Harvard neuroscientist: Meditation not only reduces stress, here’s how it changes your brain – The Washington Post

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Meditation’s benefits may derive from its impact on the shape of the brain, thickening parts associated with mind-wandering, memory and compassion, and shrinking the fear center

Source: Harvard neuroscientist: Meditation not only reduces stress, here’s how it changes your brain – The Washington Post

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47 responses »

  1. I am absolutely thrilled that there is scientific evidence to back up the fact meditation changes the brain; it is all literally learning – and in some cases, unlearning – new thoughts that will translate to new behaviours that result in your brain growing in different ways. I often imagine how I would’ve been if I had been meditating my whole life – not in a regretful “what if” manner, but more as a goal-point to keep me moving forward in my training. I have been aware that yoga/meditation changes you because it focuses in deep, inner thinking and I am constantly thinking (and overthinking).

    The study showed that being mindful shows that you are paying attention. During meditation, we are often told to listen to the sound of our breaths – not just with our ears, but with our bodies; listen to the way our breathing flows in through the nose, goes through the body, and out again. Mindfulness allows us to open not only our physical-tactile ears but also our “inner” ears. Listening to breathing takes you out of the moment of thinking about yourself and into the moment of being yourself.

    I have found that with doing the weekly yoga classes and IK, I am able to listen to myself more which means I move more slowly/deliberately with thinking; however, I will admit that because of my anxiety, I am still prone to mental blackouts but have to remember that if I can calm my body down, my muscle memory will kick in for my brain. I recently had a moment where I overthought a situation too much and completely blacked out and was unable to catch myself; instead of beating myself up for it, I breathed through it in my yoga class and remembered that I am still learning and I should not be attached to mistakes as they will halt me from moving forward and keep me dwelling on that moment.

    I have now learned easier ways for me to deal with my memory in such situations by incorporating the naming of sessions into my IK; for instance, the first part is Detach, the second is Decompress (vocal cords during the ah’s), and the third is Deliberate. By saying what I am doing before I do it, my brain is better at knowing and it is not just up to my body to be aware.

    The study Dr. Lazar did showed change in four areas of the brain that variously affect mind wandering/self-relevance, memory and emotional regulation, empathy and compassion, and the area in charge of regulatory neurotransmitters. With not only consistent but yearning to practice mindfulness and meditation, one will definitely benefit from the results.

    – M. A. Audu

  2. This reading discusses how Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist, found that meditating can not only reduce stress but “literally change your brain.” In the video Sara talks about how she studies how the brain and body interact with each other and how yoga affects the two. She defines neurology as the study of how the mind works and talks about how some neuroscientists study the close relationship of how neurons talk to other neurons and how other neuroscientists study how the brain is structured. When she first heard about the effects of yoga from her psychical rehabilitation yoga teacher, she wasn’t too confident it its healing powers. It was until she started performing yoga that she found that she was calmer, better able to handle difficult situations, more compassionate and open hearted and able to see things from others’ points of view better than ever.
    Meditation is associated with decreased stress, decreased depression, anxiety, pain and insomnia and an increased quality of life and I can relate to this because even though it makes sense why yoga has such incredible effects, the idea of healing so many heavy aspects of life just through yoga and meditation almost sounds too good to be true. But yoga isn’t just an act, its a way of life and leads to incredible mindfulness and the ability to change the way we view the world and appreciate the little aspects that surround us everyday, thus healing these aspects of our lives and and reducing the negativity from our point of view. Meditation is absolutely incredible and allows for us to reflect and understand ourselves on a whole new level that someone who has never meditated before can not even grasp… Lazar constructed two studies, and in her first study she found that found long-term mediators have an increased amount of gray matter in the insula and sensory regions, the auditory and sensory cortex and these mindful humans senses are enhanced as compared to non mediators. They also found there was more gray matter in the frontal cortex of mediators (associated with working memory and executive decision making.) Lastly what I found to be most interesting was how “50-year-old mediators had the same amount of gray matter as 25-year-olds”, I find this interesting as well as motivating because since we as human have discovered the powers that yoga and meditation possess, how come we all aren’t raised and taught this?? I believe that if everyone learned this at a young age and understood how incredible yoga is the world would be a happier place and the way people react to things would be entirely different and stress rates would be lower as well as the dependence on pharmaceuticals wouldn’t be as high.
    I have been practicing Isha Kriya 4 to 6 times a week, performing it twice a day either twice a week or three times a week (once in the morning and once before bed.) I love the effect that this Kriya has on me before I try to rest because it helps me get to sleep a lot better!

