Yoga and meditation, share the misfortune of an indelible association with the “pseudosciences.” Their journey into the Western mainstream is freckled with varying flavors of derision: hippy-woo woo to pastime of the bourgeoisie. Scholarly appreciation persisted throughout, however, intimating improvements to cardiovascular health, blood pressure but most principally cognition. More than the placebic benefits described by distractors wishing to sensor their dismissal, yoga, and meditation actually alters the neurophysiology of our brains. Or so a new study claims…
A look at yoga’s effect on the brain
The Rotterdam Study is an on-going, prospective population-based cohort study that was initiated in the Netherlands all the way back in 1990 by Professor Albert Hoffman. Hoffman sought to record and observe all the occurrences of cardiovascular, neurological, ophthalmological, endocrinological, and psychiatric maladies that impact elderly people. Using this bounty of data, researchers were able to publish a new report in the journal of Brain Imaging and Behavior. According to its review of more than 15,00 participants aged 45 and up, both yoga and meditation affect areas of the brain associated with emotional processing.
Lead author, Rinske A. Gotink explains in the report, “Meditation and yoga practice are associated with structural differences in right amygdala volume and the vast majority of practitioners report that it helps them cope with stress. This suggests that meditation and yoga practices might be a feasible and accessible lifestyle intervention for people suffering from stress and stress-related diseases. Such practices could be helpful in the prevention of stress-related diseases, by recognizing early stages of stress and changing the neural response to stressful stimuli.”
The study revealed that 3,572 members said they engaged in yoga and meditation practices before undergoing several MRI scans that allowed the researchers to observe structural changes over a fixed period of time. The right amygdala, which is said to govern fear, negative emotions, immediate action talking and unpleasant stimuli, was notably smaller in participants in yoga and meditation practitioners compared to those that did not. This was similarly true of left hippocampal volume. These participants were concurrently more prone to experience stress and better at coping with it.
While it follows that meditation and yoga offer neurological health benefits, the study’s limitations shouldn’t be overlooked. For one thing, the participants were middle-aged to elderly, which means they likely practice either activity less often than younger people do on a day to day basis. Additionally, older people have lower neuroplasticity than younger people do, which means their brains are less conditioned to structurally adapting in a short period of time. In any case, the researchers intend to further their research in the near future.
The study, titled “Meditation and yoga practice are associated with smaller right amygdala volume: the Rotterdam study“, can be found in the journal Brain Imaging and Behavior, and was authored by Rinske A. Gotink, Meike W. Vernooij, M. Arfan Ikram, Wiro J. Niessen, Gabriel P. Krestin, Albert Hofman, Henning Tiemeier, and M. G. Myriam Hunink.