Yoga Boosts Brain Health and Function

FLASH: Research shows experienced yoga practitioners have greater gray matter volume in several brain regions compared to matched controls, suggesting it has neuroprotective effects

Yoga has lot of health benefits, as it provides the physical benefits of exercise, helps to lower stress, stave off cognitive decline by strengthening brain regions involved in working memory, improve overall brain function and neuroplasticity, reduce body image dissatisfaction, anxiety, and much more.

Mindful breathing exercises have many similar effects as too.

 Yoga can be seen as a form of moving meditation that demands your full attention as you gently shift your body from 1 yoga position to another. As you learn new ways of moving, breathing and responding to your body’s cues, your mind and emotions start to shift too.

Like yoga, meditation and controlled breathing are techniques known to improve focus.

In a Y 2018 study investigating the neurophysiological effects of controlled breathing, the researchers identified the locus coeruleus, which is involved in both mental attention and involuntary respiration, as a Key facilitator of this effect.

“One might suppose that the object of focus in meditation should be irrelevant, that it is the act of focusing attention and not the object of focus — in this case, the breath — that is important,” the authors write.

“But the Buddha states clearly, in the Ananda Sutra: ‘from the development, from the repeated practice, of respiration-mindfulness concentration, there comes to be neither wavering nor trembling of body, nor wavering nor trembling of mind.’

According to Svatmarama, in the Hatha Yoga Pradapika … ‘… when the breath wanders the mind is unsteady. But when the breath is calmed, the mind too will be still’ …

Patanjali, in the Yoga Sutras … instructs that ‘through these practices and processes of pranayama, which is the fourth of the eight steps, the mind acquires or develops the fitness, qualification, or capability for true concentration’ …

The focus upon the breath is of clear importance in traditional practice, but how might respiration and attention influence each other from a neurophysiological perspective? …

One interesting possibility is that the respiratory and attentional systems are coupled at the neural level, such that information transfer between the two systems occurs bidirectionally at an anatomical point where the respiratory and attentional systems overlap.

In this review, we describe respiration and attention as a coupled dynamical system. Specifically, we hypothesize that they can be described as autonomous oscillatory systems exhibiting coupling via information transfer through a third autonomous oscillator, the locus coeruleus (LC).”

Our breathing and mind are linked, as breath and focus are linked via synchronization, or the coupling of 2 biological systems. The LC is a primary source of noradrenaline, a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in the regulation of brain function, including sleep-waking states. The authors also cite other research showing noradrenaline is a likely candidate to explain many of the effects of meditation.

In the discussion section of this paper, the authors note the following:

“Given our knowledge of the involvement of the LC in attention, cognition, and arousal, its susceptibility to top-down control, its concurrent chemosensitive respiratory function, and the possible respiratory-induced vagal influence on LC firing, we hypothesize that the LC is a critical node in facilitating coupling between respiration and attentional state.

It is important to stress that this coupling is bidirectional … By introducing bottom-up respiratory influences on the LC into this picture, we can then imagine the LC as a nexus of information transfer between these two systems, and visualize the system as bidirectionally coupled.”

What they are talking about here is the fact that more often than not, scattered focus and lack of attention tends to drive your respiration, i.e., “susceptibility to top-down control” making your breath shallow and erratic, which creates a cycle of heightened anxiety, poorer focus and more dysregulated breathing.

The good news is you can control this by taking control of your breathing, as the 2; mental focus and respiration, are bidirectionally linked. By taking control of one you can control the other.

Proverbially squeezed between attention and breath, is the LC, which acts as a relay, transferring information back and forth between the 2, so that as your breathing calms, your mind calms and vice versa.

The Big Q: Is yoga for you?

The Big A: Considering the many physical and psychological benefits of yoga, it is certainly worth considering, and since there are many forms of yoga to choose from, you can be virtually guaranteed to find one that is suitable for you and your needs.

Eat healthy, Be healthy, Live lively