Your Brain on Yoga

"We all know that yoga does wonders for the mind. Even novices of asana, pranayama and meditation report feeling increased mental stability and clarity during and after practice. Now, thanks to sophisticated brain imaging technologies, neuroscience is proving what teachers and practitioners have known for ages –that yoga and meditation can literally change your brain. But what exactly is going on up there? Take a peek inside – a basic understanding of brain anatomy and function can serve as a handy road map for your inner journey." ~Kathryn Heaburg

The frontal lobe is the hub of higher cognitive – including planning discrimination, abstract thinking, personality and behavior. The Bihar School of Yoga refers to the breathing practice of Kapalabhati as “frontal brain purification” due to the rejuvenating effects it has on this area of the brain.

The anterior part of the frontal lobe, the prefrontal cortex, is the most evolved part of the brain and is responsible for positive capacities like concentration, happiness, creativity and rational thinking. Studies using EEG have shown that meditation strengthens communication between the prefrontal cortex and other areas of the brain.

Roughly the size of a pea, the pituitary gland is the endocrine system’s master gland producing and releasing hormones that control growth, metabolism, and the function of other hormones. On a more subtle level the pituitary gland is related to the sixth, or Third Eye (ajna in Sanskrit) chakra. Ajna literally means “command center.”

The parietal lobe is associated with limb movement, understanding speech and sensing pain. According to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience in April 2011, brain scans of this region demonstrated that mindfulness meditation can dramatically reduce sensitivity to pain – even more so than morphine.

As the primary visual processing center of the brain, the occipital lobe helps you follow along visually in yoga class. And you can thank the temporal lobe for your ability to process verbal asana cues for its responsible auditory perception.

The cerebellum controls balance and muscle coordination, reflexes and movement. Asana would be impossible without it.

The brain stem which connects the brain, and the spinal cord plays a crucial role in digestion, heart rate and diaphragmatic breathing. Neurons found in the brain stem send a nerve impulse to the diaphragm, which causes it to contract thereby initiating inhalation.

The limbic system is comprised of structures related to memory and emotion, such as the hippocampus, amygdala, thalamus and hypothalamus. A 2010 study found that subjects who meditated 30 minutes a day for eight weeks had a reduction of gray matter in the amygdala—which is linked to fear and anxiety—and an increase in gray matter in the hippocampus, which plays a vital role in memory formation.

Sunflower Yoga provides a wide range of yoga practices to suit the varying needs of the Springfield community. If you've read this blog and would like to try out a session of your choice for free give us a call at 937-450-7280. Check out our website for a complete schedule of classes. We hope to see you soon! Namaste.

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