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Mindfulness Meditation Training Changes Brain Structure in Eight Weeks

 

ScienceDaily (Jan. 21, 2011) — 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.

 

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Eight weeks? That's all? That's spectacular.

 

The Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program sounds really familiar, too. I think I first heard of the MBSR program in the book The Mindful Way through Depression (great book, BTW).

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Eight weeks? That's all? That's spectacular.

 

The Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program sounds really familiar, too. I think I first heard of the MBSR program in the book The Mindful Way through Depression (great book, BTW).

 

There has been a lot of evidence that our brains are more plastic than we have thought for some time now. What a relief!

 

I had that book, but never got to read it...I leant it to a friend.

 

P

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There has been a lot of evidence that our brains are more plastic than we have thought for some time now. What a relief!

Yes, that is a relief. It's not over after 40. :grin:

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I love Science Daily. Here is an article on meditation that is really exciting:

 

Positive Well-Being to Higher Telomerase: Psychological Changes from Meditation Training Linked to Cellular Health

 

""We have found that meditation promotes positive psychological changes, and that meditators showing the greatest improvement on various psychological measures had the highest levels of telomerase," said Clifford Saron, associate research scientist at the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain."

...........................

"Telomeres are sequences of DNA at the end of chromosomes that tend to get shorter every time a cell divides. When telomeres drop below a critical length, the cell can no longer divide properly and eventually dies."

 

 

 

I would like to have the time/space and social support to meditate. I do "rising.falling" at night when I am ready to turn of my mind- don't know if that counts?!

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Thank you for this Phanta. I think along with exercise, this should be part of my day- and just like exercise, I don't do it. I am going to incorporate this into my day today. Even if my husband does think imma hippy.

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I occasionally meditate, but I'm not sure that it comports with mindfullness. Would anyone care to explain the technique?

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Starting at about 20 minutes, this guy teaches the meditation. I did it for about 7 minutes. Riding the wave of breath. I imagined an ocean. Waves....He made an interesting metaphor that our busy mind is always there, but if we can drop below it about 20 or 30 feet...under the turmoil- there is calm.

i really enjoyed this.

The guy talks a lot, but the ideas and metaphors really helped me begin to understand what it is about.
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I'm curious if CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Theory) changes brain structure too. I've been working on that with my shrink, and it does have some similar ideas to meditation. As it applied to me, the first step in dealing with anxiety (according to CBT) is to be aware of how you feel without freaking out about it, which sounds an awful lot like mindfulness. You basically learn to catch yourself feeling stressed out before it turns into panic, so that you can deal with it before it gets bad.

 

I did read a few books on meditation at the same time. Sometimes I'd try to meditate to calm down after I'd already gotten myself all worked up over stupid things, and I guess that helped some. But it seemed more that meditation was a good way to practice not-panicking when I was already somewhat calm, so that I would have healthy thought-pattern habits to fall back on when bad things happened, instead of the stress reactions I'd gotten used to. I thought of it as I'd spent so much time being anxious that I'd worn ruts in my brain, and I had to "dig" new channels for the "water" to flow through when there was a "flood". It's cool to think that there could be physically measurable "ruts" in my brain that I was affecting.

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I occasionally meditate, but I'm not sure that it comports with mindfullness. Would anyone care to explain the technique?

 

The technique I am working in is Shamatha meditation. You learn to concentrate by focusing on an object (it could be anything). Then you "watch" the thoughts flow. You will be thinking, but you will also be practicing how to let them go. Without grasping.

 

Got to admit that what has helped me most recently is seeing the Tibetan lama (meditation master). Just watching him teach and how he reacts to things. Nonverbal communication. It is amazing. I have watched him for 3 years now. He only comes to town about twice a year, but I learn so much.

 

One example - we were in retreat last weekend and the fire alarm suddenly went off during a meditation session - picture 100 people meditating and suddenly a fire alarm! Everyone was commenting, saying "what's that", etc. His eyes popped wide open for a second, that was all. Then he was completely relaxed. Then he made a joke. I have also seen him for nearly an hour in a statue like state of meditation - no movement whatsoever. That is extraordinarily difficult to do. This is someone who lives in the moment. To see it and understand that this is really possible is a revolutionary discovery.

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I'm curious if CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Theory) changes brain structure too. I've been working on that with my shrink, and it does have some similar ideas to meditation. As it applied to me, the first step in dealing with anxiety (according to CBT) is to be aware of how you feel without freaking out about it, which sounds an awful lot like mindfulness. You basically learn to catch yourself feeling stressed out before it turns into panic, so that you can deal with it before it gets bad.

