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Yoga and the Brain


Project History and Description

Recent IEL brain-imaging studies have helped enhance the understanding of how contemplative practices such as yoga, mindfulness, and meditation can alter behavior, mood, and states of consciousness. Analysis of this data will determine if a yoga practice can change the actual structure of the brain and how such changes might relate to attention, fluid intelligence, and enhanced emotional and cognitive functioning.


Project Summary

IEL researcher Dr. Sara Lazar has recently completed scanning the brains of longtime Kripalu practitioners with state-of-the-art MRI imaging technology. Dr. Lazar is beginning analysis of this data to determine if yoga practice can change the actual structure of the brain. This study will also evaluate positive changes on attention, fluid intelligence, and enhanced emotional and cognitive functioning.


Research Highlights

Previous work by Dr. Lazar demonstrated that the brains of people who regularly practice Buddhist insight meditation are different than the brains of non-meditating controls. With additional funding, Dr. Lazar will also evaluate a group of highly experienced Kripalu yogis, to test if they show similar and/or additional changes.


Future Goals

In fall 2010 Dr. Lazar will be planning the second MRI scanning project with participants from the IEL Standardized Yoga Curriculum to determine how this program leads to changes in the structure and function of the brain.


Personal Stories and Testimonials

Many teachers have told me how valuable the scientific data is in helping their new students overcome initial uneasiness with an unfamiliar yoga practice. It also helps motivate students to adopt a regular practice at home.
—Dr. Sara Lazar


Meet the Principal Investigator

Sara LazarSara Lazar, PhD, is an instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School and a professor of psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, where she specializes in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Dr. Lazar employs the latest techniques in brain imaging in her research and has been widely cited in the mainstream press for her work on brain plasticity and meditation.


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