Yoga is not just a fad that your health-obsessed neighbor’s been caught up in lately. The ancient practice is quite beneficial, from relieving stress to treating depression. It makes one wonder, why haven't all of us been practicing yoga this whole time?
Yoga originated in ancient India as a physical, mental, and spiritual discipline, meant to calm the mind and the soul. Current research, however, has shown that the effects of yoga are far more than just mellowing out. In fact, yoga has even been used as a therapy treatment for major depressive disorder. A research conducted in India using a practice called Sahaj yoga was found to be an effective treatment for major depressive disorder as compared to conventional antidepressants. The study was based on previous findings showing that yoga improved executive functions. Executive functions include memory, attention, and control of anxiety levels. Improvement was seen in the participants in the areas of working memory as well as attention and visuomotor activity. All of these benefits far outweighed the results of the control group taking antidepressant medication.
Another study was created solely for the purpose of testing the effects of yoga in terms of cognitive enhancement. Brunner and colleagues focused on working memory and sought to see how much yoga could improve people’s memory maintenance, manipulation, and attentiveness. Not surprisingly, it was found that yoga did indeed improve all of these. The most interesting part is that this effect appeared after only 6 sessions. Testing after the 6 sessions showed participants' improvement in all fields. Funnily enough, there was no correlation between working memory maintenance and manipulation, and attentive mindfulness. Overall, there really is no harm in trying and giving yoga a shot.
If you need further convincing to get you doing that downward dog, a 2012 study found that yoga literally changes your brain structure. This neuroplasticity is the way by which cognitive enhancement then occurs. Active yoga practicers were placed in an MRI machine to check for differences between their brains and the brains of an average non-yoga practicing person. Much to the researcher’s amazement, it was found that those participants that were routinely practicing yoga actually had increased gray matter density. This was seen in frontal, limbic, temporal, occipital, and cerebellar brain regions which are involved with executive functions such as memory. The study was done with practicers of Hatha yoga, a technique that focuses on breathing and practicing mindfulness. This really does make you want to take a deep breath and clear your mind.
Now this is just a final reminder for those who want to enhance their cognition and improve in areas ranging from memory to mood. Grab a yoga mat and fully reap the benefits of meditation and spiritually. It doesn't take much to see the results rolling in. And the best part is, it’s never too late to start!