26 Dec Mindfulness Meditation Improves Connections In the Brain
When I’m stressed, I listen to a 20-minute mindfulness meditation tape. It always helps me feel calmer and more relaxed. Many meditative practices can do this. But mindfulness meditation is getting a lot of attention because it seems to help with so many physical and psychological problems—like high blood pressure, chronic pain, psoriasis, sleep trouble, anxiety, and depression. It’s also been shown to boost immune function and stop binge eating. No one knows for sure what’s behind these benefits, but physical changes in the brain probably play a role.
Mindfulness meditation is a mental discipline. You start by focusing your attention on your breath, a sensation in the body, or a chosen word or phrase. You note the thoughts, emotions, and background sounds that arise from moment to moment, observing them without analyzing them or making judgments about what’s going on around you. If you drift into thoughts about the past or concerns about the future, you bring your attention back to the present, for example, by refocusing on your breathing. It takes practice.
A new study, published in the May 2011 issue of Neuroimage, suggests that one effect of all this focusing and refocusing is increased brain connectivity. Researchers at the University of California-Los Angeles compared the brain activity of volunteers who had finished eight weeks of mindfulness-based stress reduction training with that of volunteers who did not do such training. Functional MRI scans showed stronger connections in several regions of the meditators’ brains—especially those associated with attention and auditory and visual processing. Unfortunately, the study didn’t scan the volunteers’ brains before mindfulness training, so no one can say for sure that mindfulness training was responsible for the differences.
To read full article, visit Harvard Health Publications of Harvard Medical School.