Mindfulness Reduces Brain Aging
Science continues to show the remarkable benefits of yoga practice — and these benefits likely start with your first class!
These days, scientists usually investigate the ‘hatha’ form of yoga — the yoga practice of mindful awareness during certain body postures.
For example, in programs of MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction), participants are guided in awareness of their inner physical experience as they recline on the floor or sit quietly. They’re not moving, but they are practicing yoga!
This same depth of inner awareness is then brought to other body postures such as standing upright or reaching overhead. Such an attitude of deep inner awareness differs from the attitude people usually have when they’re exercising or engaged in athletics.
It’s this inner awareness that makes it ‘yoga’.
Researchers in one study used brain imaging technology to show that women (average age 66) who practiced yoga had ‘thicker’ brains than did same-aged women who didn’t practice.
This is important because, as we age, the cerebral cortex region of our brain typically gets thinner with the cognitive changes of aging. But this age-related thinning was reduced for the women who practiced yoga.
And, since 2005, various other studies have shown similar findings — mindfulness practitioners have thicker brains!
We see this in an article by neuroscientist, Eileen Luders: “Forever Young(er): potential age-defying effects of long-term meditation on gray matter atrophy”.
But don’t misunderstand. You don't need years of practice before you benefit from mindfulness.
Yes, this research does show the value of mindful practice over time, but such brain changes likely start with your first mindfulness class. In a recent study, researchers discovered measurable changes to brain structure apparent after just 10 hours of guided mindfulness practice.
Greater Cortical Thickness in Elderly Female Yoga Practitioners—A Cross-Sectional Study. Rui F. Afonso, et al. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. June 20, 2017
Forever Young(er): potential age-defying effects of long-term meditation on gray matter atrophy. Eileen Luders, et al. Frontiers in Psychology. January 21, 2015
Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. Sara W. Lazar, et al. Neuroreport 16, (2005).
Strengthened Hippocampal Circuits Underlie Enhanced Retrieval of Extinguished Fear Memories Following Mindfulness Training. Gunes Sevinc, et al. Biol Psychiatry. 2019 November 01
Brief Mindfulness Meditation Induces Gray Matter Changes in a Brain Hub. Rongxiang Tang, et al. Neural Plasticity. 2020 Nov 16