the current knowledge of yoga practice and its documented positive effects for brain structure and function, as assessed with MRI, fMRI, and SPECT … Collectively, the studies demonstrate

a positive effect of yoga practice on the structure and/or function of the hippocam- pus, amygdala, prefrontal cortex, cingulate cortex and brain networks including the default mode network (DMN). The studies offer promising early evi-

dence that behavioral interventions like yoga may hold promise to mitigate age- related and neurodegenerative declines …”

Psychologically, a regular yoga prac- tice has also been shown to lower stress, reduce body image dissatisfaction and anxiety, and much more. This is in addition to a wide range of

physical health benefits, including weight loss, improved atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat), blood pressure and immune function, reduced risk for migraines and improved sexual performance and satisfac- tion, to name but a few.

Effects on Brain Aging and Cognition As noted in the 2019 review published in the journal Brain Plasticity, through the

use of modern imaging technology, re- searchers have been able to objectively confirm that yoga impacts the brain in beneficial ways that translate into im- proved attention, mental processing speed, executive function and emotional regula- tion.

Figure 3 in that paper illustrates the

structural differences noted in yoga prac- titioners compared to non-practitioners, and the dose-dependent relationship be- tween the duration of practice and subse- quent changes in brain structure. Overall, yoga practitioners have

thicker cortexes and greater gray matter volume and density in several brain re- gions, including the frontal, limbic, tem- poral, occipital and cerebellar regions.The paper also cites research confirming that yoga appears to negate the otherwise normal decline in total gray matter volume that occurs with age:

“Villemure and colleagues investigat-

ed whether the correlation of age with total GM [gray matter] volume of the whole brain differed between a group of yoga- practitioners and non-practitioners. While within the group of healthy

adults without yoga experience, a negative correlation was observed between age and

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“Years of yoga experience correlated

mostly with GM volume differences in the left hemisphere (insula, frontal operculum, and orbitofrontal cortex) suggesting that yoga tunes the brain toward a parasympa- thetically driven mode and positive states.”

All of that said, since yoga is a holistic

mind-body practice, the overall benefits cannot be ascribed to any one factor in isolation.

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tracking how the different parts of your brain communicate with one another, a 2016 study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that older adults with mild cognitive impairment assigned to do one hour of Kundalini yoga per week and 15 minutes of Kirtan Kriya meditation per day for 12 weeks improved both their memo- ry and mood scores, compared to controls enrolled in a memory-enhancement train- ing (MET) program consisting of one hour of mental exercises per week. Kundalini yoga involves chanting and visualization, and Kirtan Kriya meditation combines the chanting of mantras with fluid hand movements. Brain scans re- vealed that while both groups had in- creased communication between parts of the brain involved in memory and lan- guage, the yoga practitioners also im- proved communication in areas control- ling focused attention.

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In short, the combination of yoga and meditation actually exceeded conven-

the total GM volume of the brain, no rela- tionship was found between age and brain structure within the group of yoga-practi- tioners.”

Interestingly, beneficial brain changes appear to occur fairly rapidly at higher “doses.” The Brain Plasticity review dis- cusses intervention research showing in- creased volume in the hippocampus after just six months of hourlong sessions five days a week.

According to the authors, it appears to be the unique combination of physical movement, breath work and meditation that Hatha yoga (in particular) offers that confers these beneficial brain benefits. More specifically, it is the activation

of your parasympathetic nervous system (the “rest and digest” part of your auto- nomic nervous system) that seems to play a deciding role. As noted in a 2015 paper on the neuroprotective effects of yoga:

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