Yoga benefits women’s aging brains.

Yoga benefits women's aging brains.

Yoga: A Gentle Intervention for Memory Enhancement in Older Women


Yoga is widely recognized for its ability to improve both the mind and body. It turns out that a specific form of yoga, kundalini yoga, may be particularly beneficial for older women at risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Research suggests that the stress-relieving effects of kundalini yoga can lead to more efficient memory function.

Dr. Helen Lavretsky, a professor-in-residence at the University of California, Los Angeles, explains, “Women tend to practice yoga more readily than men. And I’ve done other studies previously in people, older adults with mild cognitive [mental] impairment and in caregivers with similar interventions. We are focusing now on women who are not as impaired as in my previous study, but still at risk for cognitive decline. And the idea is to get to the level where doing yoga would prevent future cognitive decline and the development of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Kundalini yoga encompasses chanting, singing, breathing exercises, meditation, and gentle poses that aim to increase awareness in both the mind and body. Previous scientific research has already documented the positive effects of yoga, such as regulating blood pressure, increasing cardiorespiratory fitness, and benefiting the hippocampus, the region in the brain associated with memory.

In a recent small-scale study, researchers compared the effects of kundalini yoga and memory enhancement training (MET) on the hippocampus of 22 women primarily in their 60s. All participants experienced a decline in memory function and had one or more cardiovascular risk factors. The study spanned 12 weeks, during which both groups received one hour of training per week alongside daily practice or homework sessions.

Using MRI scans, the researchers investigated the changes in the participants’ brains before and after the study period. The findings indicated that kundalini yoga may benefit the hippocampus region impacted by stress, as there was an increase in connectivity in this area compared to the MET group. This suggests potential long-term neural benefits of practicing yoga.

However, participants who underwent MET showed more improvement in integrating information from their senses into their memories. This finding suggests that memory reliability may be better supported by MET exercises. Dr. Michael Partnow, a neurologist in Willingboro, N.J., highlights the connection between the study’s findings and existing recommendations for overall brain health. He notes that factors like maintaining a healthy diet, not smoking, limiting alcohol consumption, staying physically active, and being intellectually engaged can help prevent memory decline and Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Partnow, who has little knowledge of yoga, acknowledges the unique combination of physical activity, breath control, contemplative activity, and stress reduction that kundalini yoga offers. This multifaceted approach makes yoga a convincing intervention for improving memory and managing stress.

Dr. Lavretsky and her team have previously demonstrated the benefits of yoga for depressed patients and those with mild cognitive impairment, an early sign of dementia. Several studies have also reported that regular exercise can reduce the risk of developing dementia by 30% and specifically lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 45%.

According to Dr. Lavretsky, participants who practiced yoga noticed positive changes in their daily lives, reporting less stress and improved memory efficiency. Yoga provides them with a lifelong tool to manage stress without the need for doctor visits or prescriptions.

Even at 80 years old, Dr. Partnow is considering yoga as a valuable practice for himself, recognizing its potential benefits.

The study findings were published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, further establishing the connection between yoga and memory enhancement.


Yoga, particularly kundalini yoga, has emerged as a promising early intervention technique for older women at risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Its stress-relieving effects and mind-body awareness have been shown to improve memory function and manage stress. While yoga benefits the hippocampus region impacted by stress, memory enhancement training (MET) may promote better memory reliability by improving participants’ ability to integrate sensory information. These findings align with existing recommendations for brain health and highlight the role of lifestyle interventions in preventing cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. Yoga offers a comprehensive approach, combining physical activity, breath control, contemplation, and stress reduction, making it a valuable tool for managing stress and improving memory.