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New research shows the mental benefits of yoga and meditation

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Yoga professionals knows well the mental and physical benefits the
activity produces, as meditation is often implanted in yoga sessions.
Now, yogis have got science to back their claims of well-being and
focus, as new research shows more clearly how yoga-induced mindfulness
has an impact on pain perception.
PhD student Tim Gard from Maastricht University in the Netherlands
started with recent research showing that mindfulness can attenuate
pain, and set out to discover more about the underlying brain mechanisms
that are involved. 
He carried out an experiment that involved applying unpleasant electric
stimuli to a group in a meditative state and to a control group with a
similar healthy lifestyle, each group comprising 17 volunteers and all testing
subjects were in an fMRI scanner when the stimuli were applied.
With surprising results its revealed that mindfulness practitioners were able to reduce pain
perception by 22 percent and anticipatory anxiety by 29 percent during a
mindful state. The reduction of pain was associated with decreased activity in the lateral prefrontal cortex and increased activity in the right posterior insula during stimulation. 

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Gard says this pattern is the opposite of what happens in the brains of
people who don’t meditate. He concluded that members of the meditation
group could reduce their pain by tolerating the sensation of pain,
instead of exerting mental control over it.
The fMRI scans helped the researcher shed new light on how the brain
works, more precisely the unique neural systems in the area of pain
processing.

The brain scans also measured mental faculties in the form of fluid
intelligence, which is the ability to reason in new situations. They
showed that older practitioners of both yoga and meditation had a
smaller decrease in fluid intelligence than the control subjects.
“It’s fascinating to see how yoga and meditation can positively
influence our brains and our psyches, and thus can lead to increased
well-being,” said Gard, who defended his PhD dissertation, The neural and psychological mechanisms of yoga and mindfulness meditation, in March.

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