Yoga & The Brain

In my last post, I discussed how yoga is outpacing running in popularity.  This could be good news for yoga enthusiasts and others who want to strengthen their brains but don’t want to engage in more physically demanding exercises that are known to lower the risk of developing dementia.

Numerous studies have found that active people– those who run, weight train, even garden– have a lower risk of mental decline than those who are inactive.  And now, a study in the April edition of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, says yoga and meditation also strengthen thinking, memory and language skills.

Researchers compared two groups of volunteers:  one began a brain-training program that utilizes well-established mental exercises to bolster memory; the other group took up yoga.  The results: both groups displayed increased communication between the parts of the brain that involve memory and language.

But those who practiced yoga developed more communication between parts of the brain that control attention.  In short, the study found that 12 weeks of yoga and meditation outperformed 12 weeks of brain training.

What exactly did the yoga group do?  For an hour each week, UCLA instructors taught them breathing exercises, meditation, movement and poses.  They were also taught a type of meditation that involves repeating a series of sounds, or a mantra, while “dancing” with repetitive hand movements.  They did this for 15 minutes a day.

Why these two types of yoga, Kundalini and Kirtain Kriya, improved brain health is not known.  But what is known is that movement increases the levels of biochemicals in the muscles and brain that are associated with healthy brains.

For more information, you can read the study itself or go to the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation website.

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