Grow Your Brain: Mindfulness Meditation, the Relaxation Response and Yoga Nidra

This morning on Facebook, two of my yoga friends shared an article entitled Harvard Unveils MRI Study Proving Meditation Literally Rebuilds The Brain’s Gray Matter In 8 Weeks. They likely shared this link rather than the original article in the Harvard Gazette because of the great graphic. Both articles focused on the research of Sara Lazar, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital and director of the Lazar Lab for Meditation Neuroscience Research.

Most of the articles I have come across reporting Dr. Lazar’s work are from 2011 and 2012. Four years ago, she and her team reported that regular meditation increases thickness of certain brain structures. Her Tedx talk elaborates on how she came to do this research and what she has learned.

The early research on meditation and stress was done by Herbert Benson, M.D. in the early ’70s. His book, The Relaxation Response, detailed the methodology to achieve the response as well as similarities to and differences from Transcendental Meditation. The recent rounds of research have been performed primarily on Mindfulness Meditation, a meditation technique taught by Jon Kabat-Zin and others. There are a variety of free tools available to help a person learn this method.

Three weeks ago, I returned from an advanced training at AmritYoga.org in a discipline called Yoga Nidra. It literally means Yogic sleep. Yoga Nidra is a guided meditation practice that brings one to a profound state of relaxation and deep meditation. During the training by Kamini Desai, Ph.D., Sara Lazar’s research was mentioned almost daily. While most of Lazar’s research was done using the Relaxation Response and/or Mindfulness Meditation, other research indicates that the brain states reached and the portions of the brain activated during Yoga Nidra are similar. You can try free Yoga Nidra recordings at YouTube.

These simple methods are very powerful. Behavioral health patients can most certainly benefit from use of these tools. Their service providers may find similar benefits.

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