Sara Lazar, PhD
Dr. Sara Lazar is at the cutting edge of research into the affects of meditation and yoga on brain activity and changes in brain structure.
Dr. Lazar came across the benefits of yoga in 1994 when her physician encouraged her to try it after she sustained an injury to her knee and back while training for the Boston marathon. After only a few weeks of practice she started to notice an improvement to her injuries. Her scientific curiosity led her to switch disciplines from microbiology to neuroscience research at Harvard University. She has since made breakthrough discoveries using neuroimaging to examine the impact of yoga and meditation on brain activity and structure.
“We found people who had never meditated before and we scanned them and then we put them through an 8-week meditation program and then we scanned them again. And we were able to show that in just 8 weeks we were able to detect changes in brain structure.”
With a PhD in microbiology at Harvard University, Dr. Lazar has led numerous scientific studies. Her most notable research observes changes in the brain, also known as neuroplasticity in long-term meditators under Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). The images demonstrate the impact of meditation on structures in the brain, including the amygdala, a region in the brain known to play an important role in anxiety and stress.
“We know that the amygdala is the flight or fight part of the brain and is involved in mediating the stress response; the racing heart beat, the fast breathing and release of the cortisol.”
She also says that chronic stress is the best predictor of future illness because it floods the body with stress hormones that are deleterious for our health. Dr. Lazar’s research has been covered by numerous news organizations including The New York Times, USA Today, Time Magazine, CNN, ABC Evening News, National Public Radio, WebMD, and the Huffington Post.
Sara W. Lazar, PhD is an Associate Researcher in the Psychiatry Department at Massachusetts General Hospital and an Assistant Professor in Psychology at Harvard Medical School. The focus of her research is to elucidate the neural mechanisms underlying the beneficial effects of yoga and meditation, both in clinical settings and in healthy individuals. She is a contributing author to Meditation and Psychotherapy (Guilford Press). She has been practicing yoga and mindfulness meditation since 1994. Her research has been covered by numerous news outlets including The New York Times, USA Today, CNN, and WebMD, and her work has been featured in a display at the Boston Museum of Science.