BY JORDAN COHEN
Evolving Research Shows that Yoga and Meditation Increase The Neuroplasticity of Your Brain
By now we all know that a consistent yoga practice can produce dramatic changes in strength, flexibility and even a general sense of well-being. It is also been proven that yoga can help with depression and anxiety as well as assist with relieving pain.
But did you know that all those warrior poses are also helping your brain? Evolving research is not only showing that yoga slows the decline of brain function with age, but actually can create new neural pathways in your brain.
It is well-established that physical exercise helps with brain function in older adults. But what about yoga? How is yoga different from aerobic exercise? Yoga is unique in that a class combines physical postures with pranayama [breathing], and meditation.
In a recent study researchers using MRI studies compared the differences in age-related grey matter of yogis and non-yogis. The study found that evidence of age-related grey matter decline in non-yoga practitioners, whereas long-term yogis did not. They concluded that a consistent yoga practice actually contributes to the protection of the brain against age-related decline.
Even more exciting is emerging research showing that yoga can actually increase neuroplasticity. Neoplasticism is the brain’s ability to create neural pathways. These pathways are created as when the brain is being used in new and/or more challenging ways. Just like muscles grow to meets physical demands, and atrophy when not being used, so does your brain.
Exploring this idea further another study also found that age-related grey matter did not decline as quickly in yoga practitioners as non-yoga practitioners. In addition, this study also found that a difference in cognitive or actual thinking and decision-making between the two groups. The researchers concluded that a yoga practice is positively associated with the promotion of neuroplastic changes in executive brain systems, which may confer therapeutic benefits that accrue with repeated practice.
It’s exciting and humbling to know that our health is in our own hands and that we been given the power to control our bodies’ destinies. With yoga we have the ability to not only nourish our bodies but to protect and change our brains in positive ways. This is a future truly worth looking forward to.