We all know that yoga works wonders on our minds. Even beginners who practice asanas for the first time, or meditate, have felt increased mental stability and more clarity after practicing yoga exercises.
At this moment, in the light of the latest discoveries of neuroscience, we can look with the help of ultra-sophisticated technologies, images of the brain, which come to confirm what master yogis have known for centuries, that yoga and meditation can actually change our brains. But exactly what's going on there? Aiming to understand a little the anatomy of the brain and its functions, we can outline a map of our inner journey.
The frontal lobe of the brain is the most important center of cognitive functions, including planning, discrimination, abstract thinking, personality aspects and behaviors. Bihar yoga school refers to the practice of breathing
, known as "Kapalabhati" which in translation would mean "shiny skull", as an instrument for purifying the frontal brain, as a result of the rejuvenating effects it has in this area of the brain.
Also known as the seat of the functions of the conscious, the cerebellum is most of our brain. It is divided into two parts: in the left hemisphere and in the right hemisphere. At the physical level, the right hemisphere controls the left side of the brain, and the left hemisphere controls the right side. At the level of the subtle body,
the ida nadi (
lunar energy channel) is connected to the right half of the brain, and the pingal nadi (solar energy channel) is connected to the left side of the brain.
The anterior part of the frontal lobe, the prefrontal cortex, is the newest but also the most evolved part of the brain being responsible for our positive capacities such as concentration, creativity, happiness but also rational thinking. Studies that have used the EEG, or electroencephalogram, have shown that meditation strengthens communication between the prefontal cortex and other areas of the brain. At a more subtle level, the pituitary gland is connected with the sixth energy center of the body or the Ajna chakra
, which literally means "command center".
Having the approximate size of a pea, the pituitary gland is the master gland of the endocrine system, producing and releasing hormones that control the growth, metabolism and functions of other hormones. Neurotransmitters serve as chemical messengers in the brain for transmitting information between nerve cells. Neurological disorders are often the result of a deficiency of this kind, for example low levels of the neurotransmitter GABA, are related to states of depression and anxiety. Recent studies show that there is a correlation between regular practices of asanas in yoga and increased levels of the neurotransmitter GABA.
The "Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine" in the United States showed that Yoga practitioners have 27% higher GABA levels after 60 minutes of practice compared to the control group who just read a book. The study suggests that practicing yoga could increase GABA levels naturally.
The cerebtral trunk that connects the brain and spinal cord, plays a crucial role on digestion, heart rate and diaphragmatic breathing. Neurons that are found in the brainstem they send a niervos impulse to the diaphragm, which causes it to contract and thus the inhalation of air occurs.
The cerebellum deals with balance control, muscle coordination, reflexes and neuro-motor control. Without his help, asanas would be impossible to achieve.
The limbic system consists of structures related to memories and emotions such as hippocampus, amygdala, thalamus and hypothalamus. A study conducted in 2010 found that subjects who meditated 30 minutes a day for 8 weeks had a reduction of gray matter in the amygdala – the seat of fear and anxiety – and an increase in gray matter was observed in the hippocampus, which plays a vital role in memory formation.
The occipital lobe represents the main center of visual processing of the brain, it has a very important role in tracking and visualizing yoga sessions. Instead, the temporal lobe represents our ability to process verbal cues to achieve an asana, being responsible for auditory perception.
The parieta l lobeis associated with the movement of the limbs, with the understanding of speech and with the processing of pain. According to a study published in the American journal, Journal of Neuroscience in April 2011, brain scanning in this region has shown that
meditation can significantly reduce pain sensitivity, even more than morphine.
In the past it was believed that brain cells or neurons cannot be replaced, at most the rate of their loss can be decreased, by reducing the consumption of alocool or other harmful habits.
Today, thanks to new technologies used in brain scanning such as PET or MRI scanning, we can understand that the structure of our brain can change over time and due to our daily activities, a property of the brain known as neuroplasticity. Recent research proves that even at an older age, new neurons called neurons called neurons can develop in the brain baby neurons.
The term neuroplasticity is used by scientists to refer to the brain's ability to self-modalize, confirming the millenary teachings of yogic masters, namely that the more you think, say or do something, the more you will think, say or do it again. With each activity, neurons forge new connections between them, and the more behavior is repeated, the stronger the new neural pathway becomes.
The daily practice of asanas creates new neural pathways in the brain, not in vain it is said that "repetition is the mother of learning". This old adage, comes to confirm what science has just recently discovered.
In Yoga Sutra, Patanjali offers a recipe for success in yoga: hard and enthusiastic practice, without interruptions over a long period of time. This ideal formula has the advantages of neuroplasticity, because it creates new neural pathways in the brain. Swami Vivekananda once said: "the only remedy for a bad object is a good habit".. As our yogic practice progresses over time, new habits develop that tend to undo old unwanted behavioral patterns.
In yoga you are systematically aware of the ability to feel what is happening in your body, heart and mind. As the state of awareness becomes more refined, it can guide you in all aspects of your life. You will begin to notice which food is doing you good, what kind of work satisfies you more, which types of people make you happy, and which have the opposite effect.
The key is a constant practice – even if they are just asanas, pranayama or meditation, the recitation of mantras, or all together. A little bit every day, it is enough to lead you step by step, towards true inner transformation!