Science-Backed Ways that Yoga Changes the Brain

What ancient yogis have known for millennia, modern day science is now finally catching up with – and able to prove. Yoga has profoundly positive effects on the brain, not just the body.

Yoga practitioners love the flexibility and strength it affords them, but using MRI, fMRI, and SPECT technology, scientific studies have shown that they reap mental benefits too. Yes, by finding your flow on the mat, breathing rhythmically and meditating, you can influence your gray matter for the better.

What is Neuroplasticity?

Quite simply, our brains aren’t fixed. Neural networks have the ability to grow, shrink and reorganize. This is usually in response to learning, and injury, or in this case, practicing yoga.

From flooding your brain with positive hormones to shrinking and growing certain regions, let’s take a look at the science-backed ways yoga changes the brain.

Yoga releases feel-good hormones

When you practice yoga, your brain releases feel-good hormones like GABA, dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. Each of these neurotransmitters plays role in making you relax, less stressed and happier. Research shows that yoga increases GABA by 27%. In unison, all these chemicals bring about a sense of overall peace and wellbeing.

Yoga increases the hippocampus

In one study using MRI scans, Chantal Villemure and Catherine Bushnell of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Bethesda, Md. discovered that subjects that practiced yoga had a more enlarged hippocampus. This is the part of the brain responsible for dampening stress.

Yoga shrinks lobes…

While the hippocampus enlarges during yoga, the frontal lobe and parietal lobe slow down. The frontal lobe is our ‘switched-on’ part responsible for thinking, planning and emotional regulation. The parietal lobe handles what we experience on a sensory level. As they slow down, the less alert they are, allowing for relaxation.

…and the amygdala

Located right in the heart of the brain, the amygdala is the integrative center for emotions, behavior, and motivation. In other words, it processes how you deal with and react to emotions. When doing yoga, there is a reduction of gray matter in this part of the brain, meaning you’re less impulsive and able to handle fear and other emotions more calmly.

Yoga eases depression, anxiety and helps memory

Asanas for anxiety? Downward dogs for depression? Yes, please!

We’ve established what literally goes on in our brains when we practice yoga postures and breathwork, let’s take a look at how we tangibly reap the mental benefits through some other scientific studies.

One scientific trial of yoga practitioners with depressive disorders and individuals with elevated levels of depression revealed that yoga could be considered an ancillary treatment option for depression and stress.

What’s more yoga has been shown to elevate memory. One 2017 study in older adults revealed that after 12 weeks of Kundalini yoga training, their cognitive function had increased.

Thanks to advances in technology, science has finally able to prove the profound positive effects yoga has on the brain. Next time you’re practicing your postures or doing some breathwork, be present and mindful of the good you are doing your mental health as well as your physical health.

Looking for a yoga class in Florida to help boost your mental and physical performance? Explore my Zero One Yoga classes* and workshops.

1 Comment
  • Arthur K
    Posted at 15:26h, 27 October

    Excelente information . Thank you ZeroOne Yoga for giving us this useful information. Can’t Waite to read more.