Yoga doesn't just feel relaxing, it also shrinks brain areas involved in fear and anxiety

Published in the "New Scientist" 19 August 2015

After a running injury, Sara Lazar decided to try yoga. She initially rolled her eyes when the instructor touted the mental-health benefits, but after a while she realised she felt better able to handle difficult situations. She decided to look into it at her lab at Massachusetts General Hospital, recruiting people who were experiencing high levels of stress to attend yoga and meditation classes for eight weeks. They also practised at home for 20 minutes a day. By the end, brain scans showed the volunteers’ amygdalae – brain regions that process fear and anxiety – had shrunk, and participants reported feeling less stressed. While it’s not yet clear why, yoga’s meditative aspect helps develop a calmer outlook, which in turn reduces fear and anxiety, says Lazar.

And in a study looking at yogis that had been practising for many years, Sara Lazar at Massachusetts General Hospital found that some brain regions were remarkably well preserved compared with those of healthy controls that were matched for age, gender, education and race. “The 50-year-old’s brain looked like a 25-year-old’s,” notes Lazar.