6 Mental Benefits of Yoga
This is your brain on yoga.
We all know that yoga is good for your body. Practicing regularly can increase flexibility, strengthen and tone your muscles, and relieve pain. But did you know that yoga can also change your brain for the better?
Doing yoga increases circulation to the brain and can also increase brain growth and retention of brain cells. These effects on the brain are significant and can’t actually be found in many other types of exercise.
Here are the six mental benefits of yoga you should know.
By Ashley Stern
1. Improved R&R
Yoga activates your parasympathetic nervous system. Most people have heard of the “fight or flight” instinct. The parasympathetic system is on the opposite end of the spectrum and is known as the “rest and digest” part of the body. When this system is running efficiently, the benefits include lower blood pressure, better digestion, and a more balanced life. Essentially, this is the system that helps you wind down and relax.
2. Boost Your Overall Intelligence
Studies have shown that a regular asana practice can increase the connection between the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (or GABA) and brain cells. Low GABA levels have been linked with both anxiety and depression.
Additionally, the more cell connections the brain has, the better memory and cognitive functionality you will have. Thus, yoga might actually increase your intelligence!
3. Increased Happiness, Decreased Stress
Your brain releases all kinds of good feelings after a yoga sesh. Scientifically speaking, that means that the levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin go up. This means that you feel more creative and energetic while also feeling less anxiety.
Many believe that there is a huge benefit to doing yoga if you struggle with mental illness. While your happy brain chemicals increase, cortisol levels decrease. Cortisol is a hormone associated with stress and fear, and also decreases the size of the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which deals with discipline and self-control.
4. Pain Reduction
Yoga helps keep the body strong, supple, and better able to prevent and also recover from injury. A large aspect of the yoga practice is mindfulness and meditation.
Regular meditation has an effect on the parietal lobe of the brain. This is the area of the brain which manages limb movement, understanding speech, and pain. A study in 2011 showed that eight weeks of a mindfulness and meditation practice succeeded in reducing sensitivity to physical pain. Meditation is a way that anyone, regardless of mobility, can utilize yoga and its teachings.
5. Increased Self-Awareness
Decreased cortisol levels aren’t the only thing that physically affects the brain after doing yoga. Both the hippocampus and the somatosensory cortex (the centers of the brain which deal with moderating anxiety and body awareness respectively) grow in size.
Other areas which benefit from yoga include the centers of the brain that help you focus on specific things and creating a concrete sense of self. What all these physical changes mean is that doing regular yoga could lead to increased self-confidence, reasoning and problem solving skills – all while being more relaxed.
6. Increased Information Processing
Other physical changes include increased cortical folding on the brain. Cortical folding increases the surface area of the brain and the brain’s efficiency. Basically, the more folding on the brain, the more efficient the brain runs. Information is processed more quickly, memory is improved, and decisive decisions are made.