  3. The neuroscientist Sara Lazar speaks on her observations regarding the effects of meditation on the human brain. After her team conducted experiments, one of which involved two groups (one that learned meditation and one that did not), she finds considerable differences in brain volume and activity between said groups after an eight-week interval. The thickening of four regions occurs, of which included the posterior cingulate (pertaining to mind wandering & self significance), the left hippocampus (learning, memory, and the regulation of emotions), the temporal parietal junction (empathy, perspective taking, and compassion), and the pons (producing regulatory neurotransmitters). The one region that became smaller was the amygdala, responsible for the brain’s fight or flight response.

    Lazar also notes that mindfulness is similar to exercise that concentrates on the mental health as well as the physical. While she practiced, she saw a gradual change in her demeanor, becoming more open and compassionate to herself and others. She does, however, state that it impacts most symptoms, but not all. The same procedure, furthermore, does not work on everyone. It appears to the reader that she deems meditation highly useful as an adjunct therapy that is done alongside other self-care measures. To ensure good results while keeping in mind the limitations, she suggests that one finds a good teacher and understand how said person’s mind works.

    This video, as well as the article that corresponds with it, does pique my curiosity in regards to the psychological effects yoga has on the body and the brain. Some non-neuroimaging studies by scientists have indicated that meditation proved to be a great help in enhancing attentive and emotional managing skills. Professor Lazar has expressed her hopes that aspects of behavioral and neuroimaging science pertaining to this research can be brought together.

    I’ve been practicing my Isha Kriya during morning and night intervals, sometimes at the crack of dawn. Other times I still do it before bed in order to ease myself into sleep more naturally. The outcomes it has before rest do result in me resting like a child (which compared to my more stressful days, is pretty good). Earlier, my roommate asked me about my practice and told me about how he knows of someone who undergoes similar exercises in yoga. I am continuing to work on solidifying my process and overall form as well.

  4. I found this incredibly inspiring and made me excited to meditate. I thought it was interesting how by meditating and being mindful, one shuts down cognition and becomes more present in the current moment, thus enhancing your senses. I think that mindfulness is such an important quality to practice. So often I become wrapped up with anxieties of the future and nostalgia of the past that my present moment becomes so fuzzy. I’m so curious about how meditation helps memory and thinking because its really amazing that intact does.

    I especially found incredible how quickly results were being seen. With just 8 weeks of meditating so much improvement was seen. I enjoyed the way in which she says that even if you can’t get to it for very long, even just a little bit every day makes a big difference. I found this very comforting and makes me feel like I can do this more often even if Im not meditating for 40 minutes.

    This especially makes me feel good about doing my Isha Kriya. This past week has been one of the most stressful weeks of the year and with all of these midterms and assignments and my new job, its been difficult for me to do all of my Isha Kriyas. Ive done only 2 this week and while it did help me calm down, my relief fled quickly as the weight of school persisted. While I can now do the Isha Kriya with out any aid, I prefer to do it along with the video still because its tough for me to stay concentrated with out it because my mind tends to wander.

    • Well stated but don’t you deserve all the benefits you mentioned in your essay? Can you carve out 12 minutes daily so that every aspect of you and your responsibilities are optimal?

  5. Sara Lazar is a neuroscientist who practices at the General Hospital in Massachusetts and the Harvard Medical School. Lazar was never into yoga until she had a few physical injuries that caused her to take a break from running, and was unable to even join the Boston marathon due to those. In order to heal her body, Lazar was informed by a physical therapist to stop running, and simply begin stretching. Instead of stretching on her own, Sara thought it would be beneficial to begin taking yoga classes.

    After a few classes of yoga, Lazar began to first hand experience the benefits of yoga and how it can heal one’s self, along with open your heart. Like myself, Sara thought yoga and its benefits were more so psychological, like the placebo effect, but after much research, she learned yoga “decreased stress, decreased depression, decreased anxiety, pain and insomnia, and an increased quality of life”.

    In order to test yoga and its long term benefits out for herself, Lazar studied a controlled group of those who never practiced and also a group of meditators who have been practicing for years. The results were absolutely impeccable- 50 year olds who have been practicing had the same amount of gray matter in their frontal cortex (associated with working memory and executive decision making) as a 25 year old, although as science says, the older one gets, the more their frontal cortex shrinks. This right here, proved to Lazar that yoga can help the mind and body.

    As for myself, practicing the Isha Kriya 4 times a week for about 12 minutes each time, is soothing and keeps my mind clear. The only thing I focus on during these 12 minutes are my mind, body and soul. Everything else in my life seems to disappear and I am at ease.

