Meditating for as little as four weeks can make your brain work better. At least, that's what a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests.
Researchers compared a group of people who had a 4-week training in mindfulness meditation to a group trained in relaxation techniques. The meditation group showed changes in the brain's white matter and the structural efficiency of the nerve cells in the region associated with self-regulation. Those changes were associated with positive behavioral changes in the study subjects.
The technique used in this study is called Integrated Body Mind Training. In recent years, the health benefits of similar meditation techniques, such as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), have become increasingly recognized and validated by scientific research.
This and related research has demonstrated that adults brains retain "plasticity," with the ability to learn new tricks even as we age. That undercuts the long-held idea that our brains are fully developed by the end of early childhood.
I've been practicing mindfulness meditation daily, and teaching it to my patients, over the last decade. To put it simply, we learn to pay attention to our senses with an open and nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment. My interest and practice of MBSR grew out of meeting and learning with Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., who pioneered the technique at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center with patients suffering with cancer. As in most forms of meditation, daily practice over time provides the most benefit but significant improvements in well-being can be experienced in just a few weeks.
Mechanisms of white matter changes induced by meditation [PNAS]
—Joseph Mosquera, M.D.