• How Yoga Changes Your Brain

    Yoga has a long and often difficult path to follow back through history, most likely because it spread orally between communities. It is difficult to put an estimate on how old yoga actually is, but what we do know is that it can be traced back to a small Indian civilization known as the Indus-Sarasvati over 5,000 years ago, with some researchers believe it can actually be traced back 10,000 years. 

    These mentions of Yoga in a slightly more refined form can be found in the Rigveda, one of the earliest known examples of Vedic Sanskrit, the ancient language of Indo-European civilization. These documents are dated between 1500 and 1900 BCE, and form one of four sacred Hindu texts. 

    Any practice that has been refined over the course of several thousand years is obviously going to be something that should not be ignored, and we know that yoga is a great way to warm the body, and relax the muscles; but what are the actual benefits of yoga on the mind?  

    Help Take the Edge Off

    There are far too many stresses in modern-day life, and each one seems to come with its own set of worries. 

    That is why it is more important than ever to have a routine that you can rely upon to ease you into a more relaxed state, and Yoga is one of the key methods of stress reduction used by an estimated 300 million people worldwide

    Grounding yourself and using the science behind proper technique allows your body to open and your muscles to relax.

    Practicing Yoga can actually help to improve your mood and emotional regulation as it actively reduces the stress hormone cortisol produced by your body. 

    We all know that stress and anxiety, induced by cortisol, can be the top of the slippery slope to mental illness, so it is important to keep this part of your system in check. 

    So, yoga can relax you and help you move on from the stresses that build during the day, but can it actually have positive effects on your brain? 

    Increased Mindfulness

    Mindfulness is a crucial part of Yoga and has a direct impact on how the brain functions on a day-to-day basis. 

    Being mindful is not clearing your head and entering a meditative state as many believe it to be. 

    Mindfulness is actually about creating a space where we can become more aware of our own bodies and our present surroundings. 

    It is about increasing your attention levels, allowing you to live in the present, and stopping your brain from following distractions. Mindfulness therapy allows you to connect with your body and make real-time human connections.

    It can also be used as a treatment for things like stress, anxiety, addictions, and much more, and yoga is one of the key ways in which we can learn this technique.  

    The Growing Evidence for Yoga’s Positive Impact 

    Since the year 2000, there has been an exponential increase in the publication of papers relating directly to Yoga and its effects.

    The focus more recently has switched to being able to care for the body and the mind simultaneously, rather than just focusing on the physical element- and this is something that more and more people are looking for in their lives.

    Now, with the ability to measure the real-time effects that yoga has on the brain using MRI scanners and Positron Emission Tomography (PET), we can physically see the effects that yoga has on areas of the brain like the prefrontal cortex, the hippocampus, and the amygdala. We even know that it can improve the channels and pathways within your brain!  

    Yoga’s Healing Effects 

    Many people assume that yoga is just another form of exercise, and this could not be further from the truth. Thanks to modern techniques, we can actually see the way a yogi’s brain reacts over time.

    Yoga can actually increase the grey matter density of your brain- but what does that mean? 

    Let’s get technical for a moment. 

    Grey Matter Density

    Our brains are made up of two types of matter; grey and white. A human brain is made up of about a 60/40 ratio in the favour of white matter.

    The grey matter in your brain consists of brain cells and neurons- or the things that make up the majority of your brain function, like your learning skills, sensory abilities, memory formation, muscle connections, and self-awareness.

    The white matter forms the connections that link all the different centers of your brain, allowing for thought processing, coordination, and signal reception.   

    How Does This Help Me?

    Research shows us that yoga increases the grey matter in your hippocampus and frontal sections of your brain, associated with intelligence, allowing them to perform more efficiently. 

    Similarly, it can increase the level of grey matter in your hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, aiding with decision-making, emotional regulation, and overall focus. 

    How Does Yoga Fit In? 

    Yoga focuses on three main areas of improvement; your physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. Thanks to Yoga’s grey matter-increasing nature, the folds in your brain folds can actually increase in number

    This literally means your brain is increasing the number of cells and physical matter that it uses to function, making you smarter, more efficient, and more in control of your own body. Pretty incredible. 

    Yoga Euphoria

    We are only on the doorstep in terms of what we know about the benefits of yoga. We have only uncovered the tip of the iceberg, and already we know that yoga increases your mental health, your physical brain activity, and your overall strength. 

    The euphoria that people experience when practicing yoga can, as we know, help reduce stress hormones, counter anxiety, and just make you feel good all around- no wonder a huge portion of the world’s population practices yoga on a daily basis. 

    Practice Makes Perfect  

    So, as if you needed any more reasons to begin practicing yoga, you’re now fully up to date with just how good yoga can actually be for you. 

    Yoga is commonly thought of as an exercise routine or another form of staying active with a series of poses that benefits your physical health. Well, now we know that the benefits of yoga are far-reaching throughout the body; and through mindfulness, breathing, posture, and strength, we can actually change the makeup of our brains. 

    You can process thoughts and emotions in a better way, deal with your body’s weaknesses, and live a happier healthy life with Yoga. 

    By Sophie Bishop

    Sophie Bishop is a medical journalist. Sophie aims to spread awareness through her writing around issues to do with healthcare, wellbeing and sustainability and is looking to connect with an engaged audience.

