Eight Weeks of Mindfulness Meditation Changes Brain Structure, in a Good Way
When we last visited mindfulness meditation, we learned that mindfulness beats painfulness hands down, or palms up, depending on one’s choice of poses. Now comes a study from researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital that suggests that mindfulness meditation is a brain changer, literally. And that’s a good thing. Science Daily reports that the researchers took MR images of the brain structure of 16 study participants two weeks before and after they took part in the 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program. 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. After eights weeks of meditation, images of their brains found increased density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection. None of these changes were seen in the control group.
How to do it, from About.com.
1. Find a quiet and comfortable place. Sit in a chair or on the floor with your head, neck and back straight but not stiff.
2. Try to put aside all thoughts of the past and the future and stay in the present.
3. Become aware of your breathing, focusing on the sensation of air moving in and out of your body as you breathe. Feel your belly rise and fall, the air enter your nostrils and leave your mouth. Pay attention to the way each breath changes and is different.
4. Watch every thought come and go, whether it be a worry, fear, anxiety or hope. When thoughts come up in your mind, don’t ignore or suppress them but simply note them, remain calm and use your breathing as an anchor.
5. If you find yourself getting carried away in your thoughts, observe where your mind went off to, without judging, and simply return to your breathing. Remember not to be hard on yourself if this happens.
6. As the time comes to a close, sit for a minute or two, becoming aware of where you are. Get up gradually.