Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Mindfulness Meditation Changes the Brain, Study Shows

A new study shows intriguing evidence that mindfulness meditation changes the brain. Specifically, a regular practice of mindfulness meditation appeared to cause measurable changes in the brain’s gray matter of the study’s participants. This is a phenomenal finding that should go far in encouraging people to take up mindfulness as a regular discipline.

What is Mindfulness?

The simplest way to explain mindfulness is that it is complete moment-to-moment awareness of all thoughts, sensations, feelings, and states of mind. Moreover, your awareness of these aspects of your being is completely nonjudgmental. You just notice them in a detached way, as if you were a scientist looking at an organism in a petrie dish. In other words, you do not become hooked by your experiences—rather actual or sensory—you just observe what is.

Image by Ha Pe_Gera
 And yes, this is also the concept that Eckhart Tolle describes in his book Living in the Now.

This seems simple and, actually, it is simple. But it is so hard for most people to do. Until you try mindfulness, you won’t realize how seldom you live in the present moment and how seldom your thoughts are without judgment.

The beauty of mindfulness is that you can practice it all day—every day—of your life without pausing in your activities. Soon, it will become your primary state of being. But to hasten this state of being, you should set aside some quiet time every day to practice mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness Meditation and the Brain

In this latest study, 16 volunteers were given MRIs to assess their brain structures. Then they participated in the eight week stress reduction program at the famed Mindfulness-Based Stress reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness. While participating in this program, the volunteers were instructed to keep track of how much time that they spent actively practicing mindfulness meditation each day. While the volunteers were being trained in, and practiced, Mindfulness Meditation, researchers gave MRIs to a control group of volunteers who did not meditate.

At the completion of the Mindfulness-Based Stress reduction programs, the 16 volunteers were again given MRIs to assess if any changes had taken place in their brains. They compared these MRIs against those of the control group.

And what did they find?

Well, they found changes in the brains of the mediators that were not present in those of the control group.

According to U.S. News Health (Health Day):

“The meditation group participants spent an average of 27 minutes a day doing mindfulness meditation exercises. The MRI scans taken after the eight-week program revealed increased gray matter density in the hippocampus (important for learning and memory) and in structures associated with compassion and self-awareness.

Mindfulness Meditation Reduces Stress

[Moreover], the investigators also found that participant-reported reductions in stress were associated with decreased gray matter density in the amygdale, which plays a role in anxiety and stress" (Source: U.S. News Health).

Imagine…just 27 minutes a day of mindfulness meditation can significantly decrease stress and anxiety, increase learning and memory, and give you a healthy infusion of compassion and self-awareness! Sign me up!

For a more detailed explanation of this study, along with the exciting implications of these findings, please watch the below video from Newsy. If you would like to read the results of this study, it will be published in the January 30th issue of the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging.

Do you have any experience with mindfulness meditation that you would like to share?


  1. Jiddu Krishnamurti telling a joke...

    “There are three monks, who had been sitting in deep meditation for many years amidst the Himalayan snow peaks, never speaking a word, in utter silence. One morning, one of the three suddenly speaks up and says, ‘What a lovely morning this is.’ And he falls silent again. Five years of silence pass, when all at once the second monk speaks up and says, ‘But we could do with some rain.’ There is silence among them for another five years, when suddenly the third monk says, ‘Why can’t you two stop chattering?”

  2. Most every thing we do changes the brain "chemistry" but you post was still interesting and novel. thanks