Yoga and Meditation Keep Your Brain Resilient Study Shows
Can yoga and meditation stave off cognitive decline and increase your brain’s efficiency and resilience? A study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuorscience suggests that the answer may be yes.
An international team of researchers examined the brain functioning of 47, healthy middle-aged yoga and meditation practitioners and normal controls to see whether the groups differed in fluid intelligence, resilience, function and efficiency. Participants included 16 yoga practitioners (mean age 49.4 years, SD =7.8), 16 meditators (mean age 54.1 years, SD =8.2), and 15 controls (mean age 52.9 years, SD =9.8). Groups were matched for age, gender, education, race and handedness.
Yoga practitioners trained in the Kripalu tradition had an average of 13,534 (SD = 9,950) hours of yoga experience. Individuals from the Insight Meditation tradition had an average of 7,458 (SD = 5,734) hours of meditation practice. Controls had no experience with either yoga or meditation.
Members of each group were asked to complete a number of behavioral measures of fluid and verbal intelligence, cognitive functioning and mindfulness. Fluid intelligence encompasses skills such as logical thinking, problem solving, and the capacity to identify patterns and relationships when solving novel problems. Participants also reported on their weekly physical activity and how often they engaged in cognitive activities like reading, writing, solving puzzles, and playing card and board games. Images of their brains were then obtained using an MRI scanner.
Yoga Associated with Higher Brain Functioning and Resilience
Overall, results revealed that yoga practitioners and meditators had a lower rate of age-related decline of fluid intelligence compared to normal controls. This reduced decline was most pronounced for yoga practitioners.
Yoga practitioners also demonstrated significantly greater global efficiency, network integration and “small worldness” than control group members, whereas the difference between meditators and the control group was not significant. Small worldness refers to networks, or clusters of connections between neighboring brain nodes. These networks are associated with brain efficiency and dynamic complexity.
Together these findings suggest that yoga practitioners tend to have higher levels of brain network integration and efficiency compared to controls. While this was also true for meditators, the effects were not as strong as those in the yoga group.
Yoga Linked to More Resilient Brain Functioning
Researchers also tested the resilience of participants’ brains by simulating damage to these functional networks by altering patterns of connectivity between brain nodes. They discovered that yoga practitioners have more resilient networks when compared to meditators and control group members.
Lastly, investigators examined whether a measure of mindfulness would be related to greater fluid intelligence and network resilience. As anticipated, yoga and meditation practitioners had higher mindfulness scores than controls. Levels of mindfulness were significantly correlated with fluid intelligence, network resilience, global efficiency and network integration. This suggests that mindfulness is associated with greater fluid intelligence and more integrated and resilient brain networks.
Taken as a whole, results of this study suggest that both yoga and meditation are effective in maintaining higher levels of brain performance in middle-aged adults. This study is important as it moves the field beyond knowledge of the structural effects of these practices on brain development to a greater understanding of the functional significance of these differences.
Another article from B Grace Bullock and YogaUOnline: Can Yoga and Meditation Change Your Brain? A Recent Review of the Evidence Says Yes.
Study breath and it’s impact on relationships, with YogaUOnline and B Grace Bullock – BREATHE: Yogic Tools for Happy, Healthy, and Fulfilling Relationships.
B Grace Bullock, PhD, E-RYT 500 is a psychologist, research scientist, educator, yoga and mindfulness expert and author of Mindful Relationships: Seven Skills for Success – Integrating the Science of Mind, Body and Brain. Her mission is to reduce stress, increase health and well-being and improve the quality of relationships. She offers classes, workshops, writing and research that combine the wisdom of applied neuroscience, psychophysiology, psychology and contemplative science and practice. Her goal is to empower individuals, groups, leaders and organizations to reduce chronic stress and increase awareness, attention, compassion, mindfulness and effective communication to strengthen relationships, release dysfunctional patterns and unlock new and healthy ways of being. Dr. Bullock is also the Founding Director and Principal Consultant of the International Science & Education Alliance, an organization devoted to exceptional research, program evaluation, assessment design, strategic planning and capacity building to support equity, programmatic diversity and scientific integrity, and promote effective leadership, decision-making and social change. Bullock is a Certified Viniyoga Therapist, the former Senior Research Scientist at the Mind & Life Institute, and former Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Yoga Therapy. For more information see www.bgracebullock.com.
Gard, T., Taquet, M., Holzel, B.K., de Monjoye, Y.A., Brach, N. et al., (2014). Fluid intelligence and brain functional organization in aging yoga and meditation practitioners. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. Doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2014.00076