Yoga Poses for Your Brain and Nervous System

Yoga has amazing benefits to calm the mind and improve brain health.

Oct 17, 2020

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For thousands of years, ancient cultures of the east have practiced yoga, a spiritual exercise that combines physical postures with mindful breathing and meditation. Fast forward to today, yoga has become familiar to virtually everyone around the world, and more than 13 million adults practice it for health and wellbeing, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH).

As yoga becomes more popular in the west, more research has gone into studying the practice as an alternative therapy. For the first time, scientists can use modern approaches to observe its amazing and very real benefits on the body, particularly in the brain and nervous system. 

Using tools such as MRI, fMRI, and SPECT, a brain plasticity study observed noticeable, positive changes in the nervous system during yoga. Observing brain scans from 11 previous reports, they demonstrated that yoga activates various parts of the brain, leading to improved memory and increased cognition, while reducing anxiety, stress, and depression.

New York City physician and yoga practitioner, Dr. Loren Fishman, observed similar benefits in an article published in Live Science. He explains that yoga can actually thicken layers in the cerebral cortex, the area in the brain connected to learning. It also builds neuroplasticity, helping us learn new things and enabling us to change the way we approach things.

Yoga aims for a deeper connection between the mind, body, and soul. Still, certain postures will target specific positive responses in the body. For the biggest brain benefits, try a few of these:

Inversion poses

Inversions include dolphin, downward-facing dog, and extended puppy pose, where the head is placed beneath the waist. Then gravity does the work. Dr. B. Ramamurthi, a neuroscientist based in India, explained to Yoga Journal how inversions assist the brain. These kinds of poses redirect blood as well as the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), the juice of the central nervous system which flows from the brain to the spinal cord.

This can improve blood flow, promote elasticity in the cranial bones, and stimulate the production of CSF in the ventricles of the brain, all good things for your nervous system.

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Meditative poses

These poses, like corpse pose (shavasana) or lotus pose, typically involve mindful breathing practices. Bringing awareness to the breath calms the brain, improves concentration, enhances cognition, and mitigates age-related and neurodegenerative deterioration, according to the brain plasticity study.

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Yoga poses for the nervous system

You may think of your brain as the thinking organ. Actually, much of the nervous system extends throughout the body, all along the spinal cord and into the rest of the organs. Try these yoga poses that help calm the nerves, or even wake them up when you feel tired.

To calm the nervous system, try forward-bending poses like child’s pose or standing forward bend. These postures activate the relaxation response of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), especially helpful to ease anxiety.

When you feel sluggish, you can activate the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) to trigger an alert response. Try holding back-bending poses like camel, bow, or wheel.

In the west, medication and talk therapy have become the go-to forms of health for the brain and nervous system. But today, more physicians turn to yoga as a complementary method of healing, showing promising results in reducing stress, improving cognition, and keeping the brain healthy and strong.

If you’re new to it, try just ten minutes a day to start. To experience the benefits of yoga on the brain and body, try to incorporate weekly yoga sessions into your schedule ranging from 20 minutes to 90 minutes. Your body, brain, and mind will thank you!

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ALLISON MICHELLE DIENSTMAN, CONTRIBUTOR
Working from her laptop as a freelance writer, Allison lives as a digital nomad, exploring the world while sharing positivity and laughter. She is a lover of language, travel, music, and creativity with a degree in Chinese language and literature.