Yoga And Mental Health

Yoga And Mental Health


Yoga And Mental Health

Yoga is an ancient indian discipline that came from hindu philosophical traditions it emphasizes the combination of body and mind working to unite these forces through spiritual discipline the yogi is one who has attained the state of freedom moksha a transcendent state liberated from the repeating cycle of life samsara perhaps it’s because of dual approach to physical and mental health that yoga has gained so much popularity today in fact in neurosurgery spine clinics we often recommend yoga to improve spine health as ever at brain book we’re curious about the neuroscience.



• How do yoga practices exert their effects on the brain although the positive health impacts of physical exercise have been well documented we look deeper into how the combination of physical poses coordinated breathing and meditative practices affect brain structure and function this Article


• A recent systematic review identified 11 studies examining the relationship between yoga and the brain of which the majority included hatha yoga practitioners hatha yoga is a style of yoga that focuses on physical postures breathing and meditation in particular let’s quickly cover some of the brain anatomy that we’re going to be talking about the brain itself is comprised of white and grey matter although the brain is ultimately formed of neurons or nerve cells different parts of a nerve cell contribute to different structures in the brain in fact it’s the body part of a neuron that makes up the gray matter of the brain and the tail part of a neuron which extends across varying lengths.

• That makes up the white matter of the brain if we look at brain structure from the perspective of neuron development the deeper structures that sit on the inside of the brain are more primitive and tend to be responsible for controlling basic or automatic functions such as breathing hunger and heart rate as we move more towards the surface of the brain functional responsibilities of the cortex include motor or movement and sensory coordination as well as vision and higher order processing skills such as decision making these structures are principally formed of gray matter and are connected to multiple centers in the brain via white matter.

• So back to yoga the studies that have looked at the effects of yoga on the brain use magnetic resonance imaging to visualize brain anatomy they found that people who were experienced yoga practitioners showed increased grain matter density thickness and volume in the left prefrontal cortex a motivational system of the brain that’s associated with responding to positive emotional stimuli the comparison groups were matched for similar levels of overall physical activity suggesting that the structural difference could be attributed to the yoga activity specifically across several studies increases in gray matter volume can be seen in other brain centers.

• Associated with attention decision making memory emotions vision and movement coordination people who don’t do yoga don’t show any overall or whole brain changes in size or thickness compared with experienced yoga practitioners the first study looking at this was by ghana and colleagues they investigated two groups of healthy young adults after a 10-week intervention one group did hatha yoga the other group did sports exercises without any kind of breathing or meditation component these groups were then compared against a control group who didn’t do any exercise for that same period of time after the intervention the yoga group.

• Showed one change that seemed to be very specific an increase in gray matter density whereas the sports group showed the opposite a decrease in gray matter density there’s one big problem with the study that muddied the waters a bit though the yoga group began the study with a significantly lower gray matter density baseline compared with the sports and control groups the authors investigated whether sex height socioeconomic and demographic characteristics could explain this difference but they couldn’t find any links so the authors suggest that there may have been some kind of selection bias in the recruitment process where the yoga group were individuals.

• That were biased towards selecting yoga as an activity during the intervention lower gray matter densities may be associated with greater vulnerability to stress therefore these individuals might have been more likely to select yoga as a stress-reducing exercise although it’s a little bit far-fetched the study has an interesting approach it goes to show how complicated it is to design studies that link causation to an intervention especially.

• When the intervention is a lifestyle change other studies sought to investigate something that we call the dose response relationship asking whether the amount of yoga that was practiced increases gray matter volume or density this was found in a single study where increased gray matter volumes of various brain regions are positively related to both weekly and yearly time scales of yoga practice the study also used a complicated commonality analysis that let them identify varying aspects of yoga that contributed to region-specific gray matter changes a combination of posture and meditative components of yoga accounted for gray matter differences in places like the hippocampus posterior cingulate cortex primary visual cortex.

• Whilst a combination of meditation and breathing contributed towards gray matter changes in the primary somatosensory cortex and the superior parietal lobe overall this vaguely suggests that yoga poses may affect learning memory and visual processing whilst the meditation and breathing components may play a more dominant role in mediating and integrating sensory functions including pain touch and temperature information combined with our understanding of mindful meditation and its ability to protect against depression and stress.

• While strengthening cognitive creativity and efficiency perhaps yoga holds a similar promise only a handful of studies have actually looked at how yoga affects brain function and this usually involves analyzing brain images that are recorded during task related activities a popular memory test is the sternberg working memory task where the subject is asked to either memorize or ignore certain items presented in a list following a short maintenance period the subject has got to recall the memorized list.

• One study shows that whilst yoga practitioners do not have a better memory than non-yoga practitioners they do show significantly less brain activation in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex during the memorization phase of the sternberg task this suggests that yoga may improve cognitive efficiency in learning and memory tasks yet another study has looked at differences in emotional reactivity between yoga practitioners and non-practitioners using functional imaging to quantify or measure.

• How much blood is flowing in the brain areas that are more active consume more energy so blood flow tends to increase with higher levels of cerebral activity interestingly yoga practitioners show decreased activity in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in response to viewing emotional images when compared to their non-yoga counterparts this specific area of the brain plays an important role in regulating negative emotions and has been linked to depressive disorders when this network is overactive similar to how studies that show mindfulness meditation can improve emotional processing yoga might work with overlapping mechanisms.

• That enable an individual to better endure stress and emotional intensity what we’ve seen from this current evidence is that we can see potential changes to gray matter structures that might be linked to improved cognitive efficiency and perhaps even cognitive function depending on the task at hand of course in addition there are some parallels with studies that investigate the effects of meditation on attention and emotional regulation demonstrating an improved ability to concentrate and mediate negative experiences Although it’s too early to draw any kinds of

• Final conclusions this is definitely an exciting area of research and becoming much more relevant to our understanding of physical and mental.