  6. Being someone who suffers from stress very often, I found this video to be very enlightening. There is scientific evidence of the not only mental but physical benefits of meditation, yoga and deep breathing. It’s interesting to think of yoga as a reset button for your body. It helps you get back on track and instills relaxation and balance in your love, which is often altered, especially being a college student. I can definitely see a difference after not doing yoga for a while, and jumping back into it. I think of yoga as a lifestyle. I have noticed the more often I practice, the more often I feel calmer and more relaxed on a daily basis. I hope to be able to make more free time for yoga, because I think the effects are evident and necessary for everyone! I think the more people study the effects of it, the more people are willing to give it a shot, because of all the benefits. The video also talked about mindfulness and the importance of it. I think it is something people often overlook, but a lot of yoga is about being mindful. Being mindful in not just your practice but your everyday life is something I want to do more of. I find myself doing the Isha Kriya right before I go to bed. I think this is a great way to be relaxed before I go to sleep. I have found that doing it has helped me fall asleep easier and faster, and stay asleep longer!

  7. In the article, Neuroscientist Sara Lazar researches the effects that yoga and meditation have on the brain. She started practicing yoga as a form of physical therapy, however she quickly realized that it had an effect on her stress level and her overall state of being. She found herself to be overall more calm and less stressed and found it easier to make hard decisions. Lazar decided to do a study on how meditation affects the brain and she found that it causes actual changes to the brain. She found evidence that when doing yoga and mindfulness practices, your senses become enhanced. Lazar also found that meditation produces more gray matter in the brain which helps with memory and decision making. It was evident from scans of the brains of people who regularly practice yoga, that meditation reduces stress levels.

    I thought this article was very interesting. While I have been practicing yoga for the duration of this class, I have noticed that I have seen the same results that Lazar saw, which include  reduced stress and being overall more calm. I think it’s pretty amazing how meditation has an actual effect of the brain and that change can be seen in scans of the brain. I knew that yoga and mindfulness practices had an effect on the body, however I was not previously aware of the effect it has on the brain.

    I’m continuing to do the IK about four times a week. I try to do it at the same time everyday which is between when I finish classes for the day and start work. I have been noticing that it has been improving my overall concentration at work and in school.
    -Ashley Pagan

  8. This article talks about how Sara Lazar, a neuro-scientist, finds that practicing yoga actually changes the brain. People already know that practicing yoga relaxes and stretches the body. However, there is now scientific evidence to prove that practicing yoga can change the formation of the brain.

    Sara Lazar did the experience by comparing a group of long term meditators and a control group. The result was shocking. “long-term meditators have an increased amount of gray matter in the insula and sensory regions, the auditory and sensory cortex.” it is surprising to find that meditating can actually increase the amount of gray matter in the brain, which is the part that is involved in sensory perception such as sight, hearing, memory, emotions, speech, and decision making.

    It is already known to us that the cortex shrinks as we get older, that is why as we get older, it is more difficult to learn new things or remember things. However, according to the result of the research, 50-year old meditators have the same amount of gray matter as a 25 year old. That further supports the argument that meditating can help to change the formation of the brain.

    This week I did Isha Kriya 4 times. I have been feeling that it is easier for me to do Isha Kriya for a longer period of time now. I used to do the minimum amount of 12-14 minutes. But now I can do up to 20 minutes without realizing how much time has past. I will continue with the practice of Isha Kriya.

    Jenny Tsang

  9. I sort of figured that there was also some science behind yoga. I think this added information makes it that much more amazing to be honest. I think yoga really has no disadvantages and was really made to enhance one’s health all around. It is true that when your mind is clear, so is everything else. Your comprehension, your actions, your decision making and so on and so forth. I think that the prefrontal cortex of a 50 year old and a 25 year old being similar is astounding and makes me want to practice yoga forever. Growing old is something that often scares me just because the idea of forgetting everything I’ve learned and in a sense regressing is depressing.

    The comparison between mindfulness and physical exercise resonated with me because I think both are equally as important. It is very important to cater and take care of your brain because just like our bodies, it is always working and unfortunately it will begin to deteriorate. Any extra exercises or practices we can do to prolong the lifespan of our brains and our bodies should be taken advantage of. I think also pointing out that it is not a cure and won’t completely stop your brain from getting old, it’s a beneficial practice that should be added to all daily routines.

    I’ve also found that I’m more compassionate and calmer after practicing yoga and doing the Isha Kriya. It’s becoming a vital part in my day and really sets the tone for my week ahead. I recommend it to everyone I come in contact with because I feel my results were almost instantaneous and every day I feel myself becoming more and more grounded.

