Want a big healthy brain to help you think and feel your way through a long and healthy life? A recent STUDY BY THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF HEALTH (NIH) has found that yoga actually increases the size of the grey matter in our brains.

GREY MATTER contains most of the brain’s neuron cells. It includes regions of the brain involved in muscle control, and sensory perception. This includes the ability to see and hear, as well as our memory, emotions, speech, decision making, and self-control. Clearly, gray matter is a critical part of our mental computers. The impact of losing it depends on where it occurs in brain, but it can lead to memory impairment, emotional problems and decreased cognitive functioning. Chronic pain can have a negative impact on gray matter, as the stress of chronic pain reduces the size of grey matter over time.

The NIH study found that yoga practitioners had more gray matter in their brains than the control patients being observed. This is a powerful benefit for anyone who wants to preserve a healthy brain throughout their life, not to mention being a huge help for people who have lost gray matter due to the stress of chronic pain. The study found a link between how long people have been practicing yoga and the size of the gray matter in their brains, giving yogis another great reason to keep coming to their mat.

In addition, another STUDY BY RESEARCHERS AT HARVARD found that meditation can also increase gray matter in just eight weeks. Researchers saw increased gray matter density in the hippocampus, the part of the brain known to be the major area for learning and memory, as well as in parts of the brain connected to self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.

The study also found that participants who reported experiencing lower levels of stress also showed decreased gray matter density in the amygdala, which is the area of the brain known to be largely responsible for anxiety and stress.

The takeaway? Whether you prefer moving mindfully in yoga practice or sitting to observe what rises, come to your breath. A bigger, healthy brain awaits.