Yogis have long believed that yoga cannot only improve one’s physical and spiritual health but also their mental wellbeing. Over the past few years’ studies and research has been done that supports this. Even so, many hospitals and clinics are still reluctant to see yoga as a viable recommendation for improving mental health.
Psychiatry researcher Sara Lazar, who works out of Massachusetts General Hospital, has been conducting research about the effects yoga and meditation has on the brain for over two decades. Her research has found that regular yoga and meditation can actually rewire one’s brain and reduce the effects of aging.
Lazar was initially skeptical about yoga herself before she started her research. “Back then I had a low opinion of yoga,” Lazar said. “I thought it was all magic, power pyramids and tinfoil hats.” But after sustaining a knee injury Lazar saw the power yoga could have in healing.
Research shows that poor mental health can worsen other illnesses. Those with cancer or heart disease are also likely to have depression and anxiety. But those who participate in mindfulness, meditation, and yoga report less daily stress.
Lazar followed that research to see how the brain’s structure would respond to yoga and meditation. She found that a 50-year old that meditates regularly, their prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for problem-solving and usually shrinks with age, was as well-preserved as a 25-year-old’s prefrontal cortex.
A follow-up study found that practicing yoga regularly for just 8 weeks showed improved in brain structure as well. The hippocampus, the region in the brain that regulated emotions and memory, gets smaller in those with depression and PTSD, but yoga slows this down suggesting that it’s has a very real impact on improving mental health.
More hospitals and medical professionals are seeing yoga as a viable option in treating mental health. Lazar’s research shows that yoga and meditation has a real physical impact on the brain’s structure and can vastly improve those with mental disorders.