Meditation and Your Brain

A recent and important research study out of neuro-imaging researcher Sara Lazar’s lab (my old lab) at Massachusetts General Hospital was published in late January.  The study found changes in the structure of the brains in people who completed an eight-week class in mindfulness meditation.  This result is another piece of evidence that that the adult brain can experience far more physical changes than previously thought.

MRI of the brain
MRI scan of the human brain

This study suggests that we can change our brains in just eight weeks!  The authors of the study tell us that in their study, people who completed the eight-week mindfulness meditation program experienced changes in parts of their brains “responsible for learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.”

The eight-week program used in that study is known as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), a meditation program developed at the University of Massachusetts that has been shown to be helpful in the reduction of anxiety and stress.  MBSR has also been shown to reduce the impact of chronic pain, and to have other positive health effects. In the past 25 years, MBSR has become more widely available.  In the New York area, the Mindfulness Meditation New York Collaborative is a good resource for learning more about MBSR and for finding local MBSR classes.

Thanks to research studies like the brain study described above, we are learning more about how helpful mindfulness meditation can be.