To sustain a higher level of wellbeing, which is more than the absence of disease requires that we create a supportive lifestyle.
One aspect is how we exercise the brain, which ultimately leads to a healthy mind. Our mind is at the origin of what creates our life experience.
What type of consistent exercise would be beneficial to add to our lifestyle? When combining ancient wisdom with current neuroscience the result is YOGA. Yoga means “union,” a balance between mind and body.
Through physical postures, breathing techniques, meditation, and awareness, yoga changes the brain and expands the mind. This practice asks for your full attention. It asks for a level of focus so that you can remain fully present. This includes matching your breath to a movement, to the visual and auditory cues from the instructor, to orchestrating the shifts from one pose to another, to holding poses that may challenge us physically and mentally.
Yoga is meditation in movement.
Science’s advancements in tools of observation and measure, the world of neuroscience are backing up the ancient wisdom of yoga.
Here are some of our most current understandings about how a yoga practice can protect your brain, expand your mind, and ultimately, transform your life.
Five Brain Responses to a Yoga Practice:
For so long, before brain imagery advancements, it was thought that we had a fixed number of brain cells. What we now know is that we generate new brain cells throughout our entire life. Yoga practice supports this. One particular area called the hippocampus increases in brain volume from practicing yoga while the hippocampus plays a role in memory and learning. As a bonus, the amygdala, the fear center of the brain, shrinks!
Neuroplasticity is about rewiring the neural pathways so we can learn and retain new information while pruning out old habitual patterns. Yoga helps to rewire and strengthen these synaptic connections. So yes you can change your mind, and old dogs can learn new tricks.
Balancing the Autonomic Nervous System —
The practice of yoga creates a balance within; connecting mind and body. This shifts our HPA stress axis. The stress response is there for our safety. However, it’s chronically activated, it results in inflammatory processes throughout the body. What overworks will eventually under-function. A yoga practice alters this process by reducing our “fight or flight” hormones, increasing our relaxation response, and improving the parasympathetic system.
Release of Health Supportive Neurotransmitters —
Here come the feel-good happiness molecules! Practicing yoga releases serotonin, dopamine, GABA and acetylcholine which all contribute to improved mood, a sense of motivation, a more relaxed state, and the ability to learn. The release of these neurotransmitters shifts your perception about life circumstances and how you will respond to them.
Increases in Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF) —
BDNF is a brain protein that protects the growth and maintenance of our brain cells, particularly those of the hippocampus, the center of memory and learning. Maintaining brain cell health and their connectivity is directly related to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Research shows an increase in BDNF with a consistent yoga practice.
What does this all mean?
Having a consistent yoga practice leads to:
- Alterations in gene expression that lead to biochemical and structural changes in the brain.
- Improved cognitive function. You will find an improved ability to focus, be present with what is before you, process information faster, and bring new knowledge to memory more quickly.
- Deeper restorative sleep, which supports the body’s self-healing abilities.
- Your perception of stress or what you define as stressful changes. With that is a healthier emotional reaction to unexpected and sometimes unwanted life circumstances.
- You will find yourself smiling more, and being open and playful to life’s possibilities.
- There is an overall sense of freedom to live authentically. This is how you take yoga off the mat and into your life. You develop the ability to remain calm during life’s inevitable changes and challenges. Perceptions about life are altered. Yoga is a life-transforming practice.
Go ahead and sign up for a class! All this science feeds our intellectual needs, but until you get on that mat and have the experience yourself, you’ll miss out on all these amazing benefits.
Make sure to practice more than once, twice or even a dozen times. Yoga is a lifestyle choice.
When done with intention and attention it can protect your brain, expand your mind, and ultimately transform your life.