If you've ever been to a killer yoga class, you know how absolutely amazing you can feel after a rejuvenating, hour-long flow. With typical forms of exercise, those good feels are often limited to just your body, but what makes yoga truly unique is the positive effects the practice has on both your body and your mind. A number of studies have shown how yoga changes your brain, proving that this ancient practice extends far beyond the physical body.
In Sanskrit, yoga means "union" — a union between the physical body and the inner workings of your mind. During a yoga session, deep inhales and exhales are used to link each of your movements with your breath, making the practice a truly moving moment of meditation.
Incorporating just a few minutes of yoga into your routine can provide you with an extensive amount of mental health benefits, and these mindful movements have even been shown to be a natural remedy for anxiety and stress.
Now, this doesn't mean that hitting up a single vinyasa flow is going to melt away all of your stresses for the rest of your life. But making time for a daily practice can truly teach you how to cope with uncomfortable and unpleasant situations that may have otherwise been pretty difficult to deal with.
From deep, expansive breathing, to mastering downward facing dog, here are five ways yoga can change your brain when you practice every damn day.
Making yoga a part of your daily routine increases the amount of gamma-aminobutryic acid (GABA) neurotransmitters in your brain. The release of GABA regulates your normal brain activity. Basically, the impact that an hour-long practice has on your brain's GABA levels has the power to squash any overwhelming feelings of stress or anxiety, and make you feel completely blissed out.
So, if you just can't quiet the internal chatter going on in your brain, and you feel totally frazzled, going to a yoga class would be a great remedy for temporary stress relief. However, if you practice every day, even for just a few minutes at a time, you'll notice your stress levels are easier to manage over an extended period of time. If that's not motivation to roll out your mat ASAP, I don't know what is.
According to NBC News, a daily yoga practice trains your body to reduce the sympathetic nervous system (SNS, which controls your fight-or-flight response) and increase your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS, which is what helps you relax in the face of stress). This means that consistent yoga flows can teach you to be be as chill as that one time your friend gave you a piece of her next-level edible.
However, as amazing as it feels to be super calm, cool, and collected, no one wants to feel totally zen and mildly stoned 24/7. Yoga is all about balance, and the practice teaches you how to activate your SNS just when you need it, allowing you to stay sharp, yet serene overall.
If you've ever had a nagging pain in your lower back, or an annoying ache in your neck, and then realized how much better you felt after a simple yoga sesh, you can thank all of the amazing gray matter that your practice is continually building in your brain.
Research shows that people with chronic pain and depression have decreased amounts of healthy gray matter present within their brains. However, daily down dogs, tree poses, and meditation have the power to act as natural painkillers and reverse symptoms of pain and depression.
So, over time, getting on your mat each day will help you feel happier, balance out your emotions, and increase your pain tolerance — brain gains FTW, y'all.
It's pretty much unavoidable that your memory and cognitive function will naturally decline as you get older. However, yoga comes to the rescue yet again by literally making your brain function as if it were years younger than you actually are.
NBC News reports that participants in a study who did yoga and meditated for just eight weeks showed significant developments in the hippocampus area of their brain, which is responsible for memory and learning skills.
Namastay on my mat, like, every day for the rest of my life.
I can assure you, the fact that you feel on top of the world and incredible in every way after hitting up a class at your favorite yoga studio is no coincidence.
A 2009 study from Deakin University in Australia prescribed a 12-week yoga program to women struggling with binge-eating to monitor the effects of the practice on their behavior. At the end of the program, the women demonstrated higher levels of self esteem, as well as overall better body image.
Bottom line: The research doesn't lie, and the results are astounding. But again, you'll only really reap these incredible benefits of yoga by showing up on your mat every day. Think you can do it?