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Can Yoga Boost Brain Health?

Health Research
Last Updated Sep 11, 2020

We know yoga is good for our body and soul, and now new research suggests it could prevent or treat the effects of chronic pain on the brain. If that's not an enticing enough reason to get into a backbend, we don't know what is!

How does chronic pain affect the brain?

Chronic pain can cause severe and lasting impairment to the brain. People who experience chronic pain may also experience depression, anxiety, and cognitive changes.

Incredibly, people with chronic pain have different looking brains, compared with "healthy" people. This is because people who are depressed and have chronic pain experience a decrease in gray matter.

Why is gray matter so important? Because it keeps our cells healthy, maintains memory, manages our emotions and ensures proper cognitive performance.

How does yoga help with chronic pain and the brain?

Scientists have known for a while now that meditation and yoga can rebalance the brain in the presence of pain.

In fact, Catherine Bushnell from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health for the NIH, was quoted as saying "practicing yoga has the opposite effect on the brain as does chronic pain."

That means people who practice yoga have more gray matter than people who don't. And it seems that the more yoga you do, the greater the gray matter.

Bushnell announced these findings at the American Pain Society's annual meeting.

She said the more gray matter someone has, the higher their threshold for pain. And that's how yoga can help reduce the severity of chronic pain. How's that for compelling evidence?

In more scientific terms, Bushnell said "Brain anatomy changes may contribute to mood disorders and other affective and cognitive comorbidities of chronic pain. The encouraging news for people with chronic pain is mind-body practices seem to exert a protective effect on brain gray matter that counteracts the neuroanatomical effects of chronic pain."

Originally published on Jun 19, 2015

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Wellness inspiration of the week

People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills… There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind… So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself. — MARCUS AURELIUS