People may have different reasons to hit the yoga mat. For some, it is the ultimate workout to enhance their strength and flexibility and for others, it's be a relaxation technique that connects with their inner self.

Yoga is an ancient holistic practice that focuses on bringing harmony between mind and body. Studies have shown that practicing yoga helps to enhance overall well-being and quality of life by improving flexibility and sleep and by reducing stress, anxiety, depression and chronic pain.

On this National Yoga Awareness Month, experts share their thoughts on how it benefits the body, especially in boosting memory and concentration.

Anjaly Warrier, a certified yoga instructor from Mumbai, India, observed that yoga's role in boosting memory and concentration comes from the fact that it is a holistic approach that works on all dimensions – physical, mental, social, spiritual, emotional and intellectual levels.

"Yoga offers a range of benefits, including stress reduction, enhanced mental well-being, bolstered immune system, hormone balance, improved sleep and better cardiovascular health. These fundamental elements contribute to overall health. Hence, integrating yoga with modern medical treatment can lead to significantly improved patient outcomes," Warrier told Medical Daily.

How does yoga benefit the brain?

Just like how daily workouts help to enhance muscles, experts consider yoga as an exercise for the brain that helps brain cells develop new connections and changes their structure and function to improve cognitive skills.

In a recent study, researchers found that a gentle yoga posture, known as "Kundalini yoga," can be used as a preventive measure against Alzheimer's – the brain disorder that destroys memory and thinking.

Improves focus

The postures in yoga enhance the mind-body connection and improve focus.

"Yoga brings in mind-body connection as it encourages practices that connect the body's movements with the breath. While practicing yoga, one is supposed to keep the attention on the body, breath and mind, which improves the mind's ability to focus," Warrier said.

Improves blood circulation to the brain

Enhanced blood circulation and increased oxygen supply are essential factors in improving memory and concentration.

"Many yoga asanas (postures) and breathing techniques help in improving the blood circulation to the brain, thereby improving the oxygen in the brain and helping with memory and concentration," Warrier explained.

Reduces stress

Researchers have found that yoga elevates a brain chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is associated with better mood and decreased anxiety.

"The practice of yoga calms the mind and the body, which helps in reducing stress that can negatively impact cognitive functions in the brain. Consequently, this leads to an improvement in memory and concentration. Yoga involves mindfulness or meditation practice which trains the mind to be in the present moment, thereby improving the focus and concentration," Warrier said.

Improves sleep quality

A study published in 2013 suggests the stretching and relaxing of muscles during yoga help in reduced sleep latency, fewer sleep disturbances and deeper sleep. Good sleep not only provides rest to the body but also enhances cognitive ability.

Hormone balance

In many cases, hormonal imbalance is caused by stress. With better sleep and reduced stress, yoga helps in balancing hormones essential for cognitive function.

Best postures for memory and concentration

Ratish Rao, a clinical hypnotherapist and yoga teacher from Mumbai, says yoga can boost brain power when practiced in the traditional format, but otherwise, it is just another form of exercise.

"If one practices yoga in a traditional format, it has the power to activate these dormant cells as well, along with giving more power to our normally active cells. This will help us to boost our memory power as the brain gets power from those dormant cells and also more power from existing active cells," Rao told Medical Daily.

He recommends twisting poses with right breathwork to activate the right and left brain.

"Twisting poses can be done while sitting, lying down or standing. Close your ears with your palms and make a humming sound, which will help vibrations go to the brain," Rao said.

According to Warrier, balancing postures like "Vrikshasana," "Veerabadrasana," "Ardha Chndrasana," and "Padangushtasana" help to improve concentration, and restorative postures like "Balasana," "Makarasana" and "Shavasana" can help to relax the body and mind.

"Inversions like 'Sarvangasana,' 'Shirshasana' and 'Adho mukhasvanasana' help to improve blood circulation to the brain. Backbends like 'Matsyasana' and 'Ustrasana' also help with blood circulation to the brain. Apart from the postures, one must practice deep diaphragmatic breathing (belly breathing) which helps in improving the oxygen flow to the brain. 'Bhramari pranayama' is also known to improve the functions of the brain," she said.

"Yoga is not only about practicing asanas but is a wholesome practice that involves eating balanced and nutritious meals, having a disciplined lifestyle, practicing mindfulness, breathing deeply and sleeping on time at night. One should have a well-balanced satvic meal, sleep on time at night and get up early in the morning and practice meditation for at least 15-20 minutes a day to get maximum benefits," Warrier added.