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Meditation associated with structural changes in brain

The regular practice of meditation appears to produce structural changes in areas of the brain associated with attention and sensory processing. An imaging study led by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers showed that particular areas of the cerebral cortex, the outer layer of the brain, were thicker in participants who were experienced practitioners of a type of meditation commonly practiced in the U.S. and other Western countries. The article appears in the Nov. 15 issue of NeuroReport, and the research also is being presented Nov. 14 at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in Washington, DC.

"Our results suggest that meditation can produce experience-based structural alterations in the brain," says Sara Lazar, PhD, of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program, the study's lead author. "We also found evidence that mediation may slow down the aging-related atrophy of certain areas of the brain."

Studies have shown that mediation can produce alterations in brain activity, and meditation practitioners have described changes in mental function that last long after actual meditation ceases, implying long-term effects. However, those studies usually examined Buddhist monks who practiced mediation as a central focus of their lives.

To investigate whether meditation as typically practiced in the U.S. could change the brain's structure, the current study enrolled 20 practitioners of Buddhist Insight meditation ?which focuses on "mindfulness," a specific, nonjudgmental awareness of sensations, feelings and state of mind. They averaged nine years of mediation experience and practiced about six hours per week. For comparison, 15 people with no experience of meditation or yoga were enrolled as controls.

Using standard MRI to produce detailed images of the structure of participants' brains, the researchers found that regions involved in the mental activities that characterize Insight meditation were thicker in the medi
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Source:Massachusetts General Hospital


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