Researchers at Dalian University of Technology in China, using imaging technology, have found that people develop measurable changes in the white matter of the brain after learning mindfulness meditation. The study was published online June 11 in the journal "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."
"The notable physical changes suggest that short-term meditation can improve self-control, mood, stress response and immunity response," said Michael Posner, a co-author of the study and a professor emeritus at the University of Oregon, in Eugene.
The authors say their earlier research showed that learning can alter white matter, which affects how the brain learns, acting as a relay system and coordinating among different brain regions.
In this latest study, the researchers set out to measure the degree of alteration, focusing on areas of the brain that they felt were most likely to change from the training the participants received.
The researchers found evidence of measurable changes in white matter associated with a part of the brain network related to self-regulation—the anterior cingulate cortex—after short exposure to focused meditation. The same changes did not occur after relaxation-oriented meditation, which emphasizes sequential relaxation of different muscle groups.
"This study builds on other work that has confirmed that you can demonstrate structural changes in the brain," said Dr. Nicholas Schiff, an associate professor of neurology and neuroscience at Weill Cornell Medical College, in New York City.
"What's so impressive to me is that, in this study, they actually quantify that there's evidence for changes in the structure of the brain and a dynamic process at work," Schiff said. "It's very important to characterize how the adult brain modifies in response to the environment. This study is a substantial contribution."
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Want to know more about how mindfulness affects the brain? See these stories on Mindful.org.
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