A study conducted by UCLA Health has found that Kundalini yoga, a form of yoga that emphasizes breathing, meditation, and mental visualization, may benefit older women who are at risk for Alzheimer’s disease and experience memory deterioration. Using a specific type of MRI that measures brain activity in different regions, UCLA researchers discovered that Kundalini yoga increased connectivity in a brain area impacted by stress and associated with memory decline. The study was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Led by psychiatrist Dr. Helen Lavretsky, the UCLA researchers compared the effects of Kundalini yoga to memory enhancement training (MET) on connectivity in subregions of the hippocampus, which is crucial for learning and memory. MET involves techniques that use verbal and visual association and practical strategies to improve memory. The study found that Kundalini yoga appeared to target stress-related connectivity in the hippocampus, while MET targeted sensory-integration subregions, supporting better memory reliability.
Dr. Lavretsky stated that this study adds to the existing evidence supporting the benefits of yoga for brain health, particularly for women experiencing high levels of stress and subjective memory impairment. Kundalini yoga, with its focus on breathing and mental engagement rather than physical movement, is well-suited for older adults with physical limitations.
The study included 22 participants who were part of a larger trial studying yoga’s effects on Alzheimer’s risk. The participants were divided into two groups, one practicing Kundalini yoga and the other undergoing MET. Both groups had weekly in-person training sessions for 12 weeks, as well as daily homework or practice sessions. The Kundalini yoga group also practiced another meditative form of yoga called Kirtan Kriya at home. Previous studies have shown that these types of yoga improve respiratory, cardiovascular, and autonomic nervous system functions.
Dr. Lavretsky and her team have previously reported that Kundalini and Kirtan Kriya yoga have positive effects on depression, resilience, and executive functioning in older adults with mild cognitive impairment. They also found that yoga has a more significant neuroprotective effect on hippocampal volume, suggesting improved memory function, compared to MET in older women with subjective memory decline and cardiovascular risk factors.
The new study utilized functional MRI to examine resting-state connectivity of the hippocampus, which is more sensitive to cognitive changes than hippocampal volumes. The findings suggested that Kundalini yoga may aid in processing information and storing it in memory, particularly facial information. However, MET may be more effective at assisting in the integration of information from various senses, supporting better memory reliability.
While the study indicates that Kundalini yoga and MET may be beneficial for women experiencing stress and at risk for Alzheimer’s, the authors emphasize the need for larger-scale studies with control groups to further investigate the effects of both interventions on hippocampal connectivity and memory.
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