  10. I will be the first to say that it took me many stubborn years to finally give in and try my hand in meditation. Meditation has been recommended to me not only by spiritual people in my life but by medical professionals as well. It has helped me not only relive insomnia and anxiety but has helped me learn more about my inner thoughts and self and allow my mental health to become more stabilized within itself and help me understand myself. It’s crazy how something so simply and something that only you can do for yourself can help you and truly completely change your life. Now that mediation has actual science and statistics backing it up, it further proves that ability it has to change a persons perspective and their mental and physical health.
    I appreciate that this study was conducted on various age groups, and various groups of people who have practiced mediation through out their lives and those who have recently picked it up. This proves that ability and abilities mediation has to cure a person inside and out. It truly is amazing what the mind can do for oneself when we learn to calm down and work with it rather than against it. Mediation through out this study has even shown that the brain becomes stronger and more capable in memory and other functions due to the practice of being able to calm the brain and simply stay calm and focus.
    Mediation truly is a natural therapy that allows the body and brain to learn how to coexist together and become one in a healthy and peaceful manner.

  11. I really enjoyed this article on meditation. Sara Lazar talks about her research regarding meditation and the actual observable physical affects it has on patients brains. It is amazing that through the practice of meditation patients actually experienced physical changes. For example the area of the amygdala getting smaller. At this point I have heard many of the mental affects of meditation but had no idea that there are actual physical differences in the brains of those who practice meditation. I also find the comparison of meditation and exercise interesting as well. It would make sense to view meditation as a form of mental exercise.
    It felt very reassuring to know that so many people actually did experience positive effects of meditation. Sara Lazar does however state that it will not impact everyone the same way and it may not be for everyone, but nonetheless it is still interesting to see that there is scientific research going into evaluating and authenticating the benefits of meditation practice.
    I do appreciate the fact that Sara Lazar, even though a researcher, does in fact practice meditation regularly. This is also a testament to the authenticity of the practice. Before this semester I had only dabbled in meditation, getting most of my information from books or any online sources I could find. I also before this semester, have never done yoga. So far I have really enjoyed the practice. I have left every session feeling relaxed.
    Currently I try to practice the IK 4-5 times a week, and mostly do it before I fall asleep or during times of the day that I feel it is necessary. I have also seen benefits to the practice of the IK as well. After practicing the IK I feel relaxed and it clears my mind of many worries. I have seen the most benefit in doing the IK before I need to undertake some kind of stressful task or project.

    matthew Alioto
    wednesday 8:30 am class

  12. Sara Lazar’s research findings were a key turning point for Eastern philosophy to be taken a little more seriously, with the help of scientific backing. I say this because many people tend to disregard meditation or spiritual philosophy as objectively beneficial but in reality, meditation yields measurable benefits. It can be just as results-oriented as pharmaceutical drugs. I think that meditation has the potential to heal more than we can imagine and with the help of Lazar’s evidence, meditation’s benefits can penetrate the doubts of the skeptics.
    I find it intriguing that long-term meditators had an increased amount of gray matter in the sensory regions of the brain. Additionally, they were found to have more gray matter in the frontal cortex, which is associated with memory and decision-making. This is profound information because it attests to the capability of a mental practice to yield physical changes that can help enhance your wellbeing. Additionally, it exemplifies the neuro-plastic nature of the brain in which it changes in accordance to various circumstances. I once heard of a study that demonstrated the concept of neuroplasticity by comparing the hippocampus of New York City cab drivers, to a control group. The hippocampus is the region of the brain that is associated with memory as well. Surely, the cab drivers had larger Hippocampi than the control group. The reason for this is because their environment of having to memorize landmarks and street routes physically changed the brain to meet these demands of the profession. Thus, you could imagine how certain bad habits can negatively change the brain, or even shrink it. Moreover, Lazar found that 50-year-old meditators had the same amount of gray matter as 25-year old’s. This information alone is enough to motivate me to want to continue to adopt meditation in my daily routine.
    The most fundamental piece of information to take away from this study is that her data showed brain changes after eight weeks of practice, not right away. Thus, through her study, we can conclude that meditation yields its positive benefits only if done consistently for a certain period of time. I like to think of it as exercising. You do not see results after one day in the gym. Rather, it is a long-term process and commitment, but definitely worth it. The benefits that come with meditation will definitely pour out into all other areas of your life. It really is the foundation for wellness.
    I have been practicing the Isha Kriya two times per day ever since I first learned about it in the class. I was going through a minor form of anxiety and depression prior to learning about this practice. In the past two weeks, I have not felt better and had more mental clarity than I have had in a long time. It is important to note that the Isha Kriya was the only thing I added to my daily routine, so there were no other factors that could have contributed to my emotional improvements. Thus, my own experience with the benefits of meditation reflects Sara Lazar’s findings. I wish more people were open to these kinds of things because they could tremendous improvements in their lives.

