I recently attended a lecture called Your Brain on Yoga held at Pranashanti Yoga Centre. That got me exploring the evidence demonstrating that yoga helps your brain. It is quite astounding that studies are showing a wide array of effects of meditation on the brain.
According to a recent study by researchers at the University of Illinois, a single 20-minute session of yoga awakens and sharpens the mind significantly, comparable to walking or jogging. The study had 30 participants who were either given either a 20-minute yoga class or a moderate aerobic exercise routine. The yoga class included a short meditation practice where participants were encouraged to focus on their breath.
It was found that those who’d been practicing yoga and meditation performed significantly better than the aerobic group in being able to focus better, process new information quickly and accurately, and were able to recall the new information more effectively. What’s particularly interesting to note is that even a short yoga session of 20 minutes is sufficient to stimulate brain function and improve cognition.
There are many types of meditation. Does any mediation affect the brain in the same way? A review of 47 studies of various types of meditation seems to point that they affect different brain areas.
Kundalini yoga was found to effect hippocampal and parahippocampas formation. These structures are related to short-term and long-term memory, spatial navigation, and the encoding and memory of environmental scenes.
Integrated body-mind training, on the other hand, seemed to have the greatest effect on the corpus callosum and corona radiata, two structures associated with body relaxation.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction has its the greatest effects on the insula and prefrontal cortex, and especially on the anterior cingulate and medial prefrontal cortices. These are linked with a variety of autonomic functions (e.g. heart and respiratory processes), as well as decision-making, empathy, impulse control and emotion, planning complex behavior, personality expression, and moderating social behavior.
Finally, Buddhist meditation techniques were found to affect the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. This area is responsible for functions like working memory, planning, organization, abstract reasoning, cognitive flexibility, and self-regulation.
The area of brain function and anatomy is a growing field of study. Researchers are now finding overall positive effects of yoga meditation on brain function… something yogi’s have professed for a long time.