Yoga is widely practiced for its health benefits. Effects of yoga are seen in body and mind. Yoga improves health conditions like diabetes, asthma, chronic heart problems, arthritis, and hypertension. These benefits persist for long term. Yoga also boosts memory, concentration, and mood. The wide range of benefits of yoga are not simply due to breathing regulation and postures. Yoga does something in the body which is reflected in improvement of various functions. It is necessary to understand such changes so that yoga can be utilized efficiently. Generally, people do yoga for some time and then leave it. The faith in yoga gets lost once the effects are not observed, despite the fact that yoga shows slow changes. So knowledge of body's mechanisms and impact of yoga on these mechanisms can help restore faith. I am writing this article to help you understand some of these effects that yoga has on brain which bring lasting health effects.
Schizophrenia is a chronic illness that effects various psychological functions. Thoughts, beliefs, memory, emotions, socialization, motivation, sleep - almost all areas are effected to some extent. Medicines are usually the first line treatment for relieving symptoms of schizophrenia. Delusions and hallucinations respond very well to medicines. In many cases, psychotherapy also helps a lot in improving overall quality of life. Social skills learning can be made possible through psychotherapy only. Relapse prevention is made possible by use of medicines as well as therapy. However, many patients are inclined towards doing yoga or meditation for achieving those benefits. However, yoga cannot cure schizophrenia but it can help in relief from some of its symptoms. Here, I am going to explain the effects of yoga on symptoms of schizophrenia. Since schizophrenia is a neurological illness, hence effects of yoga must be seen in the brain to make long-lasting changes in the mental health of the patient.
Researchers have recently begun to focus on the therapeutic effects of yoga for schizophrenic symptoms. In this article, I am going to discuss about two important brain regions that are involved in symptoms of schizophrenia where yoga is said to show effects. These areas of the brain are recently suggested to be key locations where yoga shows its impact in reducing the symptoms of schizophrenia. These are - precuneus and hippocampus. You can see the locations of these two areas of the brain in the images below.
Precuneus is responsible for visuospatial processing, that implies, perception of objects in space. It plays a significant role in self-referential thinking, mind wandering, imagination and self-consciousness. These areas are hyper-activated in many individuals with schizophrenia because they focus too much on their internal thoughts and mental processes. Thought disorder is a common symptom group which is characteristic of schizophrenia. In it, thoughts are not coherent, they are not logical and there is jumble of words which is not sensible to other people. Yoga helps in reducing the hyper-activation of precuneus such that there is less internal focus and more outside focus in patients. 'Presence of mind' is required to remain oriented in outside world which involves important tasks and goals. Yoga helps schizophrenic individuals in focusing on their goals and objectives, they pay more attention to people, they listen more and comply with demands of outer world. The increased focus on breath and body that is learnt during yoga helps the brain in bringing attention to important aspects of the body and world which are more essential than irrelevant internal mentations. Therefore, yoga reduces mind-wandering in schizophrenia individuals.
Hippocampus is essentially responsible for memory and learning new tasks. Schizophrenia impairs memory and learning abilities because hippocampus is effected in this disorder. The connections of neurons inside hippocampus are reduced which leads to faulty memory recall. Most effected form of memory is episodic and working memory. Episodic memory is about events in life of an individual. A schizophrenic individual has difficulties in recalling information from memory about specific time and place in their life. We all remember events along with their details like time, place etc. But schizophrenia impairs this recall ability. Working memory involves registering of information that is crucial to work on a task. Any task demands that some relevant information about it should be stored for short-term which can be utilized when required. But schizophrenia impairs this memory too.The person seems lost and unable to focus on task at hand. He or she may seem to forget the details of task which does not let him or her to complete the task. Learning of new tasks require that working memory should be intact.
Yoga improves episodic and working memory. It also improves learning potential of the individual. This happened because yoga facilitates the formation of new connections of neurons inside hippocampus which improves these functions. Yoga, through some unknown mechanisms, helps in increasing the size of hippocampus which makes it easy to recall the past life events. This benefit of yoga is very significant because memory and learning are essential aspects of our everyday functioning. Increased focus during practice of yoga helps to recover working memory first, because learning yoga requires several steps which have to be remembered always. By performing these exercises of yoga, the individual stimulates the hippocampus in the brain to store this new information in a systematic way. This leads to rewiring in the brain and hippocampus improves the general ability of memory and learning.
So we see above that how yoga effects the brain, and this in turn helps in relieving some symptoms of schizophrenia. There are few other aspects to this relationship which can't be covered in this article. Though there are other areas of brain to which improve functioning during yoga, but certain chemicals inside the brain also deserve some discussion which I have done in another article. Effects of yoga are large, and by knowing some of these one can enhance the mental health. This scientific understanding of effects of yoga on brain can help to show more faith in alternative treatments for schizophrenia.
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