    • Now I can understand how easily you are able to connect to Sadhguru, as his gift to all via the Isha Kriya has brought you such balance and wellbeing. Do continue to view his videos on YouTube, you will continue to grow and learn amazing things about the changes you are experiencing becoming a Yogi. Namaste

  13. The article reviewed the scientific benefits of meditation. A researcher who had begun meditating tested brain matter density in different regions between a meditating group and non-meditating group two different times, both times finding more gray matter in various sections of the brain for the meditators. These included emotionally regulatory sections, learning sections, the mind-wandering section, and empathizing section. The researcher herself gives a personal anecdote about how meditation has helped her with empathizing, emotional control, and grounding herself. She stresses, at the end, that meditation is simply exercise for your brain, and that ultimately though it’s full effects are not known yet, and it is not a cure all, even a little bit of meditation can help. The more the better!

    I didn’t find the article surprising, as it reaffirmed what I had been feeling exploring meditation and other research we have read for this class. I had found myself wondering earlier in the year whether or not more scientific research on yoga and meditation had been done, and clearly it is being explored. I think findings like these especially are important for treatment for mentally ill people, as the researcher did say that this can be very helpful additional therapy for some. Having little but important ways to help calm and nurture your own mind, and having scientific backing behind it doing so, will definitely be empowering to many.

    Meditation for me has definitely made me feel more in control, and I barely even do it! Certainly not as much as I would like to. But I have noticed definitely a change in my emotional control and centeredness when I meditate. When I was in an acting intensive that had some form of meditation I was made to practice every day, I remember feeling so much better about my mental health and self even halfway through the month long program.

    This memory especially makes me want to keep up my Isha Kriya, and even continue on in this when I am done with this course. I do practice it around 3 times a week still, but especially now that midterms have really set in, I find myself having less time and the Isha Kriya definitely suffers, feeling rushed on occasion or not being done consistently. I hope that I can amend this behavior, and I hope I can continue to find time for meditation and yoga after this class, as it certainly has and will continue to bring a sense of focus and structure to my day.

  14. “But I started noticing that I was calmer. I was better able to handle more difficult situations. I was more compassionate and open-hearted, and able to see things from others’ points of view” (Sara Lazar). I make Lazar’s words my words. I was also skeptical of the benefits of meditation. I am that kind of person who needs to evidence to believe. According to the article, after working on some anecdotal claims regarding meditation benefits and feeling some improvements in her overall physical and mental health, Doctor Lazar decided to study the brain reaction to meditation. Her study comprised of brain scans on people divided into two groups: one group of people who practice long-term meditation and one group of people who did not practice meditation used as a control group). The findings were quite amazing. People who practice long-term meditation had an increased amount of grey matter. Gray matter in the brain is where the terminals of the neurons called axons are and where the synapses occur. I found interesting as well that there was an improvement of the amount of gray matter in the sensory locations in the brain. The doctor explains that this increase is because when meditating, a person is aware of her breathing, her sounds and completely concentrated in that task, which makes with the cognitive process in our brain are put in standby. I see it is as a break to the constant thinking and over thinking about our life’s issues and worries. This is fascinating, because I could never believe that I could not ever not thinking, which makes people feel contentment because we are always in hi-speed, and the fact that one can stop to worry or think intensively for 15 minutes a day for example, this is already a huge gain – in my opinion. There are other benefits of meditation that really impressed me. Studies show that people over 50 years old have a decrease in production of gray matter, but not people who practice long-term meditation. After this 2 groups study, Doctor Lazar decided to do another study, to find out that a lot of benefit occurred to the group that learned how to meditate. Thicker mass was found in brain regions responsible for pleasure, learning capabilities, relaxation and empathy. Also the doctor found out that the changes happen after the week 8 of meditating. If we think about our class, we are in the week 8 in the semester. No wonder I’m feeling much better.

  15. Whenever I have practiced yoga or done meditation in the past, I would always feel a full body calmness and peacefulness. Reading this article and listening to the interview I realized that it makes sense that yoga and meditation effect your brain. I think a lot, about a lot of different things. My brain is always thinking and going but when I meditate, I stop thinking about work or class or life and I focus on my breathing. And that starts with the brain. Getting yourself to not think but to focus on where your body is meeting with the earth, your breathing and your balance is something that your brain is able to start and then spread through your whole body.

    It’s been said that Yoga and Meditation have helped tremendously with depression, anxiety and loads of others mental illness. That’s the key word. Mental illness. When your depressed, your brain isn’t functioning like brain of people who aren’t depressed. Yoga and meditation effect your brain in the opposite way that depression effects your brain. Yoga and meditation spread a peacefulness and calmness that leaves you feeling happier whereas depression will continuously make you sad and feel alone. In my experience, it might not take one yoga class to get rid of your depression. But after practicing it, you are given the tools that will help you fight it. And like I said earlier, it all starts with the brain. I always suggest to friends and family who are feeling down or even feeling sick to meditate. Not only will you feel peaceful afterwards, but if your sick, yoga and mediation have effects on illness.

