Neuroscience Evidence of Benefits of Yoga on Brain Health

Neuroscience Evidence of Benefits of Yoga on Brain Health

A recent study conducted by the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and Wayne State University indicates that Yoga has a positive effect on the structure and function of key brain areas associated with memory. The findings provide evidence that yoga may hold promise in mitigating the age-related and neurodegenerative decline.

The practice of Yoga originated and developed over many thousands of years by sages in ancient India, is known to have a positive effect on body and mind. Yoga combines physical postures (Yogasana), rhythmic breathing (Pranayama) and meditation. Different paths of Yoga exist – each giving importance to one or more of these aspects. Though practiced in different ways with varying philosophies, all paths lead to holistic mind-body experience.

The physical and physiological health benefits of any physical exercise whether aerobic, sports, gym or Yoga, are well established. In recent years, scientists – particularly Neuroscientists – have been researching the benefits of Yogasana and Pranayama on psychological and emotional health. Earlier we had posted an article on the scientific evidence of the benefits of Pranayama published by Northwestern University.

This new study reviewed 11 research papers on the effects of Yoga on brain structures and their functions. It demonstrates the positive effect of Yoga on the emotional brain (Hippocampus, Amygdala, Cingulate Cortex) and the logical brain (Prefrontal Cortex). The studies also offered evidence that the practice of Yoga may hold promise to mitigate age-related Neurodegenerative disorders. For example, Hippocampus is involved in memory storage and retrival, and is known to shrink with age. It is the same part of the brain that is first affected in Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The Cingulate Cortex plays a key role in emotional regulation, learning and memory. The Amygdala, a part of the brain that deals with experience and emotions, tends to be more efficient in Yoga practitioners in enhancing emotional regulation.

The practice of yoga helped the participants improve emotional regulation to reduce stress, anxiety and depression. Also, it was found that the Prefrontal Cortex tends to be larger and more efficient in those who regularly practice Yoga. This is a part of the brain that deals with logic, planning, thinking, decision making, and multitasking. The study found out that those who had done Yoga for eight weeks had reduced the effect of the stress hormone Cortisol – and hence helped in better decision-making, task-switching and attention.

The research article published in the journal Brain Plasticity can be found at

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