What Neuroscience Has Learned About Yoga And Meditation

For thousands of years Gurus, Swamis, yogis, sages, and mystics have been telling us to meditate- now scientists are doing the same.


The personal experiences of countless individuals have told us that yogic discipline and meditation have profound benefits.

While science remains skeptical of “spiritual” beliefs, neuroscience has confirmed that yoga and meditation can heal, strengthen and transform both the body and brain.

This shouldn’t surprise us though, in the eastern world, yoga is considered a powerful science.

Ayurveda is known as the worlds oldest holistic healing practice. It has been used successfully for over 5000 years in India, and the word Ayurveda literally translates to “The Science of Life”. Yoga and Ayurveda are “sister-sciences” which can be used in conjunction to effectively provide a massive boost to human vitality and longevity.

The nutritional and herbal constituents of Ayurveda are just now being embraced by western science. Herbs that have been used for thousands of years (such as Bacopa monnieri) to treat memory and nervous system impairments, are being used in top-selling supplement products all across the country. Some of these herbs are showing to have a powerful healing effect on human neurobiology, and can be used to assist treatment of many disorders.

A Neuroscientist named Alex Korb wrote a great article for Psychology Today explaining the neurobiology of Yoga. One of the things that hit him the hardest while attending his first classes, is that Yoga can be very challenging, and at times feel a bit stressful. He discovered for himself, that in the process of learning to breathe and relax while holding uncomfortable and challenging postures, the nervous system begins to adapt, reaching a higher threshold of ability to maintain equilibrium while enduring stress.

Kriya Yoga is regarded as a very powerful meditative science and spiritual path. A Swami named Paramahansa Yogananda first introduced Kriya Yoga to the western world in 1920. He explained that Kriya Yoga could be used to slowly re-condition pathways in the brain and effectively create new thought, behavior, and emotional patterns. This was before the world had a word such as “neuroscience”, yet we now understand this process as “neuroplasticity”, the brains ability to adapt and create new pathways. Yogananda taught his students that this change, (neuroplasticity) could be self directed through will. Neuropsychiatry is starting to confirm this as well.

In 2010, a group of Harvard neuroscientists reported that brain structures can change significantly after only 8 weeks of meditation. Through the use of fMRI scans, they showed that a case study group increased gray matter concentration within the left hippocampus, the posterior cingulate cortex, the temporo-parietal junction, and the cerebellum. These are all rain regions known to be involved in learning, memory, emotion regulation, sense of self, and perspective.

These studies confirm what the Gurus have been telling us all along. We can learn to use our will-power and awareness to re-create ourselves and become happier, healthier, and more peaceful.

Harvard fMRI Study Results
http://www.psyn-journal.com/article/S0925-4927%2810%2900288-X/abstract

Yogananda’s Teachings On Neuroplasticity
http://www.yogananda-srf.org/Self-Realization_Magazine/Kriya_Yoga_Changes_Your_Brain_Cells.aspx#.VSLIqhPF84Q

Neuroscience Reveals How Meditation Changes The Brain
http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-12793/how-meditation-changes-your-brain-a-neuroscientist-explains.html

Psychology Today- How Yoga Changes Your Brain:
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/prefrontal-nudity/201109/yoga-changing-the-brains-stressful-habits

Author: Joshua Hanna

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