Yoga, Meditation Benefit Both Brain and Body

Research shows that yoga and meditation reduce stress, anxiety and depression.

Reported by Dr. Katie Guttenberg for ABC News:

Though the practices of yoga and meditation have their roots in ancient cultures, they've both become modern day movements. More than 20 million Americans meditate regularly, according to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey. More than 13 million do yoga.

To explore the health benefits of meditation and yoga, Dr. Richard Besser, chief health and medical correspondent for ABC News, hosted a tweet chat Tuesday. He invited experts from top hospitals and research centers, including the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the University of Wisconsin, the Cleveland Clinic and Harvard Medical School, as well as respected yoga authorities from the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Stockbridge, Mass., and West Hartford Yoga in Connecticut.

Click here for the full transcript of the chat. Read on for the highlights.

What is meditation and what does the science say about its benefits for the brain and body?

Many forms of meditation evolved from ancient religious and spiritual traditions, said the NCCAM. Although practices vary today, most meditation techniques aim to train attention and awareness to help bring thoughts under control.

Studies show how helpful a regular meditation practice can be for relieving pain, anxiety and stress. Although a series of University of Wisconsin studies have found meditation can benefit patients with chronic inflammatory disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis, more research is needed to understand its role in the treatment of chronic health conditions.

What is yoga and how can a regular practice help me keep healthy?

There are more than 200 schools of yoga taught throughout the world. All of them aim to connect the mind and body through careful breathing and movement.

As with meditation, studies find that regularly doing downward dogs and warrior poses can help manage stress and anxiety. There's even some evidence that yoga can help fight cancer-related fatigue, manage high-blood pressure and ease chronic pain, especially joint pain. For example, studies by the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle found that after several weeks of taking yoga classes, subjects reported fewer backaches and greater lower-back mobility.

Any advice for yoga newbies?

Don't let an instructor push you past your comfort zone. Listen to your body. All our experts agreed that the most important advice for yogis at any level. If you've got any sort of chronic medical condition, are pregnant or haven't done any sort of exercise in a while, it's a good idea to check in with your doctor before taking up a yoga practice.

For people who are stressed out by tragic events in the news like the tornado that ripped through the Moore, Okla., can meditating help?

Since meditation - and yoga for that matter - promote relaxation, it can definitely help manage the emotions that bubble up after hearing bad or disturbing news. There's some evidence that a few moments of quiet reflection is especially helpful for people who suffer from anxiety and depression to begin with. And the group dynamic of a yoga class can bring people together and not feel so alone after a tragedy.

Join us on June4, at 1 p.m., ET, for our next health tweet chat on preventing breast cancer. Click here to learn how.