Can yoga – and all of its contemplative practices – contribute to a healthier cognitive aging process?
My husband and I try to remember to laugh when we walk into a room and then have to stand there for a few minutes because we realize we forgot why we were heading there in the first place. And I think a sense of humor is critical in many circumstances, so applying it to myself as I age is putting a value into action! However, instead of accepting the gradual decline in the neural circuitry of the brain as we age, what if you were to learn that there was a simple way to preserve the connectivity in our brains that contributes to overall health? Would you be willing to try it?
Well, with the assistance of brain imaging, research studies can see the impact of contemplative – or attentional – practices on very specific areas of the brain, which opens the door to more rigorous studies that shed light on how such practices can support a healthier cognitive aging process. These brain imaging techniques have shown that there are changes in the functional connectivity of our neural networks as we age. Now the idea of ‘before and after’ imaging can be applied more broadly in research, beyond the studies that focus on prescription medications.
My experience when I am able to give something my full attention is one in which the memory of the moment is so much richer and stronger, whether it is a conversation with someone or simply sitting outside in nature. I find that I can more easily recall the details of the experience when reflecting on it, almost as though I am experiencing it again in all of its colors and textures. So if there is something I can do to help support the health of my ability to maintain my attention, I say ‘sign me up!’
Recent data from studies looking specifically at yoga and other contemplative practices such as meditation suggest that such practices may revert, at least in some part, the effects of aging on the functional connectivity in the brain. The intention of the research is to look at how using the body and breath as the focus of contemplation helps to preserve cognition and the neural connectivity of those brain areas that typically decline with age. When we hold the body in one of the shapes of a yoga practice, and bring the mind’s awareness to focus on the experience of the breath in that shape, it supports the parts of the brain that support cognition and brain connectivity. Sounds pretty good to me for simply moving the body and breathing with intention and attention!
If you are so inclined to read more about the details of a recent research study looking how yoga and other contemplative practices impact specific parts of the brain involved in maintaining a healthier cognitive aging process, click the link below: