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Yoga’s Surprising Brain Benefit May Erase the Effects of Chronic Pain

New research explores a possible link between doing yoga and growing brain tissue.

image via (cc) flickr user matthewphotography

Yoga’s potential to boost your body’s flexibility, strength, and even posture is pretty well known. What’s only now beginning to be explored is yoga’s effect on how the human brain processes and manages pain. At a recent medical conference, researchers presented evidence to suggest that practitioners of yoga not only improve their physical well-being, but may, in fact, be turning back the clock when it comes to the neurological effects of chronic pain.

To understand how yoga may affect the brain’s ability to process pain, you first need to understand what matters: Grey matter. That, explains Medical Daily, is the nervous system tissue linked to pain tolerance. Larger grey matter mass in key areas of the cerebral cortex and sub-cortex of the brain have, through previous research, been shown to contribute to a person’s capacity to tolerate pain. Conversely, smaller grey matter mass has been linked to memory—and even cognitive—impairment.

At this year’s American Pain Society (APS) annual meeting, Doctor Catherine Bushnell presented research indicating a link between doing yoga, and the amount of grey matter to be found in a person’s brain. Dr. Bushnell, who serves as the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) scientific director of intramural research for their National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), made her findings clear, per an APS release: While chronic pain—particularly the sort linked to depression—can actively reduce a person’s amount of grey matter, “practicing yoga has the opposite effect on the brain,” by prompting grey matter growth in the internal cerebral cortex. She continued, “some gray matter increases in yogis correspond to duration of yoga practice, which suggests there is a causative link between yoga and gray matter increases.”

More yoga. More grey matter. Less pain.

This is, of course, welcome news for anyone interested in not only physical, but neurological well-being. And while yoga isn’t the only course of action for those seeking to mitigate the effects of chronic pain, its widespread popularity, coupled with the sheer ubiquity of studios and classes in most cities, make it one of the most accessible.

[via Medical Daily]

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