What Yoga And Meditation Can Do For Your Brain

Do you remember when you decided to get on a yoga mat for the very first time? Well, a study

conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health found that 90% of people initially decide to practice

yoga and meditation to seek physical health benefits. This finding isn’t surprising at all, as yoga and

meditation have been proven to do so much for our bodies. This includes improving our flexibility,

increased muscle strength, improved respiration, and increased cardio and circulatory health. There

have also been cases wherein yoga has helped deal with chronic pain related to arthritis and carpal

tunnel syndrome.

However, most people grow to understand yoga’s benefits beyond the physical over time. Another

study, this time conducted by the University of Connecticut, has found that while most do get into yoga

for health reasons, regular practitioners cite spirituality or self-actualization as their main motivators for

sticking with yoga. Thus, this begs the question: What can yoga and meditation do for your brain?

Brain Growth

Although there is something to be said about how meditation and yoga help expand your mind

figuratively (more on this later), it’s also important to note that these can also make it grow literally.

Studies have found that consistently practicing yoga and meditation has led to some parts of the brain

growing in size.

The somatosensory cortex and the hippocampus, the sections of the brain that help counter stress and

anxiety, are both larger in yogis compared to those who have never practiced yoga in their life. The

brain growth in these areas is telling, as Maryville University points out that more and more

psychologists have found connections between mental health and learning success. And sure enough,

other parts of the brain that were affected include the superior parietal cortex, which helps with

concentration, and the posterior cingulate cortex, which mostly has to do with your brain’s ability to

create a concrete sense of self. This means that yoga not only delivers emotional benefits, but it can also

improve cognitive abilities as well.

Releases Feel-good Chemicals

Yoga has also been shown to boost levels of the feel-good brain chemicals. These chemicals include

Gamma-aminobutyric acid, dopamine, and serotonin, which are all responsible for controlling your

mood. What this means is that practicing yoga may also affect relaxation and contentedness.

Furthermore, these feel-good chemicals are what mood medications for mental illnesses are designed to

heighten. So while yoga and meditation are not cure-alls for mental illnesses and are certainly not

alternatives for professional care, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that practicing yoga may help people

deal with their anxiety and depression.

Cortical Folding

A study by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health has found that people who

practice yoga have more folds in the outer layer of their brains. This is called gyrification, and has been

linked to the brain’s ability to process information.

Now, as gyrification is commonly linked to logical decision-making and processing, it would make sense

if this is the scientific explanation to why people who meditate and practice yoga have a keen sense of

awareness and present-mindedness. This awareness is then what leads to Spiritual Awareness, or the

process by which we begin to explore our own being in order to become whole.

Stress Management

Last but definitely not least, the slow and steady breathing in yoga can help lead to lowered cortisol

levels in your brain. Cortisol is the hormone that appears when you’re in a state of stress and activates

the brain amygdala. The amygdala is what’s responsible for the feeling of fear. It also shrinks the pre-

frontal cortex, which manages your self-control, thus leading you to make rash decisions under duress.

Thus, lowered cortisol levels mean that all these worrying effects are minimized and made more

manageable.

Article exclusively submitted to mindbodymana.com

By Lila Michelle

Nikki HartleyComment