Once again, yoga and meditation are in the news, this time as part of a multi-faceted approach to treating dementia. Any research into Alzheimer’s disease will result in the same disheartening facts: it is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States; one in three seniors will die with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. And the numbers of cases are rising globally. But the incorporation of yoga and meditation into a comprehensive treatment approach suggests that the progression of memory loss may be slowed and even reversed. That’s some welcome news for the 76 million people expected to have the disease by 2030.
The mindfulness meditation component of yoga has been shown to reduce atrophy in the hippocampus, an area of the brain which plays an important role in the formation of new memories. Other areas of the brain show improved connectivity and support for memory with the practice of meditation and yoga. One study from the University of Oregon has found that meditation actually serves to protect the brain by increasing protective tissues and improving signaling. With no effective drugs to cure the disease, doctors, scientists, and families are looking to more complex, but promising approaches to treatment.
Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation suggests a specific daily meditation in a yoga posture to combat memory loss and dementia. The Kirtan Kriya is a meditation from the Kundalini yoga tradition and involves the repetition of sound and small movements. Clinical research has shown that the practice of this meditation can improve cognitive function and support parts of the brain central to memory.
Practicing yoga in a group setting is also beneficial to Alzheimer’s patients in that it improves social interaction, a crucial component for slowing the progression of the disease. While following a UCLA study’s 36-point plan for the reversal of memory loss may not be feasible for every Alzheimer’s patient, the inclusion of yoga and meditation has proven effects to improve quality of life.
A Yoga Mat Life just may be the best life for both body and brain.