Yoga is a discipline of body and mind considered to be an art of life that relies on deep practice asanas (yoga postures) and pranayama (yogic breathing). This is practiced in several forms: some courses focus on strengthening body energy while others are more energetic. In all cases, the work of posture, breathing and relaxation remains essential, with the key benefits such as improved sleep, decreased anxiety or a relief of chronic pain. Researchers from the University of Illinois also evoke in a recent study of the beneficial effects on the functioning of the brain.
The latter assert that it is known that theaerobic physical exercise (endurance) may “strengthen” the brain in the sense that it helps new neurons grow, but few studies have examined the effects of yoga on the brain. Their study published in the journal Brain Plasticity reveals that yoga improves many of the same brain functions that benefit from aerobic exercise. The researchers reviewed eleven studies on the relationship between yoga practice and brain health. Five of these studies included people new to the practice who had to complete several classes per week over a period of 10 to 24 weeks.
Positive effects on the hippocampus, a brain area essential for memory
The other six studies consisted of measuring brain differences between individualswho practiced yoga and those who were not followers. For each of these studies, the researchers used brain imaging techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging or single-photon emission tomography. All the courses were Hatha yoga, which includes body movements, meditation and breathing exercises. “With these studies, we found that certain areas of the brain are constantly mentioned and they are not very different from research on physical exercise, ”explains Professor Neha Gothe at the head of the study.
“For example, we are seeing an increase in hippocampus volume with the practice of yoga. Studies on brain effects of aerobic exercise showed a similar increase in the size of the hippocampus over time. The hippocampus is involved in the memory processing and is known to shrink with age. It is the first structure affected by dementia, ”she adds. Although the other results are less conclusive, they highlight other important brain changes associated with regular yoga practice. The amygdala, a brain structure that helps with emotional regulation, tends to be larger in practitioners.
Yoga helps fight stress, which is bad for the brain
In addition, other regions such as the prefrontal cortex and the cingulate cortex tend to be larger or more effective in those who practice yoga regularly. “The prefrontal cortex is involved in planning, decision making, multitasking, evaluation and choosing options. The cingulate cortex, along with the amygdala, is part of the limbic system and plays the central role in the management of emotions, learning and memory, ”the researchers add. Finally, studies also revealed that brain changes observed in yoga practitioners are associated with better cognitive performance and better emotional regulation.
However, scientists cannot explain exactly how this practice can affect the brain.“Yoga is not aerobic in nature, so there must be other mechanisms leading to these brain changes,” says Prof. Neha Gothe. Among the most probable hypothesis, theimproved emotional regulation would be the key to the positive effects of yoga on the brain. According to her, “studies link stress in humans, narrowing of the hippocampus and poorer performance on memory tests. In a previous study, we found that those who did yoga for 8 weeks had a reduced stress response. ”
Yoga would therefore be a very effective practice to help people with or without anxiety disorders. to manage their stress. “Yoga helps improve emotional management, decrease stress, worry and depression. And that seems to improve the brain function.», Concludes Neha Gothe. The researchers nevertheless believe that it is necessary to conduct more in-depth research on this topic, and in particular recommend that participants be encouraged to practice yoga for several months. Note that in France, yoga is on the rise since 2.6 million French people have done it at least once a year according to a study by the Union sport & cycle.