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Yoga Research

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— February 10, 2020

Yoga Research

By Lisa James
  • Scientists continue to validate yoga’s ancient wisdom.
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Yoga Appears to Aid the Brain

Looking to boost your brainpower? Taking up a yoga practice may help.

A study team led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign analyzed the results of 11 studies on the relationship between yoga practice and brain health. Five looked at people who took up a yoga practice as part of that particular study. The others compared practitioners and non-practitioners. All the studies employed brain scans to measure results.

What the scientists found is that yoga tends to affect the same areas of the brain that are affected by aerobic exercise. These included the hippocampus, involved in memory processing and known to shrink with age.

Other brain structures affected by yoga included the amygdala, which aids in emotional regulation, and the prefrontal cortex, involved in complex thinking tasks.

Results were published in the journal Brain Plasticity.

Yoga as Useful as Physical Therapy for Lower Back Issues

People who suffer from lower back pain also tend to sleep poorly. In one recent study, yoga was as helpful as physical therapy in providing relief on both fronts.

A Boston Medical Center study team found that 12 weeks of either weekly yoga classes or one-on-one PT were able to improve the participants’ physical function and reduce their need for pain medication. What’s more, those who showed improvements after six weeks of treatment were also more likely to report reductions in disturbed sleep.

Results were published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Mood Problems Reduced by Yoga Practice—Even Over the Short Term

Scientists have long known that yoga helps reduce anxiety and depression. Now one study suggests that you don’t have to develop a long-term practice to see benefits.

A research team at the Boston University School of Medicine randomly assigned 30 clinically depressed patients to one of two groups. Both did yoga, one for a total of 123 hours, the other for 87 hours.

Tranquility, positivity and symptoms of anxiety and depression significantly improved in both groups, as did sleep quality.

Results were published in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice.

Yoga Helps De-Stress Your Genes

Yoga and meditation are famous for their stress-fighting effects. Now science appears to have learned why: They affect the way genes are expressed, or how your DNA controls what happens within your body.

Both practices are mind-body interventions, a category that also includes activities such as tai chi and qigong. A British research team analyzed 18 studies of people who practiced MBIs regularly.

Such practitioners were found to produce lower levels of nuclear factor-kappa B. Production of this molecule, known to regulate gene expression, ramps up when someone is under stress, leading to the release of substances linked to inflammation.

Study results were published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology.

Yoga May Boost Energy Levels

Is your fuel gauge always on empty? Finding less than a half-hour for yoga every day is probably a better way to recharge than that fifth cup of coffee.

Researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario had 31 volunteers cycle through three activities: 25 minutes of either Hatha yoga (which focuses on the physical poses) or mindfulness meditation (observing thoughts and feelings without reacting to them), plus a 25-minute period of quiet reading that served as a control activity.

Yoga and meditation both increased energy levels, with yoga showing more powerful effects. What’s more, the yoga and meditation sessions helped the participants with what’s called executive-function cognition, the kind you use to avoid flying off the handle and otherwise generally staying on task.

Results were published in the journal Mindfulness.

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