Yoga, meditation may boost brain function

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Between family and work and everything on our plates, it's easy to feel overwhelmed.  Mediation can help ease stress.  But, it may come with another benefit, too. Research shows regular meditation may be able to physically change your brain, for the better.

"Our culture is very go-go, all the time, very demanding,” says Atlanta yoga instructor Joy Hmielewski.

“People don't rest, they don't know how to take care of themselves.”

But Hmielewski and her friend and client Kate Lamb have found a way to tune out everything -- the stress, the anxiety, all of it, with yoga.

“You focus on your body, focus on how you feel,” she says.  “Focus on your breath, just breathe. That's it."

"I have a lot of anxiety and that's how I got into it,” says Lamb.  “I get just like an hour of peace, to be totally with yourself, and with your thoughts."

And whether you're practicing yoga or mindful meditation or centering prayer, studies are increasingly showing meditation may boost brain function, physically changing your brain for the better.

In a study at Massachusetts General Hospital, volunteers who'd never before meditated took a weekly class, and practiced at home for about a half an hour a day.  Researchers say brain scans showed an increase in their brain's grey matter, tied to our emotions, memory and higher thinking.”

And Dr. Taz Bhatia of The Atlanta Center for Holistic and Integrative Medicine says gray matter matters a lot as we age.

"It is critical for our thought processes, where we hold our emotions, those type of things,” Dr. Bhatia says. “So rebuilding that is not just helpful for your day to day life but also a way to prevent cognitive decline in the years to come."

Our brains tend to shrink as we age, but another study showed regular meditators at the age of 50 had brains that looked a lot like a 25-year old's, especially when you look at the frontal cortex, responsible for tasks like memory and executive function.

Joy Hmielewski says learning to meditate takes practice -- but it's worth it.

“It's taking a moment for yourself to really think about what's happening in your life and really center yourself,” she says. “We don't do that on a daily basis unless someone stops us and says, ‘Hey, put your phone down and just breathe.’"