Meditation and Yoga Are Associated with Positive Brain Changes
Brain researchers have found improvements in cognition and emotional well-being associated with meditation and yoga, as well as differences in how meditation and prayer affect the brains of those who believe in God and those who do not.
At a Neuroscience & Society event co-sponsored by AAAS and the Dana Foundation, neuroscientist Sara Lazar said that not only brain imaging in a study of meditators was different from those who did not. Other research has shown that certain performance changes such as better scores on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) occurred in controlled experiments involving mindfulness training .
AAAS and the Dana Foundation have collaborated on the Neuroscience & Society lecture series since 2012, with 20 events so far reaching 3400 participants. The aim of the series is to provide a public forum for experts to share the latest advances in brain research and what they can mean to individuals and society.
In another presentation at the event, Chris Streeter, associate professor of psychology and neurology at Boston University School of Medicine, reported that the neurotransmitter GABA, a neurotransmitter associated with anxiety control, peaked in experienced yoga practitioners after performing 60 minutes. of postures.
“This was the first time people could say there was a change in brain chemistry associated with yoga,” said Streeter.
In order to test whether yoga improved mood and decreased anxiety more than other physical exercises, the study subjects were tested before and after a 12-week intervention in which they did yoga or walked. Activities were metabolically matched to involve the same amount of exercise.
The yoga group has always felt better, according to various mood and anxiety indicators, Streeter said. One hour after yoga, acute changes in revitalization, tranquility, positivity and increased GABA levels have been reported.
In patients with depression, even those already taking antidepressants, yoga was associated with improved sleep, increased positivity, and decreased suicidal ideation (although none of the participants showed any intention to commit suicide). All mood measurements began to “go in the right direction,” Streeter said.
In contexts involving meditation and prayer, brain images show differences in how the brain reacts, depending on whether an individual believes in God, said Andrew Newberg, research director at the Marcus Institute for Integrative Health and physician at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.
According to one of Newberg’s studies, when nuns beheld God, activation was detected in images of the prefrontal cortex, the center of cognitive control, but there was no such activation in the brains of atheists.
Newberg also discussed changes in brain chemistry associated with retreat experiences involving prayer, meditation, and silence. Tests before and after the withdrawal experiment showed decreases in dopamine and serotonin transporter levels, which would allow neurotransmitter chemicals to be stored in the brain for later use.
Concluding his presentation, Newberg said the work of all three researchers can be seen as interconnected.
“All this work is coming together and helping us understand the general nature of these experiences,” he said