Jacobs Journal of Yoga and Natural Medicine

Effects of Long Term Yoga Practice, Breathing, and Meditation on Cognitive Function and Emotional Control: A Review of the Literature

Published on: 2018-12-19


The practice of Yoga consists of three main activities: control of posture (asana), conscious control of breathing (pranayama), and control of mental activity (meditation). This review is focused on the possible role of Yoga (the combination of asana, pranayama, and dhyana), and pranayama and dhyana alone in generating measurable and observable changes in cognitive function and emotional control. To assess these changes, researchers adopted the following methods of investigation: magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), electroencephalography, and questionnaires regarding perceived emotional and psychological states. From the results obtained with MRI and fMRI, the main areas that resulted affected by the Yoga, pranayama and dhyana are the hippocampi, the amygdala, and the cerebral cortex. In detail, a higher activation and an increase in gray matter density or volume were found in the area of the hippocampus and the cerebral cortex, while a reduction in density and activation was found in the amygdala. These areas are crucial for the management of stress, emotional processes and cognitive control. The hippocampus is involved in memory processing and learning while the many positive changes in the cerebral cortex indicate a broader range of benefits (i.e. better emotional control, improved adaptive processes, fewer cognitive failures, better understanding, etc.), which will be different in regards of the cerebral cortex lobe taken under consideration. A high amygdala activation or density is an indicator of high-stress levels and emotional discomfort. The decreased activation and density reduction of the amygdala found in Yoga practitioners, paired with the questionnaires results, indicate a better response to stressful stimuli. These findings indicate how Yoga practitioners will benefit greatly from the practice and suggest how these activities could enhance positive neuroplastic modifications that could have, with the confirmation of further studies, interesting therapeutic consequences.