Mindfulness Research – 8 Weeks of Meditation Alters Brain Structure

Since the invention of functional MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) technology, scientific meditation studies have been focusing on changes in the brain structure of meditation practitioners.

One of the latest was a Harvard connected study at Massachusetts General Hospital that was published in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging on January 30th, 2011.

Long term meditation practitioners have, for a long time, boasted fundamental and persistent cognitive changes that go beyond the short term results of relaxation. This group of scientists used MRI scans to investigate the claims.

Meditation Alters Brain Structure

The researchers scanned the brains of 16 participants before and after they participated in an eight week mindfulness meditation program based on the teachings of Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. They also gave participants a questionnaire about stress levels.

The meditation program consisted of daily meditation, often guided with audio instruction, plus weekly mindfulness meditation meetings. Participants, all of them beginners, recorded an average of 27 minutes of mindfulness meditation per day. The control group did not participate in the program.

After the conclusion of the eight weeks, the MR scans of the meditation group showed increased gray-matter density in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is associated with memory and learning. Similar changes were observed in areas of the brain linked to compassion and self awareness.

Scans of the amygdala revealed decreased grey-matter. The amygdala is associated with the fight or flight response to threats both real and perceived. An overactive amygdala typically correlates with unnecessarily high stress levels.

These discoveries, especially the decreased amygdala activity, correlated with self reports of the participants.

“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, an author of the study.

Tom Von Deck

Tom Von Deck is a meditation trainer, corporate speaker and author of Oceanic Mind – The Deeper Meditation Training Course. Tom specializes in making meditation a much easier and more customized process for busy and non-busy people from all backgrounds and paths. He is the Mackdaddy of The Deeper Meditation Blog and DeeperMeditation.net.

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Share your thoughts on this mindfulness research in the comments below.

6 thoughts on “Mindfulness Research – 8 Weeks of Meditation Alters Brain Structure”

  1. Thanks so much for all the help,
    I have learnt so much. I am very grateful to you. I wish to always be
    on your website. Thanks again
    and God bless you.
    Love not Light. Linda.

  2. Now i realise why ive never given matedition a chance before now! Whenever ive tried to concentrate just on my breathing id get distracted and feel as though id failed in some way. This vid has shown that this isnt so. Thats its normal to be distracted,,, The Hmmm bit made me laugh! I did a lot of Hmming in my minute! Great vid, thankyou.

  3. Dr Zinn is a phd professor of Psychiatry at u of machusetts and coined the word mindfulness meditation. Dr. Herbert Benson at Harvard Medical School from the 60s did the original research with the Buddhist monk showing that meditation changes the brain they’re two separate people that work together but Herbert Benson published in 1971 the relaxation response which is a response to stress produced by brains stress hormones. This is a different doctor Dan Brown professor Harvard University also does visualization of meditation seminars and he has deciphered almost 1/3 of the original manuals a meditation was taught that meditation which was taken over by Buddhist meditation but the original was that Benton. I have started with all of these masters and the research is not new it is ancient

    1. Even thousands of years before functional MRI, many people knew these things experientially. Artistic expressions of saints feature halos. I suspect it’s a fully activated brain.

  4. I consider it to be the best explanation of anything.The ways and words you have used are impeccable.Once you start, You can’t stop yourself to finish it completely. All the Points seems to be purely valid.I really thank you for sharing the information in such a amazing way.Moreover- Even I wrote a book-EMBODIMENT-which i would really appreciate if you check it out as well!

  5. Pingback: Scientific Meditation Research Shows Improved Empathy & Compassion

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