    This week has been pretty hectic. I am in rehearsals 7 hours everyday, with sunday being the only exception. I normally try to work the IK into my morning routine but this past week i found it was more beneficial for myself to do it at night, after a long day of working. I would come home and sit on my bed, after washing and brushing, and do my IK. After that I as able to sleep and not feel stressed about my past day. I wake up the next morning feeling refreshed and ready to go for another long day. This past sunday, along with doing the IK and finger holds, I also did the sun salutation that we have been working on class. I feel my body working harder and harder but I also feel more balanced and flexible the more I do it.

  16. It’s always cool to see scientific research done on yoga and meditation and stuff along those lines, just because it’s typically seen as a spiritual thing, so seeing science with facts and numbers and stuff is always fun. Showing how meditation helps 4 areas of the brain become larger and the one area that becomes smaller being the area that basically controls the fight or flight response shows how meditation can help calm you down in your hectic day to day life.

  17. Jelan Winston
    SUNY Purchase
    Yoga-Monday Session

    This reading talks about how Sara Lazar made some new discoveries into how meditation can change a person’s brain chemistry, altering their mood, thought patterns, and general outlook on life.She talks about the relationship between a person’s mind and continued yoga practice. Yoga can increase brain activity in certain regions and decrease it in others, people that do yoga therefore tend to be less stressed and more focused in their everyday life. AT first a skeptic, she then talks about how she came to truly respect the practice and all the benefits it has on a person’s health and well-being.

    The study looked into how mindfulness during yoga can affect the brain. Meditation can teach a person how to be aware of their own bodily processes and be aware of the thoughts running through their head. Shutting cognition down is something long time meditators are able to achieve and this has allowed them to enhance their senses over time. Yoga even prolongs the degradation of the brain, it was discovered that 50-year old meditators have as much grey matter in their brains as 25 year olds. The entire study was interesting and certainly eye-opening towards the benefits of yoga.

    In my experience, I’ve always been skeptical about the supposed benefits of yoga, just as Dr. lazar was prior to her study in its observed benefits. I thought all the talk of detachment, heightened awareness, and mindfulness wasn’t really true and that yoga didn’t have any impact on a person besides what happens to the body. But just like in the study, I feel like during the progression of these past weeks, my mind really has been at ease more often, I feel better mentally and I’ve been feeling more compassionate towards others. Yoga opens up things in the brain that a person might not be conscious of, but it’s certainly affected me so far.

  18. The human brain is the focus on Sara Lazar studies. She studies the effect the brain has on constant, mindfulness and meditation.The gray matter is increased in the sensory regions, this made sense to her since during meditation, one’s senses are enhanced, you pay attention the your own breathing and sounds around you, cognition is shut down. Lazar goes about to study if meditation really does enhance the gray matter in people brains and conducts an experiment on people placed in two separate groups over an eight week period. At the end Lazar did notice significant changes in both groups in 5 different regions of the brain. There was thickening in the brain for the group that learned meditation.

    Lazar has also said she has been practicing yoga for many years, and specifically became interested in this when she started yoga as a sort of physical therapy. She notices that she is a lot more open minded towards people, and calm in many situations. Relaxed. She explains how she practices yoga everyday, although it does take a lot of time, to practice it correctly. Forty minutes a day is the best in order to gain full results, but it varies for everyone.

    From reading and watching this video I sense how meditation helps people, even with anxiety issues. Starting meditation at a young age can help one in later years to come, to cope with stressful situations that may arise, and will most likely come around from school, work or even amongst other people, but as Sara Lazar found out, start now, and you’ll be able to better your own brain in just eight weeks of constant practicing of yoga.

    My IK practice has been getting better and better. I still use it to my advantage to help me sleep at night. So i find myself practicing the IK before bed or when I finish some school work. I probably should practice before my school work, since it does reduce my stress before I dive into my work.

  19. In this post, Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar is interviewed on her study and research in yoga and meditation/mindfulness in general and its scientifically proven psychological and physiological benefits. As Lazar began yoga and started to notice differences in her daily life, she did more research suggesting incredibly results. Long term meditators have incr. amounts of grey matter in the insult and sensory regions, the auditory and sensory cortex. Lazar says that this makes sense because when you’re being mindful and focusing on breathing, being present, etc., you are shutting cognition down so it stands to reason your senses would be enhanced. There was also generally more grey matter in the frontal cortex; working memory and executive decision making. Our cortex is supposed to shrink as we age. But in this area of the prefrontal cortex, 50 yr old meditators same size frontal cortex as 25 yr old meditators. Lazar decided to conduct a study on this influence. In the study, this class practiced mindfulness once a week together as well as 40 min per day for eight weeks. Results were seen in just these eight weeks on brain imaging and MRI’s in regions of the Posterior cingulate, left hippocampus, TPJ, Pons, and amygdala.

