Yoga, the holistic practice that connects body, breath and mind, is good for solving many health issues such as stress, obesity and cardiovascular diseases. Researchers have now found scientific evidence for its role in improving memory.

In a study, a team of researchers from UCLA Health, California, found that a gentle yoga posture, known as Kundalini yoga, can be used as a preventive technique against Alzheimer's in older women.

Kundalini yoga involves a series of repetitive poses that combines chanting, singing and breathing exercises. It is aimed at activating Kundalini energy, a spiritual energy believed to be located at the base of the spine.

The team evaluated the impact of Kundalini yoga on various areas and sub-areas of the brain using a specific form of Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). They observed increased connectivity in the hippocampus – the area of the brain associated with stress and memory decline.

Dr. Helen Lavretsky, the psychiatrist who led the study, had previously done research on the impact of yoga on Alzheimer's patients. But, the latest study aimed at using it as a preventive technique, she said.

"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 development of Alzheimer's disease," Lavretsky said.

The study evaluated 22 participants, mostly in their 60s with reported memory decline and incidence of a recent heart attack and diabetes, which is known to elevate the risk of developing Alzheimer's. One group of participants practiced yoga, while the other group followed memory enhancement training (MET) that uses verbal and visual association as practical strategies to improve memory. Both groups followed 60-minute in-person training sessions for over 12 weeks.

The MRI readings suggested long-term neural benefits of kundalini yoga as participants who followed the practice had increased activity in the hippocampus compared to those who did MET. However, participants who did MET were better at integrating information from their senses into their memories.

The findings of the study were published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

"The key takeaway is that this study adds to the literature supporting the benefits of yoga for brain health, especially for women who have greater perceived stress and subjective memory impairment. This gentle form of yoga, which focuses more on breathing and mental engagement than on movement, like other forms of yoga, is ideal for older adults who may have some physical limitations," Lavretsky said.