Eight weeks to a better brain

Participating in an eight-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 Jan. 30 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, a team led by Harvard-affiliated researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) reported the results of their study, the first to document meditation-produced changes over time in the brain’s gray matter.


For the current study, magnetic resonance (MR) images were taken of the brain structure of 16 study participants...A set of MR brain images was also taken of a control group of nonmeditators over a similar time interval...The analysis of MR images...found increased gray-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection...reductions in stress also were correlated with decreased gray-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....
When you observe a pleasant sensation during meditation, such as the feeling of breathing in a gentle relaxing way, it turns on the pleasure centers in your brain. By continually observing the feeling during meditation, the quantum Zeno effect prevents the feeling from fading away. When you meditate this way, neuroplasticity causes the brain to wire itself to more readily produce feelings of pleasure. The result is spiritual: increased feelings of happiness, love, and connectedness.


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