Yoga transforms your mind, body, and spirit; but how?
Several studies have shown that the ancient practice of yoga promotes changes in the brain that makes you more self-aware, focused, sharp, and content. It further helps battle stress, anxiety, and depression and promotes calmness and a relaxed state of mind.
How Yoga Changes Your Brain?
1. Yoga helps your brain grow
Recent studies have revealed that practicing yoga can actually help your brain grow in size. MRI scans showed visible growth in the somatosensory cortex, the hippocampus, the superior parietal cortex, the visual cortex; and the precuneus and posterior cingulate cortex.
These changes result in better analytical skills, lower stress and anxiety, improved concentration, and a greater sense of self. Thus, it is not just physical benefits but yoga literally changes your brain.
2. Yoga boosts your Grey Matter Density
The grey matter of your brain is the part responsible for muscle control and sensory perception. Decreased grey matter can result in memory impairment, emotional problems, poorer pain tolerance, and decreased cognitive functioning. Studies have shown that it only takes eight weeks of yoga and meditation to bring an increase in the grey matter density in the brain.
This increase in grey matter density results in higher self-awareness and compassion, a sharper memory, and learning skills. The practice of control in posture, breathing, and mental activity results in increased grey matter in the brain.
3. It increases the Cortical Folds in Your Brain
Studies have shown that meditation plays a crucial role in increasing the number of folds in the brain. MRI brain scans showed that people who meditate every day had more gyrification of their brain’s cortex. The study also showed that the longer they practiced meditation the more the amount of gyrification.
This helps in improving language, reasoning, perception, information processing, memory, and voluntary movement. It also results in better functioning and faster information processing.
4. It activates your Parasympathetic Nervous System
Yoga calms your brain by stimulating your parasympathetic nervous system. It relaxes your brain and directs the blood towards the endocrine glands, digestive organs, and lymphatic circulation. It also lowers the heart rate, blood pressure, and anxiety and improves the sense of well-being.
Yoga can help in dealing with premenstrual stress which is characterized by physical, psychological, and behavioral changes.
5. Yoga releases Feel-Good Chemicals
Several studies have shown that yoga can cause a spike in the levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This is a brain chemical associated with decreased anxiety and improved moods. Research quoted that yoga is more effective than walking in improving GABA levels.
Yoga also boosts the production of dopamine and serotonin. These are the happy chemicals that make you feel relaxed and calm. Certain studies suggest that yoga is as effective as antidepressant and anti-anxiety drugs.
6. Yoga controls your Cortisol Levels
Cortisol is the stress hormone. Cortisol activates the amygdala, the fear center. It also shrinks the pre-frontal cortex, the portion of the brain that manages self-control and discipline.
Studies revealed that regular practice of yoga can result in a drop in the levels of cortisol. In a 2005 study, German researchers reported that women battling mental illnesses reported less stress and fatigue on the regular practice of yoga.
7. Yoga acts as a natural pain-killer
Because of the way yoga works on the brain, it is found that yoga can act as a natural painkiller for chronic pain. As I already said, people who practice yoga regularly have increased levels of grey matter in their brains. This grey matter helps in pain modulation.
Research also shows that yoga can act as a natural antidepressant in pregnant women who are prone to postpartum depression. A 2012 study showed that meditative yoga can significantly reduce the symptoms of depression in women.
8. Yoga prevents age-related memory decline
Aging causes a change in the structure and functionality of our brains. This can result in cognitive decline, attention issues, and memory loss. It can also result in aging disorders like Alzheimer’s or dementia.
MRI scans have shown that people who practice yoga had lesser gray matter decline in their brain with age as compared to their peers. Yoga is proven to prevent age-related brain tissue loss and increase the ability to retain memory. Yoga also nourishes the portions of the brain responsible for memory and cognition.
9. Yoga changes your brain chemistry
Yoga practitioners experience better joy and happiness because of the brain chemicals. It is found to stimulate activity in the anterior cingulate cortex and the medial prefrontal cortex. These are the brain areas that are associated with empathy, gratitude, and kindness.
Several studies have proved that the combination of poses, breathing, and meditation that yoga offers to bring about a structural change in the brain. This affects our emotions, stress regulation, anxiety, and depression. Practicing yoga can help live a happier and healthier life.