In 1994, after injuring her back and knee while training for the Boston marathon, Sara Lazar came across an advertisement for a yoga class while leaving her physical therapist’s office. Lazar, a Harvard-trained microbiologist, signed herself up, hoping to receive some physical benefit. To her surprise, she got more than that. Within a few weeks she felt calmer and less stressed out. More surprising to her, Dr. Lazar discovered that she was becoming more empathic with others and could more easily see things from their perspective.
In the current vogue for yoga, many enthusiasts might have a similar story, but Lazar had a scientist’s curiosity, suspecting that these changes that she felt subjectively must have a basis in the brain. She decided to change her research area from microbiology to neuroscience in order to examine the impact yoga and meditation might have on brain function. What resulted was a striking finding.