    Find Sophie on her social media accounts:
    Twitter: @SophBishJourno
    LinkedIn: /sophie-bishop/

    Photo by Anupam Mahapatra on Unsplash

  • 29 Reasons to Start a Yoga Practice

    Yoga is the settling of the mind into silence. When the mind has settled, we are established in our essential nature, which is unbounded Consciousness. Our essential nature is usually overshadowed by the activity of the mind. – Patanjali

    The ancient practice of yoga can be traced back thousands of years. Since its beginnings in northern India, it has spread throughout the world and has morphed into many different styles formed from the ideas of many different gurus, but all of yoga still has something important in common—its benefits.

    No matter how old you are or what kind of physical condition your find yourself in there is a yoga style that suits you. Starting a practice can be a life-changing endeavor that will improve your mental and physical health.

    Here are 29 benefits of yoga to encourage you to start a yoga practice this year.

    Improves sleep

    People who practice yoga regularly report improved quality of sleep. Higher quality sleep helps your body and mind function better throughout the day. People who get a good night’s sleep are more productive and happier.

    Strengthens muscles

    Yoga uses your own body weight to build lean strong muscles at any age. The movements done during a practice activate muscles you may not use regularly in your daily life.

    Increases flexibility

    Getting into all those yoga poses stretches out tight still muscles. Loose flexible muscles are healthy muscles that are less vulnerable to injury.

    Improves mobility

    Mobility is always important but as we age we tend to have issues with mobility and balance that contribute to falling injuries. Older people have some improvements in mobility and balance when they start a regular yoga practice.

    Improves balance

    When you practice yoga, you do balancing postures. These postures don’t just improve balance they also improve foot and ankle strength.

    Decreases depression

    The combination of breathing and movement you do when you practice yoga helps balance hormones and boost the hormones that make you feel good. In turn, this lowers your stress and anxiety helping with depression and general happiness levels.

    Teaches you to live in the present moment

    Yoga is a kind of moving meditation. As you practice you focus on the combination of your movements and breath to stay grounded in the moment.

    Relieves stress and anxiety

    85% of people who practice report that they use yoga for stress relief. It also eases anxiety. Yoga calms the nervous system through the use of deep breathing and movement.

    Motivates you to make other health improvements

    People who practice yoga say that it has motivated them to take further steps to take care of their bodies like eating better and getting additional exercise.

    Eases chronic pain

    The combined benefits of yoga including increased mobility, improved circulation, and decreased inflammation all contribute to relieve chronic pain. Yoga has been found to decrease the pain of conditions like arthritis, low back pain, fibromyalgia, and other chronic pain conditions.

    Improves lung capacity

    Yoga connects your breathing to your movements. Deep controlled breathing is part of the practice and as you continue to practice, you’ll find your breath capacity and your ability to control your breath improve.

    Gives you a sense of inner peace

    Yoga teaches you to use breath to help regulate your emotional state. It also helps you feel a deeper connection between yourself and the world around you.

    Builds confidence

    People who practice yoga have more body confidence. The principles of yoga teach you to accept yourself as you are and not to compare yourself to others.

    Improves your posture

    Yoga stretches and lengthens muscles freeing up vertebrae and giving you the ability to stand up straighter.

    Helps you focus

    People who practice yoga as little as 20 minutes per day report that they are better able to focus when performing other tasks and can remember things more easily.

    Reduces inflammation

    After people practice yoga anti-inflammation markers in their blood decrease and pro-inflammatory markers decrease.

    Helps you get in touch with your body

    The regular practice of movement increases body awareness and helps you get in touch with your body in a healthy way.

    Improves circulation

    The movement of your muscles increases blood flow providing your cells with more life-giving oxygen and helping your feel better physically.

    Gives your immune system a boost

    Lowering your stress hormones boosts your immune system helping your body fight disease more effectively.

    Regulates your energy

    You can use yoga to give you a natural boost when you’re feeling tired and to help you unwind at the end of the day.

    Helps you feel good all over

    People who practice consistently report feeling better after completing a practice.

    Boosts your metabolism

    Regular movement practice boosts your metabolism helping your body burn more energy.

    Improves spine health

    In yoga you move your spine in ways you might not in normal daily life, improving circulation to back muscles and the movement of craniosacral fluid.

    Helps you to get to know yourself

    Coming back to the practice again and again teaches you some important lessons about yourself. As you practice you’ll notice the way you approach your practice mirrors the way you approach life.

    Prevents joint deterioration as you age

    The movement yoga requires keeps your joints naturally lubricated and keeps the blood flowing slowing down the breakdown of your joints as you age.

    Improves bone health

    The weight-bearing and balancing postures help improve bone density.

    Drains your lymphatic system

    Your lymphatic system depends on the movements of your muscles to push lymph throughout your body. The way yoga encourages you to move in ways you normally wouldn’t helps push more lymph through your system.

    Lowers blood pressure

    The calming breathing and movement of yoga calms your nervous system and lowers your blood pressure.

    Gives you a sense of belonging

    Yoga is practiced by people all over the world and there is a community of people who are dedicated to the practice. When you start to practice you become part of that community. Attending yoga classes helps connect you to others.

    By Omstars

    Photo by Elina Fairytale from Pexels