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Yoga, the brain and mental health

Just spent a fascinating couple of days in London at the conference – first of its type – ‘Yoga, the Brain and Mental Health’. Ably organized by Heather Mason, the meeting brought together yoga therapists and psychotherapists to hear talks by scientists and practitioners from the USA and UK.

These presentations drew on the increasing body of evidence about the effects of yoga and meditation on structure and function of the brain. They help to explain some of the observed benefits of such interventions, and provide pointers for further work.

Many of the sessions were highly interactive, providing opportunities for participants to try out some of the techniques for themselves. A wide ranging talk by Dr Sat Bir Khalsa, of the Sleep Medicine Division at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston covered a vast array of conditions in which yoga has been shown to be helpful to patients.

Dr Chris Streeter talked about her research showing correlation between GABA and a sense of wellbeing, and about the effects of various yoga-related interventions on GABA levels.

In the same vein, Dr Sarah Lazar reviewed what is known, and what she and her colleagues are discovering, about neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to make new connections – and the role of mindfulness and other forms of meditation in repatterning the brain.

This (60+) observer was particularly interested in evidence that long-term meditation correlates with reduced cognitive decline with age!

I noted the key messages from the conference as being the following:

  • there’s a huge amount still to be discovered about the interrelationships between mind, body and behaviour
  • a lot of credible evidence already exists supporting the benefits of various yoga techniques
  • the challenge is to bring these practices into the mainstream, to the benefit of the widest range of patients.

(Posted by Andrew Stevenson, Director, Handspring Publishing Limited)

A review of the conference ‘Yoga, the Brain and Mental Health’ is now available in the newsletter of The Minded Institute which you can sign up for at their home addresswww.yogaforthemind.info. There is also an article in Therapy Today, authored by Jane Ryan,which previews the conference and throws light on its subject area.