Mindfulness Meditation Training Changes Brain Structure in 8 Weeks

Dr. Morgan Camp M.D.

IN BRIEF

Did you know that you can build (and reduce) brain matter with meditation? Just as you lift weights to sculpt your muscles, meditation is how your brain pumps iron.

Mindfulness is a kind of meditation that focuses on being aware, without explanation or judgment, of what you feel and are experiencing in the moment. It involves breathing procedures, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the mind and body and contribute to stress reduction.

The history of mindfulness dates back thousands of years, however, modern coaching, exercises, and therapies were developed in the late 1970s by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor of medicine emeritus at the University of Massachusetts. His Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program Was originally developed for medical patients with maladaptive health behaviors, stress-related conditions, and/or chronic pain. (1)  

Mindfulness techniques can vary, but often, mindfulness meditation simply involves breathing practices and consciousness of body and mind. 

Proponents claim from studies in mindfulness meditation, changes in brain structure can be achieved in just eight weeks of training. 

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program

The original program entailed eight consecutive weekly sessions in which instruction and practice in mindfulness meditation and Hatha Yoga were conducted, including lectures and discussions on the role of stress and its impact on the body and mind. 

Participants practiced yoga asanas (body poses) and meditation for 45 minutes a day, 6 days a week. Awareness exercises were recorded in a journal for 15 minutes each day. 

Towards the end of the program, participants were also required to attend a day-long silent retreat. This “Day of Attention” incorporated periods of long meditation and yoga practice. 

New Study: MRI Studies show Meditation Improves Brain Health

Now, a new team from Massachusetts General Hospital, studying regions of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress, have linked the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program to changes in the brain’s gray-matter during the eight-week meditation program. 

During the study, 16 participants took part in the (MBSR) program in which MR images were taken two weeks prior and two weeks after completion of the program. The images were analyzed and post-MRI scans found increases in gray-matter density in the hippocampus, a region of the brain known to be one of the principal areas for learning, memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection (learning about one’s conscious thoughts and feelings). 

Participants reported reductions in stress which corresponded with a reduction in grey-matter density in the amygdala, a known region of the brain which plays an important role in anxiety and stress. A mindfulness questionnaire, taken before and after, noted significant improvements when the program was completed. (2) 

Lifestyle Tips And Mindfulness Meditation

With so many people at the point of burnout due to stress-related issues of the day, work, home, and lifestyle choices, large numbers are looking to alternative methods of relieving stress and anxiety, or simply learning how to relax, unwind or reset their physical and mental well-being. Some of those lifestyle choices are coupled with mindfulness meditation, complementing each other and leading to a healthier balance and improved wellness.

  • Physical exercise: U.S. adults who practiced mindfulness meditation were more likely to be physically active and meet health recommendations in exercise and physical activity. (3)  
  • Weight management: Activities such as meditation are commonly used as strategies to improve wellbeing, relieve pain and avoid stress. As stress is often the root cause of overeating, increased focus through mindfulness tends to make us eat healthier, suggesting that weight loss can be minimized without food. (4)  
  • Alcohol reduction. Tests have shown that mindfulness training may help reduce alcohol consumption and prevent relapse amongst at-risk drinkers. (5)  
  • Sleep aid: Mindfulness meditation can help bring about a relaxed state of mind that is conducive to falling asleep and maintaining sleep patterns. This reaction is often described as the relaxation response or the opposite of the stress response. (6) 
  • Positive thinking resulting from mindfulness may increase motivation leading to a healthier lifestyle. Mindfulness may also be positively associated with cardiovascular health concerning smoking, body mass index, and physical activity. Mindfulness-based treatments may have the potential to strengthen the effects of cardiovascular health promotion programs and practices in the future if further studies are found to consistently improve cardiovascular disease risk factors. (7)  

Bringing Mindfulness Meditation Into Your Life

To introduce the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program into your life and enjoy the beneficial changes it brings, you need only commit to a few initial lifestyle changes.

  1. Set aside 45-60 minutes per day, for meditation and yoga, for 6 days for the next 8 weeks. This may be difficult at first and a little adjustment in your daily schedule may be necessary. However, this commitment will become easier as you move through the program and begin to see positive results.
  1. Practice mindfulness in your daily life. Focussing attention on the present moment during simple activities throughout the day improves your meditation practice. 
  1. Don’t focus on goals: Allow yourself to fully experience the predominant part of the program, which is “non-doing” or “non-striving.” Put aside the need to obtain a certain objective such as relaxation, pain relief, or inner peace. These goals will come to you as you progress.
  1. Try to approach your practice with an outlook of kindness, compassion, forbearance, openness, and an interest in learning about yourself and others. Observe and develop a deeper awareness. 
  1. Share feelings, experiences, or events with others, either orally or written that are relevant to the formal or informal practice of mindfulness or stress management. 

Relax And Enjoy Your Experience

It is always helpful to be in a relaxed state of body and mind before you begin mindfulness. If you find it difficult to sit still or be at ease during meditation, Be serene Instant Relief applied topically to temples and wrists can help easily return you to a place of calm and equanimity. 

The natural stress and anxiety-busting ingredients will both aid and complement mindfulness meditation, which in turn can adjust brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress. 

As science has proven, ancient techniques and ingredients garnished from nature’s garden can take us beyond the need for conventional medicines and alter our susceptibility to stress, anxiety and help us fight the pressures of modern living. 

Sources:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness-based_stress_reduction 
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S092549271000288X 
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30234351/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5319254/
  5. https://academic.oup.com/ijnp/article/20/11/936/4060517?login=true
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29599851/ 
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25339282/

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About Dr. Morgan Camp M.D.

Dr. Morgan is an expert in Functional and Integrative Medicine with a Strong Emphasis in stress related illnesses like anxiety and insomnia. In addition to his 20 years of work in Functional Medicine, he has expanded his practice to include work on the deeper aspects of our being that point to the root cause of our illnesses working with Mind Body Wellness, Energy Medicine, and Healing with Consciousness.
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