As I write today, there is low-hanging fog all around – almost completely opposite to last week’s beautiful clear skies and sunshine. And it got me thinking about the dreaded brain fog, a common menopause symptom, which can also be as unpredictable as the weather!
So, continuing the theme of the past couple of weeks, where we’ve spent time talking about the way in which yoga can help us battle against the Winter Blues – aka Seasonal Affective Disorder, depression or low mood, particularly during menopause – I felt it appropriate to discuss other ways yoga can have positive effects on our mental health.
And, as luck would have it, I came across some very recent research (December 2019), featuring a review of 11 scientific studies looking at this very subject.
Turns out yoga is good for the brain! Especially your menopausal brain!
How many times have you walked into a room and forgotten what you were looking for? Or put the milk in the dishwasher? (Believe me, I’ve done it!).
As our oestrogen production declines throughout the varying stages of menopause, so, sadly, does our brain function. In some instances, it’s so bad, women can feel as though they are going mad. Literally! I know I did! They call this “menopause-related cognitive impairment”.
So, how can yoga improve the brain?
Let’s look at the research:
The studies all involved the practice of Hatha Yoga (an all-encompassing term for the physical practice of yoga asana), along with breath work and meditation.
A comparison was made between the effect on the brain following both aerobic exercise and yoga practice. Using various brain imaging techniques, such as MRI scans, they discovered many similarities between the two practices in terms of enhancing both brain structure and function.
Here are some of the beneficial mental health findings all regular yoga practitioners can expect to experience:
- the area of the brain (known as the hippocampus) involved in memory processing, tends to shrink as we get older. It is therefore the first area to be affected by dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. However, it was seen to increase in volume due to yoga practice.
- the area of the brain which regulates the emotions (known as the amygdala) also increases in size in those who practice yoga.
- the area of the brain just behind the forehead (which is known as the prefrontal cortex, or in yogi-speak “The Third Eye”!) is vital for our ability to plan, multi-task, pick options & make choices (we yogis call that “viveka” or discernment). This was also found to be larger in size or functioned more effectively in yoga practitioners.
- other areas of the brain, including the limbic system, used for thinking, planning, memory, regulating emotion, learning and cognitive function were also found to have the same positive increase in structure or improved performance in those who regularly practice yoga.
The review further states that “yoga is not aerobic in nature”. NB: these studies weren’t based on fast-paced vinyasa flow yoga! As a result, scientists found it intriguing that the results of the effect of yoga on the brain were not dissimilar to studies on aerobic exercise.
It further stated that while the exact mechanism responsible for the positive brain changes has yet to be identified, it is thought to be down to enhanced regulation of emotion and better stress control, afforded by yoga.
Previous studies have concluded that:
those who had practiced yoga for 8 weeks had a reduced stress response, thereby enhancing performance in tests for decision making, task switching and attention
(great news for all my Beginner Yogis!)
the practice of yoga improves emotional regulation, which reduces stress, anxiety and depression, and that seems to improve brain functioning.
More rigorous & well-controlled intervention research is required to fully understand the effects of yoga on the brain. But
This is great news, friends!
For those who are currently practicing yoga >>> high five <<< you’ve got all these wonderful benefits to look forward to!
For those who are still sitting on the fence, >>> it’s never too late <<< here’s all the proof you need, find a yoga class near your home or work you could try.
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At Heart Yoga we’ll teach you all the postures, meditation and breathing techniques you need to enhance brain performance, reduce stress and improve overall health.
Don’t hesitate to get in touch via the above links to find out more or leave a comment below to have your questions answered.
Meanwhile, I’d like to wish you all a wonderful fog-free weekend ahead! See you next time!
With love, light AND clarity