In our last blog, we shared some of the reasons we started the Toronto Yoga Show. One of those reasons was to teach more yogis about the science and anatomy of yoga. But then we thought… why wait until the conference when we can start now on our blog?

The stretching and physical exercise of yoga creates plenty of positive changes in your body. You gain muscle strength, flexibility, etc. But did you also know yoga, and the mindfulness that comes with it, also bulks up your brain? Not only do you feel calmer after a yoga class, but also your brain gets a physical work out too and actually changes physically.

Mind over Depression and PTSD

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One of the common reasons people are drawn to yoga is to feel calmer. Yoga has been a go-to for a lot of people with depression and PSTD because it helps many people cope with troubles and traumas of the past.

How does mindfulness help?

Chronic stress can lead to damage to the Hippocampus in the brain. This brain region is associated with memory and emotion. A 2011 study found that meditation and mindfulness actually helped form more gray matter in the Hippocampus. That means areas physically damaged by emotional stress can literally be rebuilt with a regular meditation and mindfulness practice.

Mind over Fear, Stress and Anxiety

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Those with depression and PSTD aren’t the only ones who find benefits from yoga. Yoga and mindfulness has also proved helpful for many people with anxiety.

How does mindfulness help?

Anyone who’s studied the scientific cause of anxiety will be familiar with the Amygdala. This animalistic part of the brain is responsible for our “flight or fight” response. It’s the reason we get anxious at things that aren’t really that scary and have a hard time calming our brains down when we are stressing out.

MRI scans from a similar study as above, have linked a regular mindfulness practice with the shrinking of the Amygdala. So while mindfulness is repairing parts of the brain that cause depression and PSTD, it’s also shrinking the area of the brain that causes anxiety.

Mind over Indecision

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Yogis have a lot of choices to make: Yin or Vinyasa class today? What yoga outfit to wear? What class should I register for at the Toronto Yoga Conference? Well fortunately for you, more yoga and mindfulness is only going to help with focus and decision-making.

How does mindfulness help?

If you’re indecisive or find it hard to focus when making a decision, you might want to try meditation to increase activity in the Anterior Cigulate Cortex (or the ACC). People with damage to this area are generally more impulsive and don’t check aggression. Those with weak connections in this area don’t show flexibility in decision making. Meditators, however, have more activity in this area of the brain suggesting they learn more from past mistakes, perform better self-regulation and are better problem solvers.

Mind over Pain

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Anyone who’s been in an extended Yin pose can attest to the mind’s power to overcome an uncomfortable sensation. This “mind over matter” is a phenomenon we are all familiar with and may have experienced ourselves.

How does mindfulness help?

Studies have found meditators experience far less pain than non-mindful counterparts. However, a master meditator actually experiences MORE activity in the pain area of the brain. This is not what you would expect, as painkillers and drugs work the opposite way.

However, the Anterior Cingulate Cortex (same part from above) sees a huge reduction in activity. This means meditators are able to disconnect the unpleasant feeling of pain from the cause of the pain. So while they are subject to the same pain as others, they have the mental capacity to calm the feelings associated with it.

The Long Lasting Effects

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The beauty of mindfulness is the more you do it, the easier and more effective it becomes. Meditation experts with more than 40,000 hours of mindfulness meditation have similar brain patterns at all times to the resting brain of beginner mediators. Who wouldn’t want to feel that post class yoga high all the time?

Just like physical exercise, it can be tough to establish a regular mindfulness practice. You might slip up, and you’ll have to work hard. But be easy on yourself and your mind. Any steps toward more mindful living means a clearer head, a stronger brain and a much calmer life.

Sources and Further Reading:

http://www.rawstory.com/2016/10/the-science-of-yoga/

http://www.mindfulnessinstitute.ca/the-science/

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/what-does-mindfulness-meditation-do-to-your-brain/

https://hbr.org/2015/01/mindfulness-can-literally-change-your-brain

http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner.aspx