How Yoga Affects the Brain
Not only is yoga incredible for improving flexibility, gaining strength, practicing mindfulness, and relieving stress, but regular yoga practice also has amazing effects on the brain. It’s fascinating to learn how yoga affects the brain over time and also each time that you practice.
Here are a few ways that yoga helps to improve the functionality of our brains.
Yoga Increases Gray Matter Volume
Our brains are made up of both white and gray matter, and the typical brain has about 60% white matter and 40% gray matter. These two types of matter play a crucial role in our cognitive functions.
Gray matter consists of your brain cells and it contributes to the functionality of our senses of smell, touch, sight, and hearing. It also gives us our ability to control our muscles and our self-awareness.
White matter is made up of the connections that extend out from your brain cells. White matter works to make connections between different parts of your brain.
Both of these help us to think, coordinate our movements, and understand the world around us.
Through regular yoga practice, yogis learn to gain greater control in postures, breathing, and mental activity. And these practices lead to an increased density of gray matter in the brain and increased activity in the hippocampus and frontal cortex.
This increase in gray matter and activity leads to amazing benefits like experiencing better focus and concentration, impulse control, emotional control, self-awareness, and decision-making skills.
Yoga Increases the Folds in Your Brain
Whenever you see a picture or model of a brain, you immediately notice all the folds and wrinkles that every brain has. Despite how strange they may look, these folds and wrinkles contain your brain cells and work to increase the surface area of your brain so you can increase the number of brain cells you have.
Regular yoga practice (over many years) can actually increase the number of folds in your brain, especially through the regular practice of meditation. The increase in these folds allows for better functioning of the brain and an ability to process information faster.
Yoga Helps You Relieve Stress and Anxiety
One of the main focuses in yoga is relaxation and letting go of stress, anxiety, and worry. And as you feel yourself relax and destress in your yoga practice, your brain is actually releasing several chemicals that help you to do so.
Your brain releases chemicals like gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. All of these chemicals help you to relax and lower your stress and anxiety levels and many—if not all—of these chemicals are released every time you practice.
Not only do these chemicals help us to relax, but during your yoga practice, certain parts of your brain relax as well.
Your frontal lobe helps you do things like think, plan, feel emotions, and have self-awareness and while you practice, your frontal lobe is able to take a break from thinking and stressing so much!
Your parietal lobe helps you process all of your senses and everything you’re observing and experiencing throughout each day. Similarly to the frontal lobe, the parietal lobe takes a break during your yoga practice as well.
And finally, yoga helps you destress and relax because it also triggers your brain to tell your body to lower hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which are stress response hormones.
Ready to start reducing your stress and anxiety through yoga? Check out these 5 easy yoga poses to help you relieve stress!
Above all, yoga is an amazing tool to use, not only to increase strength and flexibility, but also to improve the health and functionality of our brains! And as scientists continue to learn how yoga affects the brain through research and experimental studies, we will only be able to further our understanding of the vast benefits that yoga offers!