The brain changes and adapts, makes connections and can find other ways if any are damaged. This is all called neuroplasticity. But what can we do to increase neuroplasticity? It has already been observed that aerobic physical exercise leads to changes in the brain structure by strengthening the areas that are most affected by age-related degeneration. However, also yoga can be a valid ally to protect brain health, as evidenced by a research published a few months ago in the journal Brain Plasticity thanks to the work of an American team (Gothe et al, Brain Plasticity, Dec 2019).
Thanks to previous researches, it is known that aerobic physical activity strengthens the brain and contributes to the growth of new neurons. However, little was known about the role of yoga. That's why the researchers compared 11 studies to evaluate the effects of yoga on brain reorganization. Five studies focused on the changes yoga could make in people who had never practiced yoga. These people were asked to participate in one or more yoga classes every week for three to six months. The other studies instead tried to understand the differences in the brain between those who habitually practiced yoga and those who did not follow this discipline. But all the studies had in common the fact that they analyzed the brain structure of the participants both before and at the end of the research using neuroimaging techniques such as magnetic resonance. What all the studies have shown is that yoga brings changes to certain areas of the brain in those who practice it. In particular, yoga practice helps to increase the volume of the hippocampus. This is also observed in those who perform aerobic physical activity. The hippocampus is the seat of memory, it is also the first brain area to be involved in neurodegeneration phenomena and it is reduced with age. Not only that, yoga practice influences and also increases the volume of the amygdala, which is the center that regulates our emotions and makes more efficient the brain network that is responsible for planning and memorization. The authors of the study believe that the beneficial action of yoga on the brain is due to its ability to reduce stress. In fact, high levels of stress are linked to a decrease in the volume of the hippocampus.