I have always been a huge fan of yoga ever since I can remember. However, I fell more in love with it when I came to college and was immediately bombarded by stress and endless nights with no sleep. After three years of constant deadlines, never-ending readings, papers, back to back exams, and extracurricular activities- yoga became my comfort.
Every time I step into the yoga studio I practice at, I found that I was able to leave all the stress and worry at the door (something that is extremely difficult to do) and just allowed myself to be filled with silence, calmness, and peace that I was not able to find anywhere else. There has not been one day that I have left that studio without feeling at least a little bit better and recharged.
There has been numerous research done that supports yoga in decreasing stress. You’ve probably heard and read about it before. Yes, it helps lowers blood pressure. Yes, it helps increase flexibility. Yes, it helps improve muscle tone. However, does it do any good for the brain?
A research study done in Harvard which was published in the Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging claims that meditation actually changes the structure of our brains.
Neuroscientist Sara Lazar mentioned that this study demonstrates the idea that people who practice meditation are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing but because changes in brain structure are actually occurring.
In this study, the brains of 16 participants who took part in an 8-week “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program” at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness were measured by taking magnetic resonance images of their brains two weeks before they took part in the meditation program and again two weeks after they have completed the program.
After analyzing the images of the brains, Lazar and her research team found that there was actually an increase in grey matter density in the hippocampus of the brain, which is known to be correlated to learning and memory. Along with this, they found a decrease in grey matter density in the amygdala of the brain, which is known to be correlated to stress and anxiety, or the “fight or flight” part of the brain.
This TED talk by Sara Lazar herself highlights her experiences with yoga and meditation and talks about the study she did at Harvard:
After reading about and researching more about yoga and meditation, I have come to one conclusion: “I am not about to stop practicing yoga for a very long time.”
The practice of yoga and meditation has numerous benefits and now, with further research, we have found that it actually changes the structure of our brains for the better.
So the next time you have that huge test/paper coming up, take just 20 minutes, turn the lights off, and meditate. Guaranteed, you will feel better rested and more likely to be productive with your work.