Pete wrote about his feelings of memory loss in his journal just before he turned 57. He wrote, “When I try and remember my parents and the life that I had with them, everything is hazy and fuzzy,” and shared it with the Alzheimer’s Association. “Their images, their happenings, and the flow of events are all blurred. Pete isn’t the only one who has experienced this unsettling reality of early dementia. Losing one’s memory is one of the scariest aspects of aging. It is also a common experience for many people.
He continued: “I wonder sometimes, if i really worked at, if i could recover it, those images and stories which seem to have faded in the mists of time.” New promising studies suggest that regular yoga practice may help people with memory loss and even help them regain their memories.
Yoga, a mind-body exercise that requires concentration, may improve brain function and reverse the cognitive trend toward memory loss. A recent Brazilian Study that compared the cortical thickening of elderly yogis with those of age-matched nonpractitioners showed tentative conclusions about the effects of Yoga on brain resilience and memory. The brain scans of older yoga practitioners compared with those of control groups of similar age show that Yoga strengthens areas of the mind associated with memory, attention, executive function, and awareness.
Elisa Kozasa, the co-author, noted that the brain can be trained like muscles. The brain can improve mental acuity by using breathing control and meditation.
The Brazil study included 21 women aged 60 and older practicing Hatha Yoga twice a week for the past eight years. Researchers compared brain scans between these women and 21 women who had never heard of Yoga or other mind-body interventions. The scans showed a distinct difference in cortical thickening between the two groups. This meant that women who practiced Yoga had stronger and thicker prefrontal lobes of the brain, areas associated with memory and language.
Researchers have yet to determine why the brain of a yoga practitioner develops this way, but they note that prior studies have connected this activity with meditation. According to the study, the body’s muscles are engaged through Yoga to increase attention and blood flow. This may help the memory-processing regions.
A UCLA study also links Yoga with improved cognitive function. It compared the effects of Yoga in a group of Alzheimer’s patients to a control group that practiced aerobic exercise and brain-training exercises. Researchers found in a 2016 study that a 3-month yoga course helped older participants improve their memory and reduce the stress associated with impending memory loss. Control groups that focused solely on memory games or aerobic exercise without meditative components failed to achieve cognitive restoration or relief, as did the yoga group.
The researchers in these two studies admit that further research is required to confirm these findings. However, the evidence is compelling. Yoga offers us hope against the inevitable cognitive aging process. Yoga can help us to keep the memories of the critical events in our lives alive as long as possible before they fade into the mists of time.