There has been, and will continue to be tremendous fascination in the scientific community surrounding the effects of popular wellness habits on the physical & cognitive mind. In September of 2017, the University of Waterloo actually released a study that found in a small population, a combination of yoga and meditation were able to "improve brain function and energy levels." The brain functions that were found to have the greatest improvement included things like "goal-directed responses" and "habitual thinking patterns and actions." This study went on to describe in greater detail that the improvements stem from the fact that both yoga and meditation tend to allow an individual to focus on a limited number of distractions, like breathing and transitioning/holding postures. This particular study also states that yoga and meditation teaches individuals to withdraw attention away from "nonessential" information surrounding them.
Now, the idea that meditation and yoga can help individuals feel more efficient and better focused in their lives is a wonderful possibility in itself. For those that remain unconvinced, there have been scientific studies into the actual physical changes that occur in the brain, in those that have practiced meditation for years, for a few weeks, and new practitioners as well. A study completed by Fox et al. in 2014, found that 8 different regions in the brains of these meditation practitioners consistently showed an increase in gray matter. This increase was a visual sign that connected the improvement in control over emotions, learning capacity, memory recall, and perspective, to a physical change in the structure of the brain itself. What proved even more impressive in their findings, were that these benefits were found in both clinically depressed/anxious AND healthy populations, alike. Individuals involved in the Fox et al. study reported a reduced sense of stress, reduced sense of anxiety, and a sense of being able to better cope with chronic mental distress.
When looking at these two studies side by side, although one may be in a significantly smaller population, both studies seem to support the claims of many centuries of various forms of meditation and yogic practice. Finding a practice, or a meditative inspiration can truly create a mind better able to efficiently handle negative emotions and habits.
If you have been mildly interested in beginning your own yoga practice or hesitating on creating your own unique meditation, consider this my invitation to you. There will always be a reason to not try something new. There will always be a reason to wait until tomorrow. If you find a hint of inspiration, try to create your own meditation. If you are simply curious, find a video or a book that shows you a safe way to try a few yoga postures. Have fun, be creative, be gentle with yourself, and don't give up. Meditation and yoga have the potential to improve your emotional state, to help your brain develop healthy coping techniques for stress and anxiety and focus.
“The yoga postures and breath are tools to rebuild and transform ourselves. The goal is not to tie ourselves in knots – we’re already tied in knots. The aim is to untie the knots in our heart. The aim is to unite with the ultimate, loving, and peaceful power of the universe.” -Max Strom
Kimberley L, Peter A.H, Examining the Acute Effects of Hatha Yoga and Mindfulness Meditation on Executive Function and Mood. Mindfulness, 2016; 8(4): 873. Retrieved May 14, 2018.
Fox KC, Nijeboer S, Dixon ML, Floman JL, Ellamil M, Rumak SP, et al. Is meditation associated with altered brain structure? A systematic reveiw and meta-analysis of morphometric neuroimaging in meditation practitioners. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reveiws, 2014: 20(2): 48-73. Retrieved May 14, 2018.