Improve the Brain for Better memory in Aging with Yoga


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Yoga has been shown to reverse the aging process by the positive impact the practice has upon the body. It gives elasticity to your muscles, tones tendons and ligaments, reduces fat and slows weight gain, calms your heart rate, and eases your mind promoting a bodily as well as a spiritual peace.” – Amy Koller


Human life is one of constant change. We revel in our increases in physical and mental capacities during development, but regret their decreases during aging. The aging process involves a systematic progressive decline in every system in the body, the brain included. This includes our mental abilities which decline with age including impairments in memory, attention, and problem solving ability. It is inevitable and cannot be avoided. Using modern neuroimaging techniques, scientists have been able to view the changes that occur in the nervous system with aging. In addition, they have been able to investigate various techniques that might slow the process of neurodegeneration that accompanies normal aging. They’ve found that mindfulness practices reduce the deterioration of the brain that occurs with aging restraining the loss of neural tissue. Indeed, the brains of practitioners of meditation and yoga have been found to degenerate less with aging than non-practitioners.


There is some hope for age related cognitive decline, however, as there is evidence that they can be slowed. There are some indications that physical and mental exercise can reduce the rate of cognitive decline and lower the chances of dementia. For example, contemplative practices such as meditation, yoga, and tai chi or qigong have all been shown to be beneficial in slowing or delaying physical and mental decline with aging. Mindfulness practices have been shown to improve cognitive processes while gentle mindful exercises such as Tai Chi and Qigong have been shown to slow age related cognitive decline.


Since the global population of the elderly is increasing at unprecedented rates, it is imperative to investigate methods to slow physical and mental aging and mitigate its effects. It would seem reasonable to hypothesize that yoga practice, which is both a mindfulness practice and a physical exercise, might decrease age related cognitive decline and the associated changes in the nervous system. In today’s Research News article “Changes in Neural Connectivity and Memory Following a Yoga Intervention for Older Adults: A Pilot Study.” See:

or see summary below or view the full text of the study at:

Eyre and colleagues recruited elderly, over 55 years of age, and randomly assigned them to either 12-weeks of yoga training or 12-weeks of memory enhancement training. Depression levels, and memory ability were assessed at baseline and at 12-weeks after the interventions. In addition, the participants’ brains were scanned before and after training with Functional Magnetic Imaging (f-MRI) to ascertain the connectivity of various brain systems.


They found that the yoga group had significant improvements in depression and visuospatial memory. But, there were no significant differences between the yoga and memory enhancement training groups. They also investigated the relationships of the memory changes with changes in connectivity within the brain’s Default Mode Network (DMN) and found that the greater the increases in connectivity, the greater the improvements in memory in the elderly. The Default Mode Network (DMN) is known to be involved in memory, in particular in episodic memory retrieval, prospective memory encoding, and autobiographical memory retrieval. So, it makes sense that its connectivity would be increased in parallel to memory enhancements.


These results suggest that both yoga and memory enhancement training improve the interactions (connectivity) between structures of the brain that are involved in memory processing and that this results in improved memory ability in the elderly. It is interesting that yoga increased DMN connectivity in this study as contemplative practices have been shown to decrease the size and activity of the DMN. This suggests that yoga practice either may act differently or that just the memory components of the DMN are enhanced. It will take further research to clarify this.


The present results make it clear that yoga practice helps to slow the cognitive decline that occurs with aging. But, yoga is known to have a myriad of other physical, psychological, and physical benefits. It appears to be an excellent practice to allow for healthy aging. So, improve the brain for better memory in aging with yoga.


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


“It is a known fact that yoga imparts more energy, strength and flexibility.  Some people turn to yoga for a reduction in stress, and then stick with it because it makes them feel, look, and remain young. Unlike traditional exercises, yoga blends moves that enhance circulation, flexibility, balance and strength, along with meditative techniques, including deep breathing. In fact, Yoga serves as a natural face-lift-it cleanes, relaxes, and restores. Yoga reduces signs of ageing considerably.” – Larry Payne


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+


Study Summary

Eyre, H. A., Acevedo, B., Yang, H., Siddarth, P., Van Dyk, K., Ercoli, L., … Lavretsky, H. (2016). Changes in Neural Connectivity and Memory Following a Yoga Intervention for Older Adults: A Pilot Study. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 52(2), 673–684.



Background: No study has explored the effect of yoga on cognitive decline and resting-state functional connectivity.

Objectives: This study explored the relationship between performance on memory tests and resting-state functional connectivity before and after a yoga intervention versus active control for subjects with mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

Methods: Participants ( ≥ 55 y) with MCI were randomized to receive a yoga intervention or active “gold-standard” control (i.e., memory enhancement training (MET)) for 12 weeks. Resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging was used to map correlations between brain networks and memory performance changes over time. Default mode networks (DMN), language and superior parietal networks were chosen as networks of interest to analyze the association with changes in verbal and visuospatial memory performance.

Results: Fourteen yoga and 11 MET participants completed the study. The yoga group demonstrated a statistically significant improvement in depression and visuospatial memory. We observed improved verbal memory performance correlated with increased connectivity between the DMN and frontal medial cortex, pregenual anterior cingulate cortex, right middle frontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, and left lateral occipital cortex. Improved verbal memory performance positively correlated with increased connectivity between the language processing network and the left inferior frontal gyrus. Improved visuospatial memory performance correlated inversely with connectivity between the superior parietal network and the medial parietal cortex.

Conclusion: Yoga may be as effective as MET in improving functional connectivity in relation to verbal memory performance. These findings should be confirmed in larger prospective studies.

Keywords: Aging, cognitive decline, memory training, mild cognitive impairment, mind-body, older adults, subjective memory complaints, yoga

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