Sarah Lazar's voice was calming even over the phone as she demonstrated, for this interview, a typical start to a mindfulness practice. "Notice you are breathing in and breathing out. Can you just be aware and really feel what it feels like as air passes through your nostrils?" she asks, gently.
"It may sound incredibly boring," she says with a chuckle. "But things start to quiet down inside."
According to Lazar, assistant professor of psychology at Harvard University, observing your breath without self judgment actually changes the way your brain is wired.
She ought to know. As the lead researcher of a series of studies on yoga and meditation based at Massachusetts General Hospital, Lazar and her team have found that practicing things like yoga and meditation go far beyond a simple de-stress session and are, in fact, surprisingly long lasting.
Thanks to what we know about the science of neuroplasticity - the brain's way of reshaping itself to adapt and grow - Lazar and her team have shown that the practice of meditating - or quieting the mind - is not a passive act, even if it does involve sitting silently with eyes closed. On the contrary, it's an extremelyactive endeavor. Meditation significantly alters the regions of the brain associated with stress, overall well-being and fluid intelligence. (MORE)