Yoga expands your mind. ... Literally, it turns out. A regular yoga practice makes key brain areas larger and healthier.
Good news for us yogis! A new report from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIC) found that a regular yoga practice may have the same brain-boosting results as cardiovascular exercise. The results were published in the journal Brain Plasticity, and synthesized the research from 11 other studies. Those studies had been conducted both on people who regularly practiced yoga, and those who were new to yoga.
Plump That Brain!
- The size of the hippocampus, which is associated with memory processing and tends to shrink as we get older, increases with a consistent yoga practice.
- Likewise, the amygdala, the brain’s controller of emotional regulation, tends to be bigger in people who practice yoga. “The practice of yoga helps improve emotional regulation to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression,” wrote Neha Gothe, the study’s leader and professor of kinesiology and community health at UIC. “And that seems to improve brain functioning.”
- The prefrontal cortex—linked to the brain’s job in planning, multitasking, and making decisions as we move through life—is larger among those who regularly hit their yoga mats.Try our 4 Yoga Poses to Save You From Burnout.
- Having a yoga practice leads to better performance on cognitive tests or measures of emotional regulation. Short on time today? Try these 10 Relaxing Chair Yoga Poses.
More Research to Come
Discovering that yoga has similar beneficial effects as cardiovascular exercise is a great first step, but these researchers want to learn more. “Yoga is not aerobic in nature, so there must be other mechanisms leading to these brain changes,” Gothe wrote. “So far, we don't have the evidence to identify what those mechanisms are.” Still, those of us who love yoga have one more reason to get into Downward Facing Dog or Triangle pose, knowing we’re helping our brain stay healthy.
Want more on yoga? Read our story on “How to Develop a Home Yoga Practice.”