Cedar Wellness Studio

The Brain & Yoga Connection
Wednesday, January 27 2021
Holistic yoga consists of three main components that cater to your physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing. These come in the form of the poses, breath work, and meditation. Yoga can enhance your brain function and positively affect the structure of your brain. You can achieve these brain-boosting benefits by practicing yoga weekly!
Thanks to sophisticated brain imaging technologies, neuroscience is proving what teachers and practitioners have known for ages—that yoga and meditation can literally change your brain. But what exactly is going on up there? Take a peek inside—a basic understanding of brain anatomy and function can serve as a handy road map for your inner journey.  
Yoga practice positively affects the anatomy of the brain. Yoga practice appears to be linked to anatomical changes. One of the primary benefits of yoga reported is a sense of post-practice relaxation. This associated body-mind connection is a positive change from the hectic pace of life. Yoga’s focus on improving the self through both physical and mental practices incorporates mindful elements.

There's three main parts of the brain, the cerebral cortex, the cerebellum and the brain stem.

Also, the four brain lobes: the frontal lobe, the parietal lobe, the temporal lobe and the occipital lobe.

-Many studies show that yoga practice increases the volume of the hippocampus size over time.
The hippocampus is involved in memory processing and is known to shrink with age.

-In times of stress, the relaxation response of the parasympathetic nervous system can be induced through yoga practices that relax your body and/or your mind. During a yoga session, certain parts of your brain slow down to allow them to rest. This functionality helps you de-stress, which takes place in two major areas of the brain.
  • Frontal lobe. The frontal lobe is the most advanced part of your brain because it is responsible for most of the thinking, planning, and reasoning. It also plays a role in self-awareness and emotional regulation. The frontal lobe is the hub of higher cognitive functions.  During yoga, your frontal lobe reverses its own stress response when necessary, so you don't remain in a state of stress for an unhealthy length of time. Thus, allowing your body may become more adept.  
  • Parietal lobe. This section of the brain handles all the information coming from your senses. It takes in the sights, sounds, and everything else you observe around you. As such, when you’re always on the move, working, driving or observing things, you can imagine how much activity is going on here. Yoga likewise causes your parietal lobe to slow down.

Yoga Increases the Folds in Your Brain

 The surface of the brain is made up of bumps and wrinkles. Which plays an essential role in your ability to think. These wrinkles are basically called cortical folds, or the scientific term, gyrification. These folds contain your brain cells. And, they’re there to increase the surface area of your brain. 

Yoga Increases Gray Matter Density

Our brains are primarily made up of two types of tissues: white and gray matter. Both of which play important roles in healthy cognitive functioning, however, each brain tissue type has a different function. Essentially, the thicker the volume of the gray matter in a region of your brain, the more cells are present there and thus, the more likely to perform better.

  • Gray matter consists of your brain cells or neurons
  • White matter, on the other hand, are the connections that extend from your brain cells.

Similarly, in yoga, the constant use and practice of control in your postures, breathing, and mental activity results in increased gray matter density and activation in your hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. Together, allowing you to have better:

  • Focus and concentration.
  • Emotional and impulse control.
  • Make you more in tune with your senses and be self-aware.
  • Decision making as well as being better at evaluating rewards and consequences. 

Important brain changes associated
with regular yoga practice; 

The amygdala, a brain structure that contributes to emotional regulation, tends to grow larger. 

The prefrontal cortex, cingulate cortex and brain networks such as the default mode network also tend to be larger or more efficient in those who regularly practice yoga. 

The prefrontal cortex, a brain region just behind the forehead, is essential to planning, decision-making, multitasking, thinking about your options and picking the right option. The default mode network is a set of brain regions involved in thinking about the self, planning and memory. 
Like the amygdala, the cingulate cortex is part of the limbic system, a circuit of structures that plays a key role in emotional regulation, learning and memory.

Collectively, the studies demonstrate a positive effect of yoga practice on the structure and/or function of the hippocampus, amygdala, prefrontal cortex, cingulate cortex and brain networks.
Yoga is commonly thought of as a series of poses that involve stretching, strengthening and other complex movements. As such, its benefits are often believed to be physical. However, its effects are more far-reaching. The combination of poses, breathing, and meditation produces structural changes in your brain. This not only causes certain areas of your brain to increase or decrease in size but also affects your cognition as well as how you process your emotions, stress, and anxiety.

All of which help you live a happier, healthier life!

"The beauty of yoga. It is the meeting of the brain with the body. When you are attentive, concentrated, when you feel what you are doing, there is energy. The binding of the two becomes energy. It is important to understand this. When they are together there is great energy, which gives the body freedom and makes the mind more supple..." 
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