Most people already know the plenitude of benefits that yoga offers. It helps you become stronger, more balanced, and increase your flexibility. It allows the mind to relax and creates a space for you to just be within your body.
It is being used as part of the modern healing of the mind which includes addiction and clinical mood disorders. What neuroscience has recently found is that yoga is extremely helpful in keeping the mind clear.
Neuroscience Says Yoga is Effective in Changing the Brain
Studies in neuroscience have shown that through many types of exercise, including yoga, you can retrain your brain (1). So if your memory is slipping, you can do regular daily yoga and you’ll experience an improvement.
The brain is capable of regenerating but you have to give it the direction. Now neuroscientists don’t know why yoga works exactly but through tests, they have found that there is no argument it does improve brain functioning.
It is the practice of exercise, posture, focused breathing, and meditation that all promote a healthy mind.
Yoga and the Fight Against Anxiety and Depression
Yoga is an excellent way to combat the stress and anxiety we’re experiencing today. You may not know this but anxiety and depression have been found to cause problems in the brain.
The fight or flight process that we naturally have is for a good cause. It causes a series of events in the body and mind that help you to escape from a dangerous situation. Like running away from a lion for example.
In our current world, we don’t tend to need to run from lions but the body reacts in the same way when we’re stressed about small things. When stress occurs often, it causes chemistry in the brain to change. It creates forgetfulness, concentration problems and can cause confusion.
Through the daily practice of yoga, the mind can go back to normal by getting blood flow back to the brain. It can also prevent stress and anxiety from occurring so your brain doesn’t become damaged in the first place.
Meditating – An Essential Part of Yoga
Harvard studies have found a link between the reduction of clinical mood disorders and meditation (2). No yoga class is really complete without meditation.
Tuning into your practice, in the beginning, paying attention to your body through poses, and contemplating on your mat after you’re done yoga are all ways you’re meditating.
Meditation has found to be especially beneficial for those who have neurodegenerative diseases. Alzheimer’s and dementia are some examples.
Breathing and Focus On Yoga
Yoga and its ability to improve brain activity should be done every day. Staving off stress is how to keep the brain cells healthy, alive, and active.
When stress comes along, it’s important to be rid of it as quickly as it came. Breathing is an excellent way to help the parasympathetic nervous system to stay relaxed.
There are many breaths that accompany yoga including Ujjiyi breath and breath of fire. They keep the mind engaged, bring oxygen to the brain, and relaxes the body at a cellular level.
Kirtan kriya is a meditation technique used in kundalini yoga, a powerful type of yoga practice that incorporates meditation, mudra, chanting and mantra.
This kriya asks you to breathe powerfully through the 12-minute practice. Studies conducted around kirtan kriya found that the frontal lobe of the brain improved after these meditations. This is the area of the mind responsible for attention, concentration, and focus.
Yoga and its Effects on Cortisol Levels
Cortisol is an important component of us living and breathing. The problem lies when too much cortisol is released. It causes problems in the mind by changing the chemistry and potentially causing long-term damage. Cortisol levels rise from too much stress.
Studies have shown that yoga significantly reduces cortisol levels in your body. It does so by reducing components of stress that promote a rise in your cortisol levels.
One study in particular from India found that patients experienced a drop in cortisol and an improvement in mood disorders like anxiety and depression.
Daily Yoga Practice Can Improve Brain Activity
If you’ve ever heard your yoga instructor tell you how important yoga is as a daily practice, this is an example that they’re right. Yoga creates essential building blocks that stave off illnesses and promotes brain health.
You will learn to feel less stressed out about small daily occurrences because you become naturally more centered. It becomes easier for you to manage the stress that’s causing problems with your body and your mind.
Your life is busy but stress doesn’t have to be a part of it. You’ll be a lot more focused and capable of getting everything done when your mind is working at full capacity.
At the onset of anxiety, you will have the tools to fight off any feelings of stress. When you can do this, you protect your brain from becoming damaged. It really only works when you do it daily though. This is where you’ll experience the full benefits.
The good news is that it doesn’t take a lot of time to do yoga when you do it daily. An hour class is great but not necessary when you practice every day. Just a few simple poses that take no more than 10 minutes can help your mind, body and soul.
Meera Watts is a yoga teacher, entrepreneur and mom. Her writing on yoga and holistic health has appeared in Elephant Journal, CureJoy, FunTimesGuide, OMtimes and others. She’s also the founder and owner of Siddhi Yoga International, a yoga teacher training school based in Singapore. Siddhi Yoga runs intensive, residential trainings in India (Rishikesh, Goa and Dharamshala), Indonesia (Bali).