Discover brain health benefits of yoga

Posted on Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Two women, partially shown, in yoga poses
By Johanne Adam

The number of yoga enthusiasts has pretty much exploded in recent years, and for good reason: it appears that yoga offers a whole series of benefits that go far beyond a healthy body. Indeed, more and more studies are highlighting the beneficial effects of yoga on brain health.

Research shows that yoga reduces anxiety as well as symptoms of depression, while improving cognitive function and memory.

That’s why everyone is invited to take part in an event called Yoga & YOU during Brain Health Awareness Week at the University of Ottawa.

Effects of meditation

Yoga practice includes a meditation component focused on mindfulness, which seems to reduce stress and increase concentration. This form of meditation, which originated with Buddhism, involves being fully aware of one’s thoughts, emotions and state of mind without making value judgments.

“People who are depressed or anxious tend to be very critical and hard on themselves. The practice of mindful yoga teaches people to become aware of and more accepting of internal experiences without getting ‘caught up’ by them, and to respond to experiences in an open and compassionate way, which helps them to better cope with the stresses of life,” says Diana Koszycki, a psychologist and professor in the Faculty of Education and cross-appointed professor in the Faculty of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry.

“It’s not entirely clear how mindful yoga and other mindfulness meditation practices work,” she says. “One theory is that responding to our inner experiences nonjudgmentally and with greater acceptance and kindness can alter areas of the brain that make us feel anxious and depressed.”

Koszycki explains that in order for yoga and other meditation practices to have any benefit on health and wellbeing, they have to be incorporated in one’s daily life.

“We need more studies to understand this, but the research out there is promising,” she adds.

Yoga was introduced by Buddhists 2,500 years ago as a way to reduce the effects of illness. Today, more and more doctors are suggesting yoga to treat some patients’ conditions.

Yoga & YOU will be led by Kate Durie, who survived traumatic brain injury. When she saw the many ways yoga helped with her healing, she quit her job with a large organization to become a yoga instructor. “After surviving (the injury) I was able to experience first-hand how yoga is so much more than a series of asanas or physical postures. Yoga heals,” she says on her website.

Yoga & YOU will take place Saturday, September 19, from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., on the Tabaret lawn. 

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