W. Lazar is an instructor in the Department of
Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, as well
as a scientist at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical
Center's Mind/Body Medical Institute and an Assistant
in Psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry
at Massachusetts General Hospital.
originally sought a PhD in molecular biology,
planning on a career studying cellular function.
Today, she works to understand how meditation
affects the brain, both in healthy subjects and
in people with chronic illnesses.
first skeptical about the cognitive/emotional
and deeper health benefits of yoga, Lazar started
taking yoga to stay in shape while recovering
from a sports injury. She soon realized that there
was more to yoga than stretching. She started
taking yoga workshops to learn more about what
the yogis knew about its effects. Lazar also began
to practice meditation.
finishing her PhD in 1996, Lazar did a molecular
bio post-doctoral fellowship at New England Medical
Center while she figured out how to best study
meditation scientifically and find a place to
do the work. She currently has two grants, one
for looking at subjects who have just 8 weeks
of practice, and one for looking at subjects with
extensive meditation experience.
links to Sara Lazar's
page and other related infomation please see our resources
caught the tail end of your segment on PBS last
night. I have been a student and practitioner
of meditation for 11 years (I'm 33). I meditate
at least an hour every day. I have not had a cold
or flu or any immune related illness in that time.
I am curious whether you would be able to determine
whether increased immunity was caused by an actual
increase in the responsiveness of the immune system,
caused by meditation, or whether the reduction
of stress itself is solely responsible.
am quite convinced of the physiological as well
as "other" effects of meditation, as well as exercise.
was wondering, if you had investigated whether
similar effects would happen in the brain following
intense exercise like running or swimming as they
do in meditation, as I have a similar feeling
other thing I wanted to ask you was whether you
had also done any experiments outside the MRI
(heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rates,
brain waves, etc.) with a meditation subject.
I ask this because in many schools, it is taught
that the vertical alignment of the spine is crucial
to the flow of Kundalini energy, and this could
potentially be impacted by the horizontal placement
of the body (requiring the subject to lie down)
in the MRI.
wondering if you had looked at how the environment
of the MRI itself (the fear elicited by the claustrophobic
and loud conditions), in addition, could impact
the ability of the subject to enter into meditation
as deeply as they might, say in a chair in a quiet
seems also possible to me that the magnetic energy
itself could affect the flow of the Kundalini
energy in a way that may be different than in
may be hard to find one, but there are some advanced
practitioners of meditation who have been known
to be able to stop their breath entirely for periods
of time - ("samadhi" is known as the "breathless
state") - now that would be difficult for the
scientific community to deal with!
some thoughts. It must be very challenging to
study this all scientifically without placing
preconceived ideas upon it. Thanks, -Tina
Great questions! Although there are numerous
studies demonstrating that meditation can decrease
feelings of stress, I am unaware of any experiments
that have tried to tease apart the specific health
benefits of the method (meditation) from those
of the psychological outcome (decreased stress).
It is an important but difficult question to address.
Both physical and psychological short-term effects
occur during the actual practice of meditation.
Undoubtedly these acute changes interact synergistically
to promote better health, but the exact mechanism
of how meditation works is still unknown. Another
confound is that when people start a meditation
practice, they often also make diet modifications
or other life-style changes that might further
contribute to the health benefits frequently reported
by long-term meditators.
for how the testing environment might be influencing
our results, we can answer some but not all of
those questions. We ask subjects to rate their
meditation experiences and to fill out a questionnaire
describing the feelings and sensations that they
experienced while in the scanner. We specifically
ask about claustrophobia, noise and the experimental
equipment placed on their bodies, as well as more
general questions regarding physical tightness,
sleepiness, boredom, ability to stay focused,
etc. A few subjects have told us that it was difficult
to meditate, usually because of the noise. However,
most reported that although it wasn't perfect,
they were able to achieve a reasonably good meditative
state for most of the scan time, and a few even
said that they had no problem whatsoever entering
a fairly deep meditative state. If a subject feels
claustrophobic at any point, they can indicate
they want to get out and we remove them from the
scanner and end the session immediately. Usually
if someone has a problem with the space, it is
evident the moment they first begin the experiment.
do not know of any way to measure a person's internal
(Kundalini) energy, so I can't comment on how
it might be affected by lying down or by being
in the scanner. None of the subjects remarked
on this, so I presume any effect was negligible.
The study of well-defined neural functions such
as vision has taken decades, and although scientists
now have a good understanding of this system,
there is still much that is unknown. The scientific
study of meditation is just beginning, and will
undoubtedly also take several decades to fully
unfold as we develop new and better methods for
investigating what is happening.
I very much enjoyed your contribution to the show
"Worried Sick" on Scientific Frontiers. My husband
has type-1 diabetes that he contracted a year
ago and he has ulcerative colitis for the pass
five years. He is only 40 years old and has always
had excellent health, however he came from a high
stress occupation. Any suggestions on whether
I can get him into a study which would monitor
his health while he began a meditation program
or can you suggest any meditation/yoga centers
which would be helpful to him. We are also interested
in biofeedback - what are your thoughts on this
I appreciate that you are very busy, but I would
be most grateful for your opinion.
There are a growing number of meditation-based
stress reduction programs being started in hospitals
and clinics all over the US. Some are targeted
toward specific medical conditions while some
are open to anyone who is under stress. There
are also a growing number of studies looking into
the efficacy of meditation-based interventions
for a variety of illnesses. Although I do not
know of any programs specific to colitis or any
programs in Texas, I would recommend contacting
your local medical institutions and inquiring
about their "stress reduction", "staying healthy"
or "general-wellness" programs. You can also often
find yoga and meditation centers by looking in
the yellow pages or on the web (performing a search
for "stress reduction" or "mindfulness-based stress
reduction" and your city name usually gives a
good list of programs).
stress reduction programs are primarily focused
on meditation and yoga while others incorporate
biofeedback, music, guided imagery and other relaxation
techniques. Although there is plenty of data that
indicates that these methods are useful complementary
medical techniques, there is not yet any data
about whether one technique is better than another.
My own sense is that any given technique will
only be effective if you are comfortable with
it and if you practice it regularly. There are
numerous styles of yoga and meditation; I would
recommend trying several to find one that best