In a study published in 2015 in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, researcher and scientist, Brittany Fair, as quoted in yogaresearchandbeyond.com, states, “. . . subjects with more hours of weekly yoga practice showed greater brain volumes than those subjects that practiced less. In addition, utilizing both yoga postures and meditation during practice contributed to the biggest size differences observed in the hippocampus among other regions.”
Ms. Fair combines her scientific background and her yoga teacher training expertise to lead NeuroFlow yoga workshops where the focus is on the neuroscience of yoga while moving your body and practicing yoga and helps participants understand how yoga and meditation affect the brain.
“The things we think and the things we do have a dynamic impact on our brain, our attitudes, and ultimately our reality,” notes yoga instructor, Zuzu Perkal in her Wanderlust article, How Yoga Changes Your Brain. “Yoga is all about taking what we learn on the mat (all the things we’ve discussed here today: deep breathing, softening muscles, clearing the mind, and enjoying the present moment) and bringing it into our daily lives. These are the techniques that break bad habits, eliminate negativity, and diminish stress.”
Jessica Migala, reporting for NBC news learned, “Additional observational research on mindfulness and meditation (both are large components of yoga) sheds light on how classes may actually influence your brain structure, says Jonathan Greenberg, a postdoctoral research fellow in the department of psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. (Research on yoga alone is limited, but you can make some inferences by looking at meditation studies, he notes.) Studies looking at how the brain changes before and after meditation found that brain structures involved in awareness, attention and self-related thinking changed in structure and increased in volume, he says. Plus, there’s your memory. ‘After eight weeks of meditation training, research found that the hippocampus, which is involved in learning and memory, developed more gray matter density,’ he notes.”
Why does yoga and meditation change the way the brain works? “Yoga works not because the poses are relaxing, but because they are stressful. It is your attempts to remain calm during this stress that create yoga’s greatest neurobiological benefit,” says Alex Korb, PhD, in Psychology Today.
Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, Ph.D., has been fully engaged in basic and clinical research on the effectiveness of yoga and
meditation practices in improving physical and psychological health for over 10 years. He has also practiced a yoga lifestyle for over 40 years and is a certified Kundalini Yoga instructor. He is the Director of Research for the Kundalini Research Institute, Research Director of the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health and an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. In his book, Your Brain on Yoga, he states, “There are many different systems in our body, and our brain and genes control all of them. Although we cannot change our DNA, certain behaviors will change which genes are turned off and which are turned on. If you smoke cigarettes, for example, you may turn on genes that elevate your cancer risk. By doing yoga and contemplative practices, you will positively impact specific gene activity, which can change your physiological state and help to regulate your stress response.” He goes on to say, ” Certain areas of our brain undergo positive structural changes when we meditate. Because the brain exhibits plasticity, which means it has the ability to change, whatever you experience will be reflected in and have impact on your brain structure.”
Harvard graduate and international yoga teacher, Gina M. Florio, summarizes Dr. Khalsa’s work as well as other studies in her article, 6 Ways Yoga Changes Your Brain:
Our mission at Sunrise Yoga is to promote yoga as a lifelong process by providing opportunities and facilities for experience and development in a culture of community. We believe this process can be entered by anyone at any time, regardless of age or fitness level, and, as our name implies, we encourage each person to daily engage in this process as the relationship with yoga is explored. We want to assist you in building the mind body connection of yoga and mediation.
Is your brain in need of a remodel/upgrade? With all the evidence pointing to the positive impacts of yoga and mediation on your brain, why not give it a try? Unsure where to start? We are here to help.
If you have been practicing yoga and meditation for some time, what changes have you noticed that would support the information noted here?