Unlike other forms of exercise, yoga has existed for centuries. It’s not difficult to see why. With regular application, even short yoga sessions can impact holistic wellness. This makes it perfect to incorporate into a busy lifestyle.
For a lot of people, yoga’s primary benefits relate to physical or psychological health. Its focused poses can boost aerobic ability, while its promotion of a sense of calm can reduce stress. However, one of the perhaps under-explored benefits of yoga is that it can positively impact cognitive functioning.
Yoga is one of the more accessible forms of exercise, with options of routines that suit people of a range of ages, needs, and physical abilities. Knowing its benefits for your cognitive well-being can also help you to make more informed decisions about routines that best meet your needs.
Some of the key links between yoga and cognition include:
One of the central cornerstones of yoga is mindfulness. Often, you’ll practice routines that empower you to be present purely in the current moment, which promotes a fuller awareness of your state of mind and wellness.
Among the most significant studies in this area is a Harvard-affiliated research program that reviewed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of the brains of participants who had undergone a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course. The outcome of this was that researchers observed structural changes within the brain that suggested mindfulness could have an impact on invaluable neuroplasticity. As a result, a mindfulness-focused yoga practice can contribute to positive changes in the brain’s structure and the pathways it forms, which can offer various cognitive and psychological wellness outcomes.
Having a lack of energy can make it more difficult to maintain cognitive performance. There are various factors that can influence a decline in energy levels, including less physical activity. The same logic can be applied to an increase in energy levels — you have to engage in regular exercise that supports both a sense of physical renewal and cognitive functioning. Yoga can be particularly effective in this regard, as it allows for gentle yet impactful activity that promotes holistic wellness. Incorporating even short sessions into your daily routine can boost energy in ways that support cognition.
Yoga in itself tends to have a positive impact on cognitive functioning. However, as with any form of exercise, you should take a well-informed approach. Engaging in the most appropriate routines can affect the outcomes that you’re seeking. Incorporating some forms of technology into your yoga practice can provide you with the data you need to optimize the cognitive impact.
Guidance from a yoga teacher can be the best way to receive the best cognitive benefits from your yoga routine. Often, they’ll provide instructions that’ll help you build a muscle-mind connection in your routine.
Unfortunately, not everybody has access to an expert every day. This is where mobile yoga or mindfulness apps and online guided sessions can be useful resources. Many platforms — such as Yoga Studio by Gaiam and Glo — can help you tailor your routines to your goals, including those related to mindfulness. Some studios also offer group online guided classes that are geared toward mindfulness or cognitive outcomes.
Wearable technology has become both more advanced and affordable in recent years. Utilizing some of these wearable devices can improve your quality of life and your yoga routine by providing you with real-time insights into metrics related to your wellness. For instance, smart health watches track aspects such as heart rate, stress indicators, and sleep levels — all of which can affect cognitive health. Utilizing these devices during your yoga practice and in everyday life can help you to monitor how your routines are impacting the aspects of your physical health that relate to your cognitive functioning. You can then make more targeted adjustments to your routines to focus on relevant areas of improvement.
A lot of the focus of yoga’s influence on cognition is toward improving the functionality of those with relatively good neurological wellness. However, yoga can also be a useful tool to help address cognitive conditions. Before you or a loved one makes the decision to use yoga as a treatment method, seek guidance from a medical professional first. They may consider your personal medical history that may make a regular yoga practice ineffective in treating a cognitive medical condition. That being said, they may also be aware of the following benefits:
Cognitive decline is never a guarantee as people get older, but it can be a prevalent concern surrounding the aging process. There is some evidence to suggest that aspects of yoga practice can help mitigate symptoms of age-related decline. One study that assigned 12 weeks of yoga practice to those experiencing mild cognitive impairment found that there were improvements in the functionality of the brain’s default mode network. This can mean that yoga can mitigate negative issues related to memory and planning.
Unfortunately, dementia can have a significant effect on your quality of life. But more research is being done on various medications and treatments that can slow down the process of dementia and even reverse its effects. Yoga has also been studied as a viable treatment option. A 2023 study has found that yoga can have domain-specific cognitive benefits for those living with dementia, particularly concerning executive function. Indeed, the study considered yoga routines to be a relatively safe form of exercise, with only one participant experiencing dizziness. As a result, yoga can be a valuable approach to navigating dementia that is appropriate to the various challenges the condition poses.
Maintaining a regular yoga practice has the potential to offer improvements in cognitive functioning. After all, yoga supports the connection between mindfulness and neuroplasticity, while also boosting energy levels that enable effective thought processes.
That said, you should not rely on yoga entirely for maintaining and improving your cognitive health. There are a range of lifestyle components that contribute to good functionality here. Instead, seek to incorporate yoga as a vital part of a more comprehensive holistic wellness routine.
By Katie Brenneman
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