 

I did read a few books on meditation at the same time. Sometimes I'd try to meditate to calm down after I'd already gotten myself all worked up over stupid things, and I guess that helped some. But it seemed more that meditation was a good way to practice not-panicking when I was already somewhat calm, so that I would have healthy thought-pattern habits to fall back on when bad things happened, instead of the stress reactions I'd gotten used to. I thought of it as I'd spent so much time being anxious that I'd worn ruts in my brain, and I had to "dig" new channels for the "water" to flow through when there was a "flood". It's cool to think that there could be physically measurable "ruts" in my brain that I was affecting.

 

That is exactly right! You have carved literal neural pathways, and you can make new ones! (me too! Me too!)

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The Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program sounds really familiar, too. I think I first heard of the MBSR program in the book The Mindful Way through Depression (great book, BTW).

 

 

Just ordered a copy of this book - as a result of reading this thread! Thanks everyone.

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cool Andyjj. I have been returning to my breath ever since I tried the guided meditation in the video. Yesterday- a few times- when my schedule was chasing me (like a monster) I took his advice and centered myself in the "now". Stop worrying about what I have to do in an hour and think about what I am doing "now"....it made the day a lot easier.

 

There are a lot of talks out there but this guy, I really like him.

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That is exactly right! You have carved literal neural pathways, and you can make new ones! (me too! Me too!)

 

 

I've carved some pretty bad ones over the last 20 yrs - time to make some new ones! If I can avoid going to a therapist, so much the better!

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I do "rising.falling" at night when I am ready to turn of my mind- don't know if that counts?!

 

What's that?

 

Thank you for this Phanta. I think along with exercise, this should be part of my day- and just like exercise, I don't do it. I am going to incorporate this into my day today. Even if my husband does think imma hippy.

 

*chuckle* You're welcome. Have fun!

 

I occasionally meditate, but I'm not sure that it comports with mindfullness. Would anyone care to explain the technique?

 

Mindfulness is being fully present with what is happening now, in the present. It is not living out a story about the future, or an experience in the past. Mindfulness can be practiced while eating an orange, doing the dishes, driving a car, so long as an experience is engaged fully, with a wholly present mind.

 

Sitting mindfulness meditation is a practice of mindfulness with less stimuli. This is the only moment that is real. So, it is being mindful of the present moment as you sit, mindful of the thoughts that arise interpreting the past or predicting the future, and letting them go (practicing non-attachment to them).

 

My "aha" moment about mindfulness was when Thich Nhat Hanh said something like, "How can you eat an orange if you cannot eat a single piece?" in his great little book describing mindfulness and mindfulness meditation, The Miracle of Mindfulness.

 

Great stories. Clear instruction. I recommend it.

 

I'm curious if CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Theory) changes brain structure too. I've been working on that with my shrink, and it does have some similar ideas to meditation. As it applied to me, the first step in dealing with anxiety (according to CBT) is to be aware of how you feel without freaking out about it, which sounds an awful lot like mindfulness. You basically learn to catch yourself feeling stressed out before it turns into panic, so that you can deal with it before it gets bad.

 

My counselor recommended mindfulness meditation in combination with our CBT for my anxiety. Mindfulness brings us into the present, and anxiety is very rarely about the present. Mindfulness is also part of Dialectical Behavior Therapyfor...borderline personality disorder, I think. One can't change a behavior/thinking if one is not aware of the thinking. Practicing mindfulness certainly increases awareness.

 

Phanta

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I occasionally meditate, but I'm not sure that it comports with mindfullness. Would anyone care to explain the technique?

 

The technique I am working in is Shamatha meditation. You learn to concentrate by focusing on an object (it could be anything). Then you "watch" the thoughts flow. You will be thinking, but you will also be practicing how to let them go. Without grasping.

 

That sounds very similar. They all seem to have an element on non-attachment to thoughts.

 

Got to admit that what has helped me most recently is seeing the Tibetan lama (meditation master). Just watching him teach and how he reacts to things. Nonverbal communication. It is amazing. I have watched him for 3 years now. He only comes to town about twice a year, but I learn so much.

 

One example - we were in retreat last weekend and the fire alarm suddenly went off during a meditation session - picture 100 people meditating and suddenly a fire alarm! Everyone was commenting, saying "what's that", etc. His eyes popped wide open for a second, that was all. Then he was completely relaxed. Then he made a joke. I have also seen him for nearly an hour in a statue like state of meditation - no movement whatsoever. That is extraordinarily difficult to do. This is someone who lives in the moment. To see it and understand that this is really possible is a revolutionary discovery.

 

Wow. That is a deep calm, there. Very cool, Deva.

 

I have a personal experience to share.

 

This morning, I sat down with my mala beads to do repetitions of the Green Tara mantra. About 20-30 in, I realized that my hands were moving always to the next bead mid-repetition. So I decided that I would not move my hand to the next bead until I was done with the entire mantra.

