A tremendous amount of research is going on to understand the effect of Yoga and Meditation on brain. Interestingly more and more people are doing meditation because they already know that they can reduce stress, improve concentration and improve memory and so on. Although the popularity of Yoga and Meditation is ever increasing the uptake is still slow. This is partly due to the attitude that Yoga is an Eastern discipline shrouded in mysticism and spiritualism. Some even argue that it is Hinduism, even though I have never seen anyone teaching Hindusim in Yoga classes. Science is helping to break this ‘self limiting’ attitude in the society.
On 7th June on ABC TV in Catalyst (http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/4477405.htm) Dr Graham Phillips presented the results of eight weeks of meditation. Lo and behold he found that meditation increased grey matter in his brain (indicating increased density of nerve cells), improved his memory, improved his reaction time and even improved the energy efficiency of the brain. A Harvard research had found that grey matter increased in critical areas, such as the hippocampus (important for memory and emotional balance), prefrontal cortex (important for decision making and social behaviour), and temporoparietal junction (important for attention and social interaction, language processing).
Science is very good in explaining what is happening in parts of our body but, at least at this stage, cannot explain the total transformative effect of Yoga. For example, in the Catalyst the story of a rich criminal Nick Brewer was presented. Yoga totally transformed him to a gentle compassionate human being. Unfortunately people are afraid of Yoga transforming them and taking them to another world of kindness, compassion and oneness, when we are well accustomed to the self-obsessed societies. They are afraid that they might even become “weird vegetarians”!!
Yoga has much more to offer than what science is able to analyse at this stage. This is because Yoga brings mind-body-spirit-soul together and helps to discover ourselves. A quote from Plato, made over 2000 years ago, is quite telling: “No attempt should be made to cure the body without the soul. Let no one persuade you to cure the head until he has first given you his soul to be cured, for this is the great error of our day, that physicians first separate the soul from the body.”
As Yoga becomes more popular the intensity of scientific inquiry will also increase, which is good for the society. One day we might be able to explain mind-body-spirit-soul as a whole, but meanwhile Yoga can help.