Scientists have found that mindfulness meditation practice is linked with physical changes in the brain — changes that may even have protective effects against mental illness like anxiety and depression.
Researchers from the University of Oregon studied past data from a 2010 study of 45 undergraduate students, as well as a past study on 68 students at the Dalian University of Technology in China, who practiced mind-body training. The meditation technique places heavy emphasis on being aware of the mind, body and environment.
Using diffusion tensor imaging, an MRI imaging technique, the researchers were able to look at the brain structure changes that occurred in connection with the mindfulness meditation practice.
The researchers found that after two weeks of practicing this kind of meditation, the study participants had an increase in the number of signaling connections in the brain, called axonal density.
And after a month of practicing the meditation — which comes out to about 11 hours of meditation total — the researchers found that there were even more increases in brain signaling connections, as well as an increase in protective tissue (called myelin) around the axons in a part of the brain called the anterior cingulate region. The study participants also had better moods after practicing the meditation.
“This dynamic pattern of white matter change involving the anterior cingulate cortex, a part of the brain network related to self-regulation, could provide a means for intervention to improve or prevent mental disorders,” the researchers wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study.
Last year, researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital published a study in the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging showing that engaging in a mindfulness meditation program for eight weeks is linked with changes in the memory, empathy, stress and sense of self regions of the brain.
“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,” study researcher Sara Lazar, Ph.D., of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program, said in a statement.
There’s no better time to get your mindfulness meditation practice underway than the present.