“The breathing and meditative exercises aim at calming the mind and body and keeping distracting thoughts away while you focus on your body, posture or breath. Maybe these processes translate beyond yoga practice when you try to perform mental tasks or day-to-day activities.” – Neha Gothe
If we are lucky enough to navigate life’s dangers we are rewarded with the opportunity to experience aging! The aging process involves a progressive deterioration of the body including the brain. It actually begins in the late 20s and continues throughout the lifespan. It’s inevitable. We can’t stop it or reverse it. But, it is becoming more apparent that life-style changes can slow down and to some extent counteract the process and allow us to live longer and healthier lives. This is true for both physical and mental deterioration including degeneration and shrinkage of the nervous system. Aging healthily to a large extent involves strategies to slow down the deterioration.
Contemplative practices including yoga practice (See links below) have been shown to reduce the physical deterioration that occurs with aging (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/aging/). Yoga practice has many physical and mental benefits including protection of brain structures from degeneration with aging (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/age-healthily-protect-the-brain-with-yoga/). These structural changes have been demonstrated by neuroimaging techniques with yoga practitioners. They document change in the size and connectivity of brain structures that result from yoga practice.
Yoga is a mind-body practice that involves both physical and mental exercises. This is accompanied by changes in the activity of virtually every component of the body including general physiology and the peripheral and central nervous systems. So, another potential method to investigate yoga’s effects on the nervous system is to measure the electrical signals emanating from the nervous system.
In today’s Research News article “Cognitive Behavior Evaluation Based on Physiological Parameters among Young Healthy Subjects with Yoga as Intervention”
Nagendra and colleagues trained naive adults in yoga practice for a period of five months for 1.5 hours per day and compared physiological measure to a no-treatment control group. They found that yoga practice produced an increase in parasympathetic (vegetative) and decrease in sympathetic (activation) activity in the peripheral nervous system including a decrease in heart rate and heart rate variability. This indicates a calming and relaxing effect of yoga on the physiology.
Nagendra and colleagues also found significant differences in EEG activity of the central nervous system. The changes were complex and varied. But they are indicators that yoga practice produces alterations of brain activity in ways that are indicative of improved vigilance, alertness, attention, concentration ,memory, visual information processing, sense of wellbeing, responsiveness, emotion process, cognition, and executive function and reduced stress and strain. In other words the changes in the brain activity indicated vast improvements in mental processing produced by yoga practice.
It should be noted that these are indirect measures and the researchers did not directly measure the psychological variables. So, although suggestive they are not conclusive. They are, however, similar to findings of yoga effects in other research with direct measures (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/contemplative-practice/yoga-contemplative-practice/). But, even with this caution, the results suggest that yoga practice has widespread beneficial effects on the mental and physical well-being of the individual.
So, practice yoga and improve mental and physical well-being.
“True yoga is not about the shape of your body, but the shape of your life. Yoga is not to be performed; yoga is to be lived. Yoga doesn’t care about what you have been; yoga cares about the person you are becoming. Yoga is designed for a vast and profound purpose, and for it to be truly called yoga, its essence must be embodied.” — Aadil Palkhivala
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
Yoga and aging links
Yoga reduces physical degeneration in the elderly http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/age-healthily-yoga/
Yoga reduces cellular aging http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/aging-healthily-yoga-and-cellular-aging/
Yoga practice improves the symptoms of arthritis in the elderly http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/14/age-healthily-yoga-for-arthritis/