    This seems to relate to many previous posts we’ve read of the benefits of yoga in that it reduces stress and anxiety, makes for clearer thinking, more present interactions, etc. However, I had never heard that yoga increases your sense of empathy and compassion, and am not sure about the connection there. I tried to do some research but didn’t find much on this online. However, there was an article in USNews from 2015 about the combination of yoga and a specific Compassion Meditation that was used to help family members of those with Alzheimer’s disease become more compassionate, empathetic, and patient.

    I appreciate articles that show the science behind yoga, and gives specific information about how exactly they came to these conclusions and it isn’t just an article from someone who practices saying, “studies suggest,” or, “scientists say…,” This is an actual specific study and gives examples of development in different regions of the brain, unlike the first video we watched about the science behind yoga. I found it especially interesting that the cortex in 50 year olds was the same size as that of 25 year olds.

    My Isha Kriya is going alright. I am back to practicing 4 times/week with the allotted 12 minutes per practice. Sometimes I am doing it with the video but mostly am doing it on my own. I can’t say that I have felt a significant shift in my practice, it still at times feels uncomfortable or strange doing it alone; different from when we do it in class. However, I usually walk away from the meditation feeling lighter and more grounded, which I always appreciate and can definitely equate to a sense of peace throughout the day and clearer thinking. Overall, it’s going well. Sometimes I feel my body physically unaligned and this is distracting and I am not always sure how to fix it. Still working on this.

    Michaela Lunden, Wednesday 8:30am class

  20. After reading the article and watching the video, I was not really surprised by what I read and heard. The information from both the article and the video is just more proof that yoga and meditation can change your brain. But because of advances in medical technology, we now have measurable proof, rather than just anecdotal evidence. Or what people would dismiss, saying ‘… maybe it was just the placebo response.’ [1]

    In the article from The Washington Post Dr. Lazar said they ‘found differences in brain volume after eight weeks …’ [1] Since we have had more than eight weeks of classes, plus yoga and meditation outside of class, I wonder how much our brains have changed?

    I also agree that mindfulness and meditation are like exercise, the more you do it, then the greater the benefits. I also believe that yoga and meditation is not the cure for everything. It should be used as part of a broader approach to a specific problem. But if there is no medical reason for practicing yoga and meditation you can still reap some incredible benefits.

    The video did a great job of going over the information in the article. The way Dr. Lazar explained what she does and the way she was able to help me visualize the data made the medical terms much easier to understand. This would make it more appealing and accessible to a broader audience.

    [1]
    Schulte, Brigid. “Harvard Neuroscientist: Meditation Not Only Reduces Stress, Here’s How It Changes Your Brain.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 26 May 2015, http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2015/05/26/harvard-neuroscientist-meditation-not-only-reduces-stress-it-literally-changes-your-brain/?utm_term=.7424b0e4099c.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    My Isha Kriya practice is now as much a part of my bedtime routine as brushing my teeth and washing my face, but it is also a necessary part of my routine. I can feel the difference when I don’t practice. I begin to feel anxious and a little unsettled the next day. I usually end up closing myself off in the library in the middle of the day and just practice the breathing part of the Isha Kriya.

    Polly Hunt
    Monday 6:30 PM Class

  21. Great reading. Even though I am not in the field to check brain changes, I can agree that there some noticeable changes just after taking a few classes. I have notice out of the 6 classes taken doing yoga I see a difference in myself. I feel much more calm in general. I am able to talk out situations instead of getting angry and letting my emotions take control. I still stress a lot over classes and assignments but it has taken less of a control over me. I feel randomly peaceful. As the classes continue I start to learn more about myself and what the poses and breathing benefit for me. I am currently trying to see how they benefit me medically. A lot of doctors want their patients to take certain medications for money or just because they think it will help. Personally there have been a lot of juggling around of medication with terrible side effects and interference with other medications. I am looking to yoga to see if it can help improve things like my migraines and asthma, which would help wean off medication. I have also been teaching my mother and friends certain poses and how to breathe. I’ve mentioned the finger holds to introduce them to something simple that they can try anywhere. After finishing school I am interested in continuing this practice, it is helpful in every way.
    I was told to do IK two times a day because I was going trough a lot and not being able to focus much. I realized I wouldn’t be able to do it twice a day because of my busy schedule so instead I did it every night for a week. I feel much better now, I still have stress and a lot to get done but I am able to have a full night of rest and my focus is back. I just need to get my senior project done so I can have myself back! But I am thankful that yoga is playing a big part in my support system.

