It’s easy to see the physical benefits of yoga after one session: Rosy cheeks, glowy skin, a sense of full-body calm. And yogis know that a regular practice can build lean muscle while increasing strength and flexibility—all good things.
But it turns out that regular asana sessions can have a serious impact on the most important body part: Your brain.
Decreases levels of stress and anxiety
That relaxed feeling that washes over you after a yoga class is just the beginning—your brain is being flooded with gamma-aminobutyric acid, aka GABA. A neurotransmitter that actually suppresses neural activity, GABA has calming effect on the brain. If you’ve ever dealt with anxiety, you might’ve felt like your thoughts were racing and that your brain couldn’t shut off—a little more GABA definitely would’ve helped! In fact, most anti-anxiety medications are formulated to help the brain increase GABA production.
And next time you have to choose between yoga and happy hour, skip the post-work drinks: GABA has almost the same relaxing effect on your brain as a glass of wine (except without the hangover).
Helps with pain modulation; acts like a natural antidepressant
When it comes to your brain, bigger is better. Over time, things like chronic pain, depression, and inflammation can cause reductions in gray brain matter—basically, shrinking the size of your noggin, especially in areas like cerebral cortex and subcortical areas. Reductions in brain matter in these areas can cause memory loss, emotional instability, poor pain tolerance and overall decreased cognitive function.
Good news—yoga can help. In fact, studies have shown that yoga actually encourages the production of gray matter in these areas in particular.
Improves self-awareness; could help with self-confidence
Yoga won’t just boost your mood and help with anxiety—it could also make you a better, more confident person! The boost in self-confidence doesn’t come from nailing Dancer Pose (although that can put a little extra swag in your step); a regular yoga practice enlarges the areas of the brain that are responsible for our sense of self. Researchers believe that the visualization techniques used in class—like when your teacher encourages you to root your toes into the ground or imagine a golden light moving through your body—also improve spatial awareness.
Researchers believe that the visualization techniques used in class—like when your teacher encourages you to root your toes into the ground or imagine a golden light moving through your body—also improve spatial awareness.
Seriously, is there anything a few asanas can’t do? We know that we’re inspired to hit the mat. Check our friend The Balanced Blonde’s yoga flow here.