Scientists have found that yoga has a beneficial effect on the brain by strengthening the brain structures responsible for cognitive abilities and emotional regulation. The research results are published in the journal Brain Plasticity.
For decades, scientists have found evidence that aerobic exercise strengthens the brain and promotes the growth of new neurons. American researchers from the University of Illinois and Wayne University in Detroit found that yoga has a similar effect.
The authors pooled data from 11 studies on the relationship between yoga practice and brain health. Five of these studies compared the brain state of people who had not previously done yoga before and after a course of exercise that lasted 10 to 24 weeks. The remaining six papers analyzed the differences in the brain between people who regularly practice yoga and those who do not.
Each of the studies used brain imaging techniques such as MRI, functional MRI, or single photon emission computed tomography. The subjects practiced hatha yoga, which included body movement, meditation, and breathing exercises.
"We found that all 11 studies noted the development of the same areas of the brain as during exercise," said Professor Neha Gothe, who led the study, in a press release from the University of Illinois. "For example, we see an increase in volume. hippocampus ".
The hippocampus is involved in memory processing and is known to shrink with age, causing dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
People who regularly practice yoga, in comparison with others, are more developed: the prefrontal and cingulate cortex, the amygdala - the structure responsible for emotional regulation, as well as the neural network of the passive mode of the brain.
“The prefrontal cortex, the region of the brain just behind the forehead, is involved in planning, decision-making, multitasking, evaluating and choosing options,” said study author Jessica Damoiseaux. “The passive mode network is a collection of brain regions. involved in self-reflection, planning and memory. The cingulate gyrus, like the amygdala, is part of the limbic system - a chain of structures that play key roles in emotional regulation, learning and memory."
The authors do not yet know why yoga acts on the brain in the same way as aerobic exercise. They suggest that the key to positive impact is the emotional regulation mechanism underlying yoga practice.
“Yoga is not inherently aerobic practice, so there must be other mechanisms that lead to these brain changes,” says Gothe. “Practicing yoga helps improve emotional regulation, reduce stress, anxiety and depression. And this seems to be what improves performance. brain ".