  22. I am someone who constantly has to deal with anxiety and stress. With that being said, I found this video to be helpful. I liked learning how there is actual scientific evidence having to do with yoga. There are both physical and mental benefits to the yoga practice, deep breathing and mediation. Being enlightened by this makes me feel more fulfilled in my yoga practice, like I am actually making a difference to better my brain and body.

    The video talked about mindfulness and the importance of it. I think it is something that can often be overlooked, but a lot of yoga is about being mindful. Being mindful in not just the practice of yoga, but one’s everyday life. This is something I want to practice more, and the video made me look forward meditating again because I am now aware that meditating and being mindful makes one more present in the moment, and greatly enhancing your senses. I have experienced this before, I just didn’t know there was science to back this up. Mindfulness is an important quality to practice; it helps one become rejuvenated and balanced in life. I feel as though this is especially important for those who lead busy stressful lives, such as students.

    The more often I practice, the more benefits I feel. After the IK I feel relieved and more relaxed. I think that if people became aware that there was scientific evidence that yoga helps ones overall health, more people would be subject to try it.
    Abby Collins

    • Another perspective is for people to learn to trust their feelings as they are always valid and ever present. However if we await for scientific studies which are always looking for funding we could die before realizing what we could have known if we trusted our feelings whether an experience is useful and valid.

  23. The post is an interview with Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar, more specifically on her research in yoga and meditation. Her studies show that yoga and meditation have a lot of scientifically proven physical and mental benefits. What she speaks about is grey matter in regions of the brain that deal with sensory information, and how those who practice yoga have an increased amount in these areas. People who have meditated for years especially have a significantly larger amount of grey matter in these parts of brain, as well as in the memory and decision making centers of the brain. While these parts of the brain tend to shrink with time, but Lazar’s data finds that those who meditate often can retain their prefrontal cortex size for years, well into their 50’s.

    This makes sense to me. Being mindful and aware of one’s surroundings and place in the world is a huge part of yoga and meditation, so it’s no surprise that the parts of the brain that receive and process that information are strengthened by yogic exercises. Lazar also claims that yoga makes its participants more compassionate. While I couldn’t find more information about that online, I also think that it makes sense. I think that if one has a greater ability to make decisions, is more relaxed, and has stronger sensory receptors, they would naturally behave better. All of those things contribute to how one would behave, and since people generally want to be good to one another, it makes sense that with a healthier brain, they would be more compassionate.

    I am really happy to hear real scientific studies with actual logic and facts supporting the rewards of meditation. I think for those who practice it, all the good things are obvious, but for those who are skeptical, these studies will help to convince others of the good that yoga can do. I also think that it is important in general to understand the reality behind things in my life, so it is good to know why yoga has a positive impact.

    I have finally been able to perform my Isha Kriya without using the video as a guide, but sometimes I lose track of how long I spend on each section. That being said, looking at how much time has passed since I begin, I know I do not spend too much or too little time on any one section. I tend to perform the exercise in my room, and I do it three to four times a week. I started to fall behind in previous weeks, but have started to catch up again, and feel more regular as a result.

    Josh Sandler, Monday 6:30 class

  24. I found this video extremely helpful and informative. I’m the type of person that trusts, but verifies. So I believed about the benefits of yoga, but it’s amazing to see that you can actually prove this with science. I’ve definitely noticed since I started my meditations that I am more calm and focused. I continue to do my IK at least 4 times a week for about 12 minutes each. I always try and do more, but sometimes things come up or I don’t have the time. I’ve noticed that the more and more I do it the more comfortable I am and the more of a benefit I feel. I know personally that there is a positive change, but its interesting to know now after reading this article that through a MRI there can we physical evidence to support this.

  25. This post is about a neuroscientist named Sarah Lazar. She studies how yoga and meditation changes the brains by using MRI to study the brain before and after the use of meditation and yoga. Through control groups she was able to state that the brains of those who meditated had an increase in gray matter in numerous different parts of the brain as opposed to those who didn’t. This is an amazing discovery that something as simple as meditating for a short amount of your day can physically cause a change in your brain. This correlates to how you deal with life on an everyday basis. You can face life stresses with a different view on life. You can deal with problems in much more positive ways.

    This also makes me feel great about my own yoga journey. As I have stated before I’ve suffered from migraines my whole life, but since beginning my yoga experience I have seen a huge decrease in the frequency of said migraines and the severity of them. I knew I could attribute it to the yoga, as it is the only thing that has changed in my life but when I would tell my friends they mostly thought it was a placebo effect. I thought it was helping, therefore it helped. As it turns out it would seem that it is helping, not in only reducing my stress but changing things up there for the better.

    Boris Yanez

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