Mind & Body

Defend Your Brain With Yoga

Its origins may trace back over 5,000 years, when it was first referenced in sacred texts in Northern India. Today, yoga is one of the most popular forms of exercises around the world. Whether you prefer Ashtanga, Bikram, Kundalini, or another style, new research reveals another reason to make yoga part of your routine for life: its power to protect the brain against the cognitive decline of old age.

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A Health Craze with a History

Yoga had been practiced in the East for centuries before making its way west in the mid-1800s. Some evidence suggests Henry David Thoreau was likely the first American to practice. By the end of the century, yoga masters such as Swami Vivekananda began traveling to raise funds for their communities and share their culture and religion with the world.

It took a little while to catch on, but by the mid-twentieth century, yoga had become popular among Westerners for many benefits. Yoga has been associated with physical benefits like improved flexibility, metabolism, and muscle strength as well as mental health benefits like stress reduction and better focus. Beyond individual practice, yoga is also seen as a boon to public health, as it can be adapted for any age or ability level and can build a sense of community.

More than Your Average Mind-Body Connection

While much is known about the positive impacts yoga can have on health, there is still much to be learned about exactly how it works on a physiological level. Among the latest discoveries, a team of scientists in Brazil recently studied 21 elderly female yoga enthusiasts, who averaged 14.9 years of experience. They found the women to have have greater cortical thickness in the parts of the brains associated with cognitive functions such as attention and memory than a group of 21 of their non-yoga practicing peers.

Their research, published in the Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, suggests that practicing yoga could help ward off the decline of cognitive abilities as we get older. All exercise is arguably good for health, but according to the researchers, yoga's unique combination of physical and mental practices, including meditation appears to have greater benefits than other types of activity. While more further research needs to be done to know the full story of how yoga impacts the brain, the study provides new merit to incorporating yoga practice into any stage of life.

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. Traditional yoga is a spiritual practice with several parts, one of which is asana (the part that involves poses). 00:39

  2. One study found that after 20 minutes of Hatha yoga, subjects performed better on tests that measure brain function. 01:41

  3. Regular yoga practice has been shown to reduce the pain and fatigue associated with multiple sclerosis and other ailments. 02:43

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