While the mention of meditation and yoga can still elicit eye-rolls and images of woolly-haired exhortations of loving-kindness, there is a lot of science validating the positive effects of these practices on mental health.
One of the pioneers in identifying the neural mechanisms by which meditation and yoga can help rewire parts of our brains is Sara Lazar, who runs the Neuroscience of Yoga and Meditation Lab at Harvard.
In her lab, she found that people with a regular meditation practice had a larger amount of gray matter in certain parts of their brains. In particular, she found a significant difference in the thickness of gray matter in older participants that practiced meditation versus people who didn’t. The increased gray matter was found in the areas responsible for emotion regulation, perspective-taking, and feelings of empathy and compassion.
Most interestingly, she found the opposite effect in the amygdala—the part of the brain responsible for our fight or flight response. Here, she found that meditation practice resulted in less gray matterand identified a direct correlation between the change in the size of the amygdala and the reported reduction in stress levels. These findings are a pretty compelling reason to kickstart a meditation practice! (See suggestions below).
Go deeper: Try one of the stress reduction courses recommended by the Lazar Lab.