Yoga and Brain

A psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, John Denninger, is leading a study on the effect of ancient practices on genes and brain activity in the chronically stressed patients. His latest work and study shows that yoga mind and body techniques can switch off some genes, which are linked to stress and immune function. Yoga is known to reduce the perceived stress and anxiety, and there by modulate the stress response systems. This further has a physiological effect like reducing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure and easing respiration. The body has the ability to respond to stress and yoga can help increase heart rate variability. An imaging study at NIMHANS, through brain imaging has shown that chanting of AUM can deactivate certain brain areas that control our emotions like anger and fear, producing a calming effect.

According to a study at the Massachusetts General Hospital, it was discovered that the genes associated with stress-related diseases showed significant changes in expression. Relaxation through yoga showed a positive effect on cellular aging, inflammation, etc, which increase the vulnerability to disease.

In Germany, a study was conducted on a group of women with mental stress. The results revealed a considerable reduction in cortisol, a hormone associated with high blood pressure, diabetes, diminished immune system, and inflammation when present in high levels. At the Boston University, the effects of yoga on anxiety and depression were studied. In a 12 week trial, they studied the brains of yoga practitioners, using MRI technology. They discovered that, in comparison to the participants in walking programs, the yoga group demonstrated high levels of gamma gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA), a brain chemical associated with improved mood and decreased anxiety.

Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, Ph.D, assistant professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School performed clinical research on yoga and meditation. He offers compelling scientific evidence on how yoga and meditation can change our brains and lives. He says that yoga reduces stress, and makes the parts of brain responsible for memory grow sharper and stronger. He also says that yoga elevates our mood and improves our spiritual outlook, which helps in giving us a sense of peace and calm.