Meditation changes brain 8 weeks

Eight Weeks of Meditation Doesn't Change the Brain, Study Finds

Can meditation restructure our brains? Several recent studies have claimed that, with daily practice, meditation can boost grey matter volume and density in some brain areas in just eight short weeks. But a study published today (May 20) in Science Advances—one with the largest sample size yet—was not able to replicate these findings. 

“There was frankly a lot of hype . . . saying that if you meditated for eight weeks you could change the volume of your prefrontal cortex. That is false,” study coauthor Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, tells The Scientist. He adds that beneficial functional and behavioral changes due to meditation are likely to occur much faster, however. 

“From a methodological standpoint, [the study] really addressed some of the concerns that are common in a lot of imaging research,” says Matthew Jerram, a psychology researcher at Suffolk University in Boston who was not involved in the study. “I think a lot of the people who’ve done research on . . . mindfulness based treatments will probably be disappointed. . . . But if they’re really honest with each other, I don’t think they’ll be surprised.” 

Amishi Jha, a psychologist at the University of Miami who also was not involved in the work, agrees that the study “astutely addressed” flaws of the studies it replicated. “This is a stellar study,” she writes in an email to The Scientist.

Based on their own and other groups’ previous studies on long-term meditators, the study’s authors say that meditation can eventually boost brain volume and neuron density in some key areas—but, they add, it’s likely these changes take much longer than eight weeks to occur.

Investigating meditation’s effects on the brain

The study focused on a meditation program called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), a popular mindfulness intervention that clinicians developed to help patients cope with pain. The authors and other experts are quick to point out that MBSR is very effective—studies have found that it helps reduce stress and lessen symptoms of anxiety, depression, and chronic pain.  

Previous studies have reported that MBSR, which involves 24-30 hours of meditation practice over two months, led to an increase in gray matter density—a measure of the amount of cortical grey matter in a given area — and gray matter volume—the total size of the grey matter— in several brain areas including the hippocampus, posterior cingulate cortex, and the temporoparietal junction. These regions are involved in learning and memory and emotional regulation, and the study authors interpreted the findings as evidence that meditation might, in a short time span, improve both. 

But those same studies also used small sample sizes, typically one to two dozen participants. And many didn’t use controls that also received positive interventions, instead of looking at the effect of a treatment on individuals versus a lack of intervention. Thus, in previous studies, the fact that there was a positive intervention at all may have caused a change, rather than meditation specifically. The authors and experts tell The Scientist that to be certain that MBSR was responsible for neurological changes, researchers needed to compare its effects to other positive interventions, such as those focused on diet and exercise.  

So over seven years, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison conducted two randomized controlled trials with more than 70 subjects each in the experimental and control groups. In both, patients were placed in one of three groups: a group that attended an MBSR session each week and practiced mindfulness-based relaxation techniques daily, a control group that received a different positive wellbeing intervention training called HEP—which focuses on music therapy, healthy eating, and exercise—and a third group that was told they would get one of these interventions later. The patients received structural MRI brain scans before and after eight weeks of these interventions (or in the control group’s case, eight weeks of waiting). 

Drawing a blank

I think a lot of the people who’ve done research on . . . mindfulness based treatments will probably be disappointed. . . . But if they’re really honest with each other, I don’t think they’ll be surprised.

—Matthew Jerram, University of Suffolk

Davidson says that based on previous studies, he expected MBSR to lead to structural changes within the brain. The researchers compared gray matter density, gray matter volume, and cortical thickness before and after the intervention in various regions of interest, including the hippocampus, the posterior cingulate cortex, and the temporoparietal junction. The team chose regions other researchers had found to have MBSR-linked changes in size or density, plus other regions that are involved in emotional processing. But in the brain regions they analyzed, the researchers didn’t find any differences when comparing changes in gray matter density, gray matter volume, or cortical thickness among the groups. The researchers also found no differences among the groups when they looked at changes in volume and density across the whole brain over the course of the experiment.   

Within the MBSR group, the researchers did find that people who practiced the mindfulness meditation-based techniques they’d learned in the course for more than 22 minutes each day had significantly smaller amygdalas—a region associated with stress and fear—after eight weeks.  

Davidson says that this connection is to be expected. Brain structure changes occur when people practice other skills, like exercise or learning a new instrument, so it’s likely that changes also come about when practicing meditation—eventually. “It’s not just 24 or 30 hours of practice, it’s going to take more. And it’s kind of not surprising, because in order to develop a skill, we need thousands of hours of practice, not 25 hours of practice,” says Davidson.

The contrast between the results of earlier studies with fewer subjects and the current work aligns with a study earlier this year that found small sample sizes in MRI-based research can generate misleading results, and that data drawn from typical study sample sizes is insufficient to be reliable. 

Davidson says he hopes that the new meditation study will serve as a “useful corrective in the field and help to tone down some of the hype that has been associated with these kinds of practices.” 

“We’re big fans of meditation,” he says, “but we’re big fans of truth, too.

Eight weeks to a better brain – Harvard Gazette

Health & Medicine

"Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day," says study senior author Sara Lazar.


Meditation study shows changes associated with awareness, stress

By Sue McGreevey MGH Communications


Participating in an eight-week mindfulness meditation program appears to make measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress. In a study that will appear in the Jan. 30 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, a team led by Harvard-affiliated researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) reported the results of their study, the first to document meditation-produced changes over time in the brain’s gray matter.

“Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day,” says study senior author Sara Lazar of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program and a Harvard Medical School instructor in psychology. “This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.”

Previous studies from Lazar’s group and others found structural differences between the brains of experienced meditation practitioners and individuals with no history of meditation, observing thickening of the cerebral cortex in areas associated with attention and emotional integration. But those investigations could not document that those differences were actually produced by meditation.

For the current study, magnetic resonance (MR) images were taken of the brain structure of 16 study participants two weeks before and after they took part in the eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness. In addition to weekly meetings that included practice of mindfulness meditation — which focuses on nonjudgmental awareness of sensations, feelings, and state of mind — participants received audio recordings for guided meditation practice and were asked to keep track of how much time they practiced each day. A set of MR brain images was also taken of a control group of nonmeditators over a similar time interval.

Meditation group participants reported spending an average of 27 minutes each day practicing mindfulness exercises, and their responses to a mindfulness questionnaire indicated significant improvements compared with pre-participation responses. The analysis of MR images, which focused on areas where meditation-associated differences were seen in earlier studies, found increased gray-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.

Participant-reported reductions in stress also were correlated with decreased gray-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress. Although no change was seen in a self-awareness-associated structure called the insula, which had been identified in earlier studies, the authors suggest that longer-term meditation practice might be needed to produce changes in that area. None of these changes were seen in the control group, indicating that they had not resulted merely from the passage of time.

“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, first author of the paper and a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany. “Other studies in different patient populations have shown that meditation can make significant improvements in a variety of symptoms, and we are now investigating the underlying mechanisms in the brain that facilitate this change.”

Amishi Jha, a University of Miami neuroscientist who investigates mindfulness-training’s effects on individuals in high-stress situations, says, “These results shed light on the mechanisms of action of mindfulness-based training. They demonstrate that the first-person experience of stress can not only be reduced with an eight-week mindfulness training program but that this experiential change corresponds with structural changes in the amygdala, a finding that opens doors to many possibilities for further research on MBSR’s potential to protect against stress-related disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.” Jha was not one of the study investigators.

James Carmody of the Center for Mindfulness at University of Massachusetts Medical School is one of the co-authors of the study, which was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the British Broadcasting Company, and the Mind and Life Institute. For more information on the work of Lazar’s team.

Meditation can renew your brain in 8 weeks / culture

Meditation can transform your brain in 8 weeks. Areas that seem to be changing are those associated with memory, empathy and stress, as well as issues related to attention and emotional integration.

It's not a fan or pseudoscience buff talking about this, but a team of researchers at a Massachusetts hospital who documented the results.

This study was published in Psychiatric Research; it implemented an eight-week meditation program that we expected to evaluate the benefits that meditation has on our emotions, our behavior, and our thoughts.

The brain changes what meditation gives us

Although it is well known that the benefits of meditation are many, up to this point it has not been found that the changes occurred so quickly, much less that the coverage was so.

It has been seen that meditation produces modifications in areas of the brain that are associated with memory, self-awareness, empathy and stress. That is, what we understand with shades of spirituality really improves our state of physical and mental health.

When someone meditates, they not only feel better because they feel relaxed, but also because the structure of their brain has skillfully changed their connections. Apparently, it is not necessary to be an expert in meditation to enjoy its benefits and feel that it increases our capacity for emotional integration and attention integration.

In fact, study participants only spent 27 minutes each day doing meditation exercises.. 8 weeks was enough to observe brain changes as an increase in gray matter density in the hippocampus (memory zone) and in other areas associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection.

In addition, there was a decrease in the density of the amygdala, a structure responsible for emotional states such as stress, anxiety or fear. That is, thanks to the plasticity of our brain, we have the opportunity every day to be better for others and for ourselves..

Meditation, a custom that allows us to live in the present

If we meditate diligently, one of the changes we will soon be able to appreciate is the ability to live in the present, here and now, leaving aside anxious thoughts about the past or the future.

As we said, this is not only causes a state of relaxation, but also allows us to gain more control over ourselves . Through meditation, we will internalize our words and thoughts, as well as the dialogue we have with ourselves.

This practice will be very helpful, as we will be able to better understand our emotions without clouding them with negative thoughts and, as a result, acting with greater restraint..

This leads to emotional and social success because self-control over us will lead to better relationships, our projects and our daily lives.

this subject, because although experts and advice abound, this is not always the case, but it is a discipline that requires intellectual exercise and the help of a trained instructor.

As we progress, meditation dissolves and frees our thoughts, forcing us to focus on the present and overcome stress and anxiety. Our mind will always want to show that consciousness is hidden, so it may be difficult at first to deal with tingling, itching of the scalp, or any other discomfort.

In any case, if you still do not know any meditation practice and would like to delve into this world that brings so many benefits, you should take some time to inform yourself and think about the type of meditation that best suits you, your values, your beliefs and your needs. This will no doubt be the first step you should take to turn this wonderful and rewarding habit into a habit..

Meditation, the path to personal well-being Different cultures and religions have developed different meditation techniques. Today it is an exercise that helps and promotes healthy practice for our body and mind. Achieving balance and finding yourself with us Read More »

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In 2011, an article was published in the journal Psychiatry Research with the results of a study of mindfulness.

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