It’s now proven: the practice of meditation and mindfulness can rewire your brain and reduce stress in just 8 weeks.
Researchers at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital have released the results of a scientific study, based on MRI imaging, that examined the impact of meditation and mindfulness practices on brain health and plasticity.
They report that research participants who spent an average of 27 minutes daily on mindfulness exercises reduced stress factors and increased the gray-matter density of their brains in areas associated with “self-awareness, compassion and introspection.” Participants also improved brain functions associated with memory and empathy.
These benefits took just 8 weeks of disciplined practice to be realized.
This research built on and reinforced the findings of earlier studies that revealed the healthful impacts of meditation; however, those prior studies (unlike this one) did not conclusively document the causal relationship between meditation and brain plasticity.
As the study’s senior author, Sara Lazar of Mass General, reports:
This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements [referring to prior research], and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.
Britta Hölzel, a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University (Germany) and co-author, notes:
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.
Participants in the study took part in the 8‑week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness.
If moving to central Massachusetts to take part in a 2‑month program is not a viable option for you, there are home-based alternatives.
I’m working my way through several books on MBSR and mindfulness written by Jon Kabat-Zinn. I’ve invested in a meditation cushion, and leave my yoga mat permanently unfurled, as a reminder to invest time every day in mindfulness practice. Between yoga and mindfulness, I’m beginning to savor increased well-being — and hope these benefits will expand outward to friends, family, colleagues and the larger community.