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
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?
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.
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.
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
Article exclusively submitted to mindbodymana.com
By Lila Michelle