4 Things You Didn't Know About Yoga
Scientific Findings on Yoga and How it Affects Your Brain & Body
Those who do yoga, or “yogis” as many call them, have been touting the benefits of yoga throughout its 5,000 year existence. But now the ancient form of meditation may be getting some support from modern science.
If you’ve ever taken a vinyasa class or spent time meditating, you’re likely familiar with the feeling of “yoga bliss” or a “yoga high” as the yoga world refers to it. It’s a feeling of ultimate calm and relaxation, and as it turns out, several recent studies are suggesting that this isn’t just a fleeting sentiment, but an indication of very real physical responses that could lead to better health, reduced stress and increased productivity.
Here’s what science has uncovered about yoga’s benefits for your mind and body:
Yoga gets on your nerves. In the best way of course, though. This is because yoga does wonders for the vagus nerve, which extends from the base of the brain and branches out through the neck, chest and abdomen. It doesn’t get nearly enough attention in our daily movements, but it is the command center for regulating the homeostasis of many vital organ systems within the body, such as the heart, lungs, and digestive tract. Researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine have found evidence that yoga helps regulate vagal tone, or the homeostasis of these vital systems, by stimulating and increasing activity of the vagus nerve.
Mindful meditation can literally change your brain. A team of researchers from Harvard compared MRIs of meditators to non-meditators to observe that there were indeed noticeable differences in their brain. They studied the brains before and after an eight week course in mindfulness-based stress reduction. Those who meditated showed a significant increase in gray matter in the hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for learning and memory, and a decrease in gray matter in the amygdala, associated with anxiety and stress. But none of the brains who didn’t meditate observed any of these changes.