Sat Bir Khalsa has been engaged in the field of yoga research for ten years and is a longtime Kundalini Yoga practitioner and teacher. From his appointment at Harvard as an assistant professor of medicine, he directs the research for both the Kundalini Research Institute and Kripalu’s Institute for Extraordinary Living, so he is in the ideal position to offer us a synthesis of what we have learned so far about how yoga effects, not only mind and body, but how it can actually change our brains. This brief but informative book is a Harvard Medical School guide, and is available as a download.
Through case studies and lengthy anecdotes, Khalsa illustrates the vital nature of stress as part of the human condition, in both its positive and negative aspects. “What yoga and meditation can do,” he says, “is to facilitate a change in your perception of the stress in your life and provide you with effective skills to cope with it.” The book provides a summary of current research on the effects of yoga on mood and explains that research for the average, non-scientist reader. Khalsa talks about meditation as a “mental time-out” that provides our brains a “much-needed breather.” Meditation does this, he says, by fixing the attention, so that we experience less mind-wandering. “Once your are in the attention mode,” he explains clinically, “you engage the frontal lobe connections that directly impact the limbic system, which is the part of your brain dedicated to your emotions. By meditating and controlling your attention, you can establish more control over what you perceive as a significant stressor, reduce activity in your limbic system and your emotional reactivity, and thereby diminish your stress response.” Meditation and yoga actually change the brain by thickening the cerebral cortex. Khalsa points out that practice can reverse the negative effect of trauma in the brain.
Khalsa began his research career in the area of yoga and its effect on sleep and is well published in that area. Included in the book are evidence-based yoga exercises and meditations for sleep. There are also yoga meditations, mostly from the Kundalini tradition as taught by Yoga Bhajan, for boosting the immune system, reducing blood pressure, improving memory, strengthening vitality, boosting telomerase (an anti-aging enzyme), raising sexual energy and balancing mood. Whether you are a yoga practitioner or health professional, you will want Your Brain on Yoga on your eReader. It’s an easy read and a good reference for anyone interested in natural treatments for what ails us.
Order your copy of Your Brain on Yoga here. Available as an ebook only.
If you would like to read about research and practices for yoga for mood management, you might enjoy Yoga Skills for Therapists, my new book from W.W. Norton.