THE POSITIVE EFFECTS YOGA HAS ON THE BRAIN
In 1994, after injuring her back and knee while training for the Boston marathon, Sara Lazar came across an advertisement for a yoga class while leaving her physical therapist’s office. Lazar, a Harvard-trained microbiologist, signed herself up, hoping to receive some physical benefit. To her surprise, she got more than that.
Within a few weeks she felt calmer and less stressed out. More surprising to her, Dr. Lazar discovered that she was becoming more empathic with others and could more easily see things from their perspective.
In the current vogue for yoga, many enthusiasts might have a similar story, but Lazar had a scientist’s curiosity, suspecting YOGAthat these changes that she felt subjectively must have a basis in the brain. She decided to change her research area from microbiology to neuroscience in order to examine the impact yoga and meditation might have on brain function. What resulted was a striking finding.
Taking brain scans (MRIs) of subjects who underwent an eight-week program in mindfulness meditation, Lazar came to some conclusions that astounded her colleagues.
Compared to a control group, there was an increase in the size of the hippocampus among the meditators–the hippocampus is important in learning, memory, and the regulation of emotions. It’s also one of the first regions to start degenerating in Alzheimer’s disease. A smaller hippocampus is also seen in people with severe clinical depression and post-traumatic stress disorder....