vinyasa yoga certification programBy Faye Martins

When we teach Yoga, our students need to be reminded of the benefits to mind and body. Many students are consumed with the goal of physical prowess, but take their mental health for granted. Even the great entrepreneur Henry Ford thought that keeping the mind young and sharp was a good idea. He’s attributed with having said, “The greatest thing in life is to keep the mind young.” While Henry Ford probably didn’t know much about yoga, he would have been pleased to know that one of the benefits of meditation practices associated with yoga is that it keeps the mind young.

Defining Terms: What is a “Young” Mind?

Dr. Eva Selhub, an M.D. and the medical director of the Institute for Mind/Body Medicine in Massachusetts, suggests that a large part of aging is the accumulation of stress. Under stress, our cells don’t regenerate as quickly and they become more prone to disease. It’s no coincidence that we claim stressful situations or stressful relationships make us “go gray.”

If stress leads to aging, then a mind filled with stress may age more quickly. As we’ve probably experienced for ourselves, our aging mind seems to stop remembering names, dates, where we put our keys or that we meant to drop by the grocery store on the way home. Believe it or not, Dr. Selhub and other medical professionals believe that these symptoms that we normally associate with getting older might actually be the long-term results of a stressed-out state of mind.

Slowing Down Aging with Meditation

Because stress is related to aging, Dr. Selhub believes that there’s a good reason why experienced meditators look younger and have sharper minds at older ages: They’re regularly clearing out their stress through their meditation practices.

People like Dr. Selhub and Dr. John Kabat-Zinn have turned research on meditation into a hot topic at universities throughout the United States. A 2013 study published in the journal Health Psychology, for example, showed that cortisol, the so-called “stress hormone,” dropped rather significantly in patients who went through a three-month meditation retreat and received training in mindfulness meditation. In 2011, a study out of Harvard found important structural differences in the brains of people who meditated frequently when compared to non-meditators. Furthermore, numerous studies have shown that just eight weeks of mindfulness meditation training can lead to a long-term ability to reduce the body’s stress response.

While most of these studies have focused on keeping the body healthy through meditation, it’s reasonable to expect that all this stress reduction will also impact the long-term clarity of the mind itself. In other words, if you want to keep your mind young and sharp, take up meditation.

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