Thursday, February 3, 2011

Research: Meditation physically changes stress-associated regions in the brain

Over the years, there's one thing (yes, only one ;-) that my husband has been better than me at doing: meditating. I've always wanted to take the time to learn how to do it, but never seemed to be able to sit still and slow down enough to really give it an honest try.

Yoga and Qigong a few times a week: no problem. But, meditation?

A few half-hearted attempts where I couldn't shake the feeling that I was doing it "wrong" somehow? Check. I just couldn't keep my mind from wandering, drifting off to all of the other things that needed doing besides calming my mind and focusing on my breath. (Reading up on the latest research on issues I care about is one of those things.)

Well, two weeks ago, I came upon some interesting news re: the positive neurological effects of mindfulness meditation.

In educational interest, article(s) may be quoted from extensively.

From Science Daily:

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.

I've finally decided to give the practice a real go.

Over the past two weeks, I've been taking 10-15 minutes in the morning to relax my mind and contemplate nothing more than the activity of breathing. Eventually, I'm aiming for 30 minutes of this mind tonic.

My brain, no doubt, is gently nodding its approval.


"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." ...

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.

More on the hows, whys and benefits from UMass Medical School Professor of Medicine Emeritus Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is shown here heading up a 2007 session on mindfulness meditation at Google.

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