 

Well, something very strange happened. As I focused on being conscious of each syllable and keeping my hand in check, my repetitions slowed significantly (I had to really pull back in order to keep my mind/fingers out of auto-pilot) and then I plunged into a hypnotic trance. I recognize the feeling from my work in self-hypnosis, but was surprised to have it arise spontaneously.

 

Have you ever gone into a hypnotic trance while meditating? I don't know what to make of it.

 

Phanta

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Mindfulness is being fully present with what is happening now, in the present. It is not living out a story about the future, or an experience in the past. Mindfulness can be practiced while eating an orange, doing the dishes, driving a car, so long as an experience is engaged fully, with a wholly present mind.

 

 

One thing I've learned over the years is that principle. I guess I didn't have a word for it but I agree with the principle. Now is all we have.

 

I've also developed a technique over said years to "take a mental step back" in a stressful situation, i.e. to "look" at my brain and body and how I'm coping and what point I want to make.

I've also gotten better at focusing my thoughts on the matter at hand, whatever that may be, instead of letting emotions rule. That could be describe in a sense as meditation.

 

Listening, Miss Deva? I don't think Zen is entirely crazy.GONZ9729CustomImage1539775.gif

 

 

 

 

 

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Cool. My hope is to strengthen my ability to do what you have achieved.

 

I see meditation as a tool to achieve that end.

 

Phanta

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Cool. My hope is to strengthen my ability to do what you have achieved.

 

I see meditation as a tool to achieve that end.

 

Phanta

 

I'm very much still learning. The trick to life I think is getting aged wisdom without so much the aged part. 0-picture.gif

 

 

 

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Have you ever gone into a hypnotic trance while meditating? I don't know what to make of it.

Phanta

 

Thank you for writing of your experience with mantra. I have done thousands of repetitions of a mantra but, no, I can't say I have gone into an actual hypnotic trance yet. I do get sleepy sometimes. Perhaps I have done the hypnotic trance thing in other settings.

 

The mantra does have a way of quieting the mind. If I am stressed, I repeat it in my mind. Completely silently. It really does seem to help.

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One thing I've learned over the years is that principle. I guess I didn't have a word for it but I agree with the principle. Now is all we have.

 

I've also developed a technique over said years to "take a mental step back" in a stressful situation, i.e. to "look" at my brain and body and how I'm coping and what point I want to make.

I've also gotten better at focusing my thoughts on the matter at hand, whatever that may be, instead of letting emotions rule. That could be describe in a sense as meditation.

 

Listening, Miss Deva? I don't think Zen is entirely crazy.GONZ9729CustomImage1539775.gif

 

Oh no, I would never say Zen is crazy.

 

Even if it were, there are "crazy wisdom" yogis. Maybe you are one of them!

 

Yes, we mentally "step back" and look at thoughts. That is exactly what meditation is. You have described it very well. Yes, that IS meditation.

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Well, something very strange happened. As I focused on being conscious of each syllable and keeping my hand in check, my repetitions slowed significantly (I had to really pull back in order to keep my mind/fingers out of auto-pilot) and then I plunged into a hypnotic trance. I recognize the feeling from my work in self-hypnosis, but was surprised to have it arise spontaneously.

 

Have you ever gone into a hypnotic trance while meditating? I don't know what to make of it.

 

Phanta

wow.

I wonder if working with hypnosis previously made you more open to the experience. Back to those neural pathways again. When you were finished did you feel that it had been more beneficial to you?

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Have you ever gone into a hypnotic trance while meditating? I don't know what to make of it.

Phanta

 

Thank you for writing of your experience with mantra. I have done thousands of repetitions of a mantra but, no, I can't say I have gone into an actual hypnotic trance yet. I do get sleepy sometimes. Perhaps I have done the hypnotic trance thing in other settings.

 

The mantra does have a way of quieting the mind. If I am stressed, I repeat it in my mind. Completely silently. It really does seem to help.

 

Would you two mind sharing your favorite mantras and what they mean? Or maybe a link to a good place. All I know is "OHM"...;)

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Have you ever gone into a hypnotic trance while meditating? I don't know what to make of it.

Phanta

 

Thank you for writing of your experience with mantra.

 

Thank you for receiving my experience and writing back!

 

I have a couple questions for you, as someone who participates in meditation.

 

I have done thousands of repetitions of a mantra but, no, I can't say I have gone into an actual hypnotic trance yet. I do get sleepy sometimes.

 

I also used to get sleepy. And even fall asleep (which is a little embarrassing). This was markedly different and identical to my previously separate intentional self-hypnosis experiences.

 

When you say "yet", I wonder if you have heard of this happening to others?

 

The mantra does have a way of quieting the mind. If I am stressed, I repeat it in my mind. Completely silently. It really does seem to help.

 

It helps me some, but it has not one of my best tools historically. Of course, as you are aware, I lack discipline, so that's not surprising.

 

That's cool that it works at quieting your mind.

 

Phanta

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