A better brain within a span of eight weeks??

Does it sound feasible at all? Yes, it is possible! A meditation study showed visible changes that are associated with stress and awareness post mindful meditation.

The study proved that participation in a mindfulness meditation program for eight weeks can bring about changes that can be quantified in specific brain regions. The positive effects were found in the areas of stress, memory, empathy and sense of self.

The results have been reported by Harvard affiliated researchers’ team post the conclusion of their study. It is in fact a first of its kind wherein reports related to meditation produced changes have been documented.

It has been known from time immemorial that meditation brings in a lot of peace and relaxation for a person. However, practitioners have been claiming that it can also bring about psychological as well as cognitive benefits that better the functioning of an individual.

Previous studies showed structural differences in the brains of the experienced meditation practitioners and people with no experience in meditation. They observed a thickening in the cerebral cortex especially in those areas that are pertaining to emotional integration and attention.

In the current study, MR images (magnetic resonance) of the brain structure were taken of the 16 participants, before and after they were a part of the 8 week program. The sessions included practicing mindful meditation. Additionally they were also provided with audio recordings that guided them as to how meditation has to be practiced. They were asked to note down the time they had meditated every day. As a part of the study, MR brain images of the non-meditators were taken in the same intervals as was taken for the experiment group.

Meditators reported that they spent 27 minutes on an average every day doing mindfulness exercises. Their responses were compared to the responses given before the participation in the 8 week programme. An analysis of their MR images also showed that there is an increase in the density of the gray matter in the hippocampus. This area is known to be extremely essential in the areas of memory and learning and also in structures that are pertinent to introspection, self awareness and compassion.

The participants reported a reduction in stress levels. It also correlated with the decreased density of the gray matter in the amygdala. Amygdala is considered to play a pivotal role in arousing stress and anxiety. These changes were not reported however by the non-meditators.

It is truly interesting and intriguing too to note that we can change the way our brain functions and become the cause of our own well being. There are numerous other studies too that have reported significant improvements in a range of areas.

The eight-week mindfulness training program is found to bring about structural changes in the brain, especially the amygdala. This finding definitely opens more avenues for researchers to gain an insight into ways that will help people overcome disorders that are stress-related.

If you need help to cope with stress and to explore new techniques to make you better, consult our experts.

Prof. Madhu Kosuri

I have completed 30 years of teaching and research in psychology at the Department of Psychology and Parapsychology, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, India.