HOMBEGOWDA NAGAR: Research at Nimhans on the benefits of yoga and meditation has found validation in an unrelated study in the US.
A Harvard study recently found that people asked to practise meditation show actual structural changes taking place in the brain.
These changes are responsible for calmer emotions, better memory, and lower stress. It is the first study to actually document meditation-produced changes over time in the brain’s gray matter.
People who participated in an eight-week mindfulness meditation course showed measurable changes in brain regions associated with learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.
This study appeared in the January 30 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging by Dr Sara Lazar and others. This is proof that meditation helps in our quest for happiness.
In Bengaluru, Nimhans experts have been working on the effects of yoga and meditation on the brain for about four decades.
Dr Shivarama Varambally, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry, says many studies show how the brain benefits from Indian practices.
"Research on yoga and meditation at Nimhans has been going on across many departments. Currently, our faculty are active in studying the effects of yoga and meditation in healthy subjects as well as those with psychiatric and neurological disorders," he told City Express.
Dr Bindu Kutty and Dr Satyaprabha from neurophysiology, Prof B N Gangadhar and Varambally from psychiatry, and Dr M P Sharma from clinical psychology are among those studying the benefits of yoga and meditation.
Yoga is not just cultural
The benefits of yoga and meditation derive from a combination of chemical changes, such as reduction in the stress hormone (cortisol), changes in brain physiology, and the psychological effects of mindfulness. Dr Varambally says, "The (Harvard) study by Dr Lazar is part of the emerging evidence that can provide a rational mechanism of action for such practices and lead the way to study yoga and meditation as a science rather than a cultural or religious practice."
Research from across the world has demonstrated physiological and even structural changes in various systems of the body, more recently in the brain.
“A research study done on elderly persons with memory difficulties demonstrated a small increase in the size of a brain area called as the hippocampus, which is critical for memory,” Varambally says.
Another study in healthy subjects showed that chanting of ‘Om’ reduced blood flow to areas of the brain involved in processing emotions, indicating the calming effect of the practice.
A study in depressed patients showed that yoga not only improved their state of mind but also increased the levels of a brain chemical that helps the brain repair itself.
These and other research studies from Nimhans were published as a special supplement of the Indian Journal of Psychiatry (the official journal of the Indian Psychiatric Society) in 2013. This is available for free on the journal’s website.
Yogic and meditative practices need much more attention from both medical and yoga researchers. These practices must be integrated with other systems of medicine, he feels.