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Are yoga and meditation good for my brain?

Here is ques­tion 16 of 25 from Brain Fit­ness 101: Answers to Your Top 25 Ques­tions.

Are yoga and med­i­ta­tion good for my brain?

Key Points:

  • Yoga, med­i­ta­tion, and visu­al­iza­tion are all excel­lent ways to learn to man­age your stress lev­els.
  • Reduc­ing stress, and the stress hor­mones, in your sys­tem is crit­i­cal to your brain and over­all fit­ness.

Yes. It’s clear that our soci­ety has changed faster than our genes. Instead of being faced with phys­i­cal, imme­di­ate­ly life-threat­en­ing crises that demand instant action, these days we deal with events and ill­ness­es that gnaw away at us slow­ly, with­out any stress release.

Dr. Robert Sapol­sky, in an inter­view about his book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, points out that humans unique­ly “can get stressed sim­ply with thought, turn­ing on the same stress response as does the zebra.” But, the zebra releas­es the stress hor­mones through life-pre­serv­ing action, while we usu­al­ly just keep mud­dling along, get­ting more anx­ious by the moment.

Pro­longed expo­sure to the adren­al steroid hor­mones like cor­ti­sol, released dur­ing the stress response, can dam­age the brain and block the for­ma­tion of new neu­rons in the hip­pocam­pus, which is the key play­er in encod­ing new mem­o­ries in your brain. Recent stud­ies have shown these neu­rons can be regen­er­at­ed with learn­ing and envi­ron­men­tal stim­u­la­tion, but while short-term stress may improve atten­tion and mem­o­ry, chron­ic stress leads indi­rect­ly to cell death and ham­pers our abil­i­ty to make changes and be cre­ative enough to even think of pos­si­ble changes to reduce the stress.

What are the best defens­es against chron­ic stress?

  1. Exer­cise strength­ens the body and can reduce the expe­ri­ence of stress, depres­sion, and anx­i­ety.
  2. Relax­ation through med­i­ta­tion, tai chi, yoga, or oth­er tech­niques to low­er blood pres­sure, slow res­pi­ra­tion, slow metab­o­lism, and release mus­cle ten­sion.
  3. Biofeed­back pro­grams that pro­vide real-time infor­ma­tion, allow­ing you to learn effec­tive tech­niques for reduc­ing stress lev­els.
  4. Empow­er­ment, because atti­tudes of per­son­al con­fi­dence and con­trol of your envi­ron­ment resolve the stress response.
  5. Social net­work of friends, fam­i­ly, and even pets help fos­ter trust, sup­port, and relax­ation.

Fur­ther Read­ing

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6 Responses

  1. slow down your metab­o­lism?

  2. Rajni says:

    The effects of stress that are described in the arti­cle above- I have seen them myself. It is quite true — and any­body who has gone through pro­longed stress­ful peri­ods can tes­ti­fy to this — that it slows down the gen­er­al work­ing of the mind, it effects our mem­o­ry, and impairs our deci­sion mak­ing capa­bil­i­ty in our day to day lives.
    I am going to rec­om­mend the book ‘Why Zebras…’ to my friends!

  3. jairo obando says:

    All the thoughts are placed in my mind dur­ing the med­i­ta­tion and that do that we can sep­a­rate them of the neg­a­tive thoughts and give them the just val­ue and influ­ence in our life. So I think that the yoga and oth­er tec­nics of relax­ation help a lot for the health brain.

  4. Nalini says:

    Would love to see infor­ma­tion about Brain State Tech, based in Scotts­dale, AZ men­tioned here. Their War­rior Project has helped thou­sands of vets recov­er from PTSD.

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