I came across this article from Angela Wilson at Kripalu on the latest research into how yoga affects our brain and mental health.
“With the steady rise in the number of people practicing yoga in the USA —from 13 million in 2007 to more than 20 million today—researchers have begun to focus their attention on how yoga actually changes the brain. The results echo what many of us experience: Studies show that yoga increases relaxation in the brain, improves areas of the brain that help us manage pain, and protects us against age-related decline. Together, these benefits begin to reveal the scientifically validated effects of yoga practice on brain health.
Yoga Floods the Brain with Relaxation
To investigate why yoga induces feelings of calm and peacefulness, Dr. Chris Streeter and her research team from Boston University set out to discover whether practice helps our brains produce more GABA, a neurotransmitter that increases feelings of relaxation. When we don’t have enough GABA in our brains, we feel anxious or depressed; medications such as Xanax work by upping GABA levels.
To answer this question, the team had one group of subjects do yoga for 60 minutes, while a control group read for an hour. Both groups were scanned in the MRI pre- and post-intervention. Would yoga release more GABA in the brain than reading?
The results were an unequivocal yes. The yoga group had a 27 percent increase in GABA, while the readers had no increase. But to rule out the possibility that any type of physical movement can increase GABA levels, Chris ran a second study, comparing the effects of yoga with those of walking. Again, the yoga practice showed greater changes in GABA levels in the brain. Not surprisingly, the increase in GABA was correlated with self-reports of decreased anxiety.
Studies such as these suggest how yoga might be used as an adjunct treatment to mental-health conditions such as anxiety and depression, and point to how yoga positively impacts the brain.
I love how science shows that mindfulness and the practice of yoga are so good for our health and wellbeing.