I recently came across the research paper published in July this year (2020)
Its fair to say its complex, but what emerges is that there is a consistent trend to improved neuro health through yoga – this can be both functional and structural changes in the brain.
Functional improvements include better communication between brain areas, and a greater responsiveness within the communication structures of the brain, whereas the structural changes include shrinking the size of some brain areas that are linked to fear, anxiety and negative behaviours whilst increasing the size of brain areas that help with regulation, rational behaviour and judgement.
I appreciate that depending on your perspective, that can all sound a little too good to be true, or perhaps even a little freaky meddling with your brain (ever watched the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind?) – but think about it? You exercise and eat well to take care of your physical body, what if you could take care of the brain? Orientating yourself away from depression or anxiety, and toward a more equanimous place?
At its very simplest level this shows us that all other things being equal a carefully chosen yoga practice with a experienced Yoga Teacher or Yoga Therapist will help improve our mental and emotional wellbeing. I you have problems with stress, anxiety, low confidence or depression, then yoga can be part of the way through this under the guidance of a trained Yoga Therapist..
Anyway, whilst its not an easy read it certainly is worth looking through this article to understand a little more about brain health and yoga.
The authors conclude
Based on the relatively scarce but expanding neuroimaging evidence of yoga practice in predominantly healthy subjects, it has been shown that yoga has both a structural and functional effect on brain areas involved in interoception, posture, motivation, and higher executive functions. Overall, most consistent structural effects were observed in the hippocampus and insular cortex, while functional studies showed mainly increases in frontal executive and attention areas. However, the number of studies is still limited and heterogeneous and several inconsistencies are present due to the heterogeneity among the different yoga styles included and the great variability in the applied research protocols.
More extensive, well-designed, and multimodal/multiparametric research studies with the control group preferably including physical exercise should be performed to further investigate the potential beneficial effects of yoga not exclusively on the healthy brain but also in disease state, for example in mood and anxiety disorders such as major depression, PTSD, or anxiety states. The integration of both neuroimaging and neurophysiological techniques (EEG, EMG, etc.) will further allow to investigate and bridge imaging findings with neurophysiological and behavioral assessment/improvements in well-being.