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How Meditation May Change the Brain - NYTimes.com

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  • Bruce Morgen
    Message 1 of 2 , Jan 31, 2011
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    • medit8ionsociety
      ... And it doesn t take long for the brain changes to take place. This article is from 1/24/11 in Medical News today: Mindfulness Meditation Training Changes
      Message 2 of 2 , Feb 2 10:21 AM
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        Bruce Morgen <editor@...> wrote:
        > <http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/28/how-meditation-may-change-the-brain/?src=me&ref=general>
        And it doesn't take long for the brain changes to take
        place. This article is from 1/24/11 in Medical News today:

        Mindfulness Meditation Training Changes
        Brain Structure In 8 Weeks

        Participating in an 8-week mindfulness meditation
        program appears to make measurable changes in
        brain regions associated with memory, sense of
        self, empathy and stress. In a study that will
        appear in the January 30 issue of Psychiatry
        Research: Neuroimaging, a team led by Massachusetts
        General Hospital (MGH) researchers report the
        results of their study, the first to document
        meditation-produced changes over time in the
        brain's grey matter.

        "Although the practice of meditation is associated
        with a sense of peacefulness and physical
        relaxation, practitioners have long claimed
        that meditation also provides cognitive and
        psychological benefits that persist throughout
        the day," says Sara Lazar, PhD, of the MGH
        Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program, the
        study's senior author. "This study demonstrates
        that changes in brain structure may underlie
        some of these reported improvements and that
        people are not just feeling better because
        they are spending time relaxing."

        Previous studies from Lazar's group and others
        found structural differences between the brains
        of experienced mediation practitioners and
        individuals with no history of meditation,
        observing thickening of the cerebral cortex
        in areas associated with attention and emotional
        integration. But those investigations could
        not document that those differences were actually
        produced by meditation.

        For the current study, MR images were take of
        the brain structure of 16 study participants
        two weeks before and after they took part in
        the 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction
        (MBSR) Program at the University of Massachusetts
        Center for Mindfulness. In addition to weekly
        meetings that included practice of mindfulness
        meditation - which focuses on nonjudgmental
        awareness of sensations, feelings and state of
        mind - participants received audio recordings for
        guided meditation practice and were asked to keep
        track of how much time they practiced each day.
        A set of MR brain images were also taken of a
        control group of non-meditators over a similar time interval.

        Meditation group participants reported spending
        an average of 27 minutes each day practicing
        mindfulness exercises, and their responses to
        a mindfulness questionnaire indicated significant
        improvements compared with pre-participation
        responses. The analysis of MR images, which
        focused on areas where meditation-associated
        differences were seen in earlier studies, found
        increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus,
        known to be important for learning and memory,
        and in structures associated with self-awareness,
        compassion and introspection. Participant-reported
        reductions in stress also were correlated with
        decreased grey-matter density in the amygdala,
        which is known to play an important role in
        anxiety and stress. Although no change was seen
        in a self-awareness-associated structure called
        the insula, which had been identified in earlier
        studies, the authors suggest that longer-term
        meditation practice might be needed to produce
        changes in that area. None of these changes were
        seen in the control group, indicating that they
        had not resulted merely from the passage of time.

        "It is fascinating to see the brain's plasticity
        and that, by practicing meditation, we can play
        an active role in changing the brain and can
        increase our well-being and quality of life."
        says Britta Hölzel, PhD, first author of the
        paper and a research fellow at MGH and Giessen
        University in Germany. "Other studies in
        different patient populations have shown
        that meditation can make significant improvements
        in a variety of symptoms, and we are now
        investigating the underlying mechanisms in the
        brain that facilitate this change."

        Amishi Jha, PhD, a University of Miami
        neuroscientist who investigates mindfulness-training's
        effects on individuals in high-stress situations,
        says, "These results shed light on the mechanisms
        of action of mindfulness-based training. They
        demonstrate that the first-person experience of
        stress can not only be reduced with an 8-week
        mindfulness training program but that this
        experiential change corresponds with structural
        changes in the amydala, a finding that opens
        doors to many possibilities for further research
        on MBSR's potential to protect against stress-related
        disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder."
        Jha was not one of the study investigators.


        James Carmody, PhD, of the Center for Mindfulness
        at University of Massachusetts Medical School,
        is one of co-authors of the study, which was
        supported by the National Institutes of Health,
        the British Broadcasting Company, and the Mind
        and Life Institute.

        Sue McGreevey
        Massachusetts General Hospital
        This article is being posted strictly for educational,
        non-profit purposes and thus falls under the Fair Use
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