Research shows that a regular yoga practice has a measurable positive effect on the brain:
By countering the effects of stress on young brains, yoga empowers young people to learn better during the school day.
If a first-grader can connect to her breath, lower the cortisol levels in her brain, and learn to stay calmer in the face of adversity, she will change the architecture of her brain as she grows.
The earlier a child acquires the tools of practicing mindfulness, the greater the impact on her long-term health and success.
According to Jennifer Cohen Harper, one of the benefits of yoga that practitioners often notice early on in their experience is a decreased reactivity to frustrating stimuli and an increased sense of perspective and overall well-being.
The path of yoga is meant to be a way to reduce the suffering created by our own minds, and bringing balance to our emotions is an integral part of this process (Harper, 2014).
In a 2011 study, Adele Diamond, a leader in the field of cognitive neuroscience, found that yoga was among practices that improved executive function in four-to twelve-year-olds.
“Executive function” refers to the “set of cognitive functions involved in the top-down control of behavior” (Diamond and Lee, 2011).
It is what allows us to regulate our behavior, make good decisions, control our impulses, and selectively apply our attention (Harper, 2014).
A 2004 study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders found a reduction in restlessness, impulsivity, and inattentiveness specifically in boys with ADHD after 20 weeks of weekly yoga sessions (Jensen and Kenny, 2004).
In one study, students who practiced mindful breathing reported that they were better able to focus, relax, reduce anxiety before taking a test, make better decisions when in conflict, and redirect their attention when off task (Napoli, Drech, and Holley, 2005).
Practicing yoga has been shown to increase mindfulness, not just in class, but also in other areas of a person’s life (Harvard Health, 2015).
Movement has a positive impact on anxiety, stress, and general mental health. Yoga programs have been shown to increase executive function in children, including improving focus and reducing impulsivity (Diamond, 2011).
Recent work done by Philippe Goldin, a research scientist in the psychology department at Stanford University, has shown that mindfulness meditation can actually change the way the brain responds to negative thoughts, and that practitioners show a decrease in gray matter density in the amygdala (Goldin, Ramel, and Gross, 2009).
Kelly McGonigal notes that previous research had revealed that trauma and chronic stress can enlarge the amygdala and make it more reactive and more connected to other areas of the brain, leading to greater stress and anxiety.
A current study found one of the first documented cases showing change occurring in the opposite direction—with the brain instead becoming less reactive and more resilient (McGonigal, 2012).
One of the best benefits of yoga is how it helps a person manage stress, which is known to have devastating effects on the body and mind.
Yoga can be very effective in developing coping skills and reaching a more positive outlook on life (Nevins, 2016).