Dr Maarten A. Immink will be teaching at Anahata’s upcoming The Science of Yoga & Meditation, a 3-day personal and professional development retreat for those who wish to know more about the science behind yoga and meditation, how and why it works on our brain, emotions and thoughts. There is also the option to attend a one-day workshop and delve into the topic of your choice through theory and practice.
1. What made you decide to focus your studies on the effects that yoga & meditation have on the brain?
In the mid-2000’s, I had taken a break from my academic role as a neurocognitive scientist for a number of reasons including undertaking formal yogic studies and teaching yoga classes. Through my studies and personal practice, I was enjoying learning new perspectives on the mind from Eastern philosophies and integrating this new knowledge within my existing knowledge base. At the same time, I was becoming increasingly aware of a number of misconceptions about yoga and meditation. Despite the growing interest in yoga and meditation for stress management and promotion of health and wellbeing, there seemed to be a great deal of confusion and lack of clarity as to how to go about obtaining these benefits. Unfortunately, the consequence of this confusion was frustration, discouragement and an end to practicing yoga and meditation.
To address this misunderstanding, I decided to return to academia to initiate a new program of research on yoga and meditation. My aim was to apply the tools of brain science to better understand what is involved in practicing yoga and meditation techniques and how these techniques in turn benefit brain function. My hope was that through creating new scientific insights and communicating these to the community, yoga and meditation could be better understood and consequently could be more accessible and accepted.
In summary, I decided to focus my research on yoga and mediation to better understand the function of our mind and brain and conversely, to use the science of the brain to better understand yoga and meditation.
2. What will one take away from this upcoming Anahata retreat?
By applying brain science principles, we can better understand our experience with yoga and meditation and that by bridging the knowledge of brain science with the wisdom of yoga, we can better understand our experience in life.
3. What can one gain from a private session with you whilst on retreat?
The intention of a private consultation is to allow one to gain further insight into their own yoga and meditation practice through application of current scientific understanding of brain and mind. The consultation would be useful for someone intending on starting a regular practice or for those who find difficulty in maintaining their practice or for an experienced yogi wanting to gain a deeper understanding of their practice. The consultation would also be useful for a yoga teacher or allied health professional who wants to better apply scientific principles of brain and mind to their professional role. Typically, a private consultation would involve discussion of one’s yoga and meditation practice or goals within the context of brain science and may include a personalised guided practice to emphasise key concepts arising from our discussion. These guided practices are based on my current research on mindfulness-based interventions for better health and function.
* Dr Immink is an academic scholar not a qualified health professional or counsellor. The private consultations are not intended to replace or delay conventional counselling, psychological, medical or health services.
4. How can a regular yoga practise benefit the brain?
At present, there are thought to be a number of benefits that yoga and meditation can provide for the brain in terms of quality of life, emotional wellbeing, and performance across the lifespan.
These can be collectively understood under ‘the use it or lose it’ principle. That is, yoga and meditation, if practiced appropriately, challenges the brain to utilise processes that become stronger through repeated engagement.
So in a sense, yoga and meditation can be considered to be a form of brain training. However, unique to other brain training approaches like computerised brain games, yoga and meditation adopts a more holistic approach to developing the whole person, which is more meaningful to most people. That yoga and meditation can be particularly relevant to our personal needs and goals is what makes the practices particularly effective in shaping our mind.
5. What is one effect that meditation has on the brain that you wished everyone knew about?
Meditation is challenging!
To develop the brain to meet our goals and aspirations, we must challenge it. With this challenge comes discomfort and perhaps some frustration just like when we learn new skills. Nothing of real value comes easy.
However, it is important to remember that meditation is possible. In fact, meditation techniques were developed to engage the natural processes of the brain and mind. We just need to know how to choose and adapt meditation techniques to suit our meditation skill level. Here is where brain science can really empower us to rise to the challenge and obtain the benefits we seek from meditation.
6. Who would you recommend attends this upcoming retreat at Anahata?
The retreat is highly inclusive. The knowledge presented at the weekend retreat will be delivered in an accessible manner suitable to all levels of education, familiarity with brain science and yoga and meditation experience. The knowledge and practical experience gained through the retreat will be readily applicable one’s personal yoga and meditation practice whether they are at a beginner, intermediate or experienced level. Further, the retreat will offer useful insights and practical applications for teachers of yoga and meditation and for medical or allied health professionals interested in professional self-care and/or complementing their service delivery with yoga and meditation. Finally, the retreat would be useful for those just wanting to learn more about yoga and meditation, particularly through a scientific, evidence-based perspective.
Dr Immink is a cognitive neuroscientist who investigates brain, mind and cognitive processes underlying learning, memory and performance. He holds a doctorate from Texas A&M University in the USA and is currently a Senior Lecturer within the School of Health Sciences at the University of South Australia (UniSA). His current research investigates the effects of meditation on brain function and emotional wellbeing. His applied research has tested the benefits of yoga in clinical settings including stroke, chronic headache, brain injury and breast cancer.
With his experience as a research scientist and a yoga and meditation teacher, Dr Immink has a wealth of knowledge that allows him to integrate the ancient wisdom of yoga with more contemporary western scientific principles. Dr Immink is regularly invited to present lectures, seminars, and workshops for both the general public and those seeking professional development.
As well as publishing articles in scholarly journals, Dr Immink has also published essays appearing in print and online including SBS News and The Conversation. He has also been interviewed for Australian Yoga Journal, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Advertiser and has made regular appearances on television, including Ten News, and radio to discuss his research in yoga and meditation.