super-brains, but a small study showed that doing yoga for an hour every week can significantly help reduce stress and improve brain health.
Since a large part of yoga focuses on breathing techniques, meditation, and mindfulness, one session can likely help improve your brain health, but researchers are not sure how long the effects will last if you aren’t practicing consistently.
Though more research is needed to understand the ways that yoga can really help your brainpower, it’s safe to say that there is enough evidence to know that yoga does some good.
With that being said, go break out your mats, get that Tree Pose perfected, and reap all the brain benefits of your yoga session.