Yoga improves brain size

This article is reposted from Dr. Axe's website. Click here to read the article in it's entirety. Yoga is important for so many reasons. When practiced with consistency, the potential to transform your life is limitless. Here is just one more reason to consider adding yoga into your daily routine.

brain.jpg

Ways to Increase the Size of Your Brain

Yoga

Strike a pose. Yoga combines breathing, holding postures and meditation, a trifecta that not only protects the integrity of your brain, but thickens layers of your cerebral cortex, too. Brain scans now reveal that yoga changes your brain chemistry in positive ways. It helps build more robust levels of gray matter in brain areas involved with pain modulation. 

Yoga’s neuroprotective properties not only spare the brain from gray matter loss, but they seem to build up gray matter volume in certain regions of the brain, too. This is important because losing gray matter can lead to memory impairment, emotional problems, poorer pain tolerance and decreased cognitive functioning.

In 2015, researchers from McGill University and the National Institutes of Health found that consistency in your practice matters, too. The more years of yoga practice under someone’s belt was associated with positive changes in the left hemisphere, including increasing gray matter volumes in clusters located in the left insula, left frontal operculum, right middle temporal gyrus and left orbitofrontal cortex. These areas of the brain are involved in:

  • Perception
  • Motor control
  • Self-awareness
  • Cognitive functioning
  • Interpersonal experience
  • Inhibition
  • Impulse control
  • Social behavior
  • Memory processing
  • Emotion and rewarding decision making

If you haven’t been practicing for years, don’t worry, your brain is still changing. Those same researchers found that the number of hours of weekly practice correlated with gray matter volume in different areas of the brain, including the hippocampus, primary visual cortex, primary somatosensory cortex/suprior parietal lobule and precuneus/posterior cingulate cortex.

These areas of the brain include functions related to:

  • Self-consciousness
  • Self awareness
  • Limbic system (emotion regulation)

Meditation

Meditate. Numerous studies suggest engaging in meditation structurally changes your brain for the better. In a 2011, Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital researchers published a breakthrough study showing that guided meditation and mindfulness-based stress reduction led to measurable brain changes in areas involved with human memory, compassion and stress. In fact, practicing mindfulness meditation for just eight weeks changes your brain in a way that MRI scanners can detect. (Mindfulness meditation involves becoming aware of what is true moment by moment; to be present and turn attention to what is happening at that moment in a nonjudgemental way.) 

MRI images showed more brain matter density in the compassion, learning and memory centers in the hippocampus compared to pre-meditation scans. Interestingly, gray matter in the amygdala, a stress and anxiety center, shrank. All of this occurred with an average of 27 minutes of meditation practice a day for just eight weeks. 

We know from earlier studies that that mindfulness-based stress reduction bolsters the posterior cingulate cortex, the temporo-parietal junction and the cerebellum areas of the brain. These areas involve learning and memory, emotion regulation, empathy and sense of self.

Prefrontal cortex and right anterior insula areas of the brain were thicker among meditators. These areas impact sensory processing. Researchers say based on the brain-sparing properties meditation has, it could be a way to offset age-related cortical thinning.