In a recent experiment conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital, subjects took part in an 8-week program of mindfulness meditation. The results were astonishing, with MRI scans showing for the first time in medical history that meditation produced enormous changes within the brains grey matter. The study was conducted by Harvard Affiliated researchers based at the hospital, and they were astonished by what they discovered.

“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,” said Sara Lazar, senior study author of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program and a Harvard Medical School instructor in psychology as well. “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 meditation 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.”  added Sue McGreevey, another researcher on the team.

This study however, changed all of that. In the study, subjects were asked to practice mindfulness meditation. They practised for an average of 27 minutes a day over the course of the 8 week study. The results were conclusive in showing that meditation cause massive stimulation in grey matter density, located in the Hippocampus. This is the area of the brain that is associated with  emotion and memory.

McGreevey further added, “Participant-reported 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. None of these changes were seen in the control group, indicating that they had not resulted merely from the passage of time.”

For this current study, magnetic resonance (MR) images were taken of the brain structure of 16 study participants two weeks before and after they took part in the eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness.

“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,” said Britta Hölzel, first author of the paper and a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany.

You can read more about the remarkable study by visiting Harvard.edu.  

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