Mindfulness meditation improves brain function

9 03 2011


Just two months participation in a mindfulness meditation program can have a considerable effect on the regions of the brain linked to sense of self, memory, stress and empathy.

A team of researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) used MR imaging to study the brain structure of 16 study participants two weeks before taking part in the eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness. The same measurements were also taken of a control group of 16 people.

The meditation participants took part in weekly meetings in which they focused on awareness of sensations, feelings and state of mind, and also used recorded resources with which to guide meditation each day. With an average daily practice of just under half an hour, participants responses to a mindfulness questionnaire exhibited improvements. MR images showing an increased density of grey-matter in the hippocampus and decreased density in the amygdala pointed to positive improvements in the areas of learning and memory, compassion, self-awareness and introspection, and also to reduced stress.

The study’s senior author, Sara Lazar, PhD, of the hospital’s Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program, said ‘Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day. 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.’

Britta Hölzel, PhD, a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany and first author of the paper commented; ‘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. Other studies in different patient populations have shown that meditation can make significant improvements in a variety of symptoms, and we are now investigating the underlying mechanisms in the brain that facilitate this change.’

Source: Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging





Synchronicity

26 03 2010

There has been 2 significant ones over the last few months that I would love to share.

Synchronicity event #1: The first one involved me driving for an hour to attend a seminar on Cancer in Dee Why, a beautiful Northern beach suburb of Sydney.  One of the speakers was an oncologist that I had met a couple of years ago at a talk by Jon Kabat-Zinn on “Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction” so it was good to say hello to him again.  After the talk I introduced myself to a few other groups there from various cancer support to rehabilitation hospitals.  One of the hospitals had a Wellness facility that I felt I may be able offer my services with Qigong and I had on the previous days been trying to phone to speak to the Doctor who heads the rehab facility with no avail.

Well, what’s the chance to be able to speak to a busy doctor?  Very slim chance ??! But, hold this thought, will be back to this in a  minute.

So anyway I felt compelled to drop by the beach since it was so near by.  It was low tide so I walked round and found a quiet spot to practiced my Tai Chi for a while.  After that I got out my trusty iPhone to take some photos of the beautiful sandstone rocks and the blue sea.  A gentleman who had walked past previously came by and offered to take photos of me doing some Tai Chi steps (see photos below).   The amazing thing was that he is an acquaintance from about 10 years ago who was from another company that worked on an I.T. project I was involved in.  We talked and I was thoroughly amazed of his work with Angels!!   We talked for a long while and then parted and I am trying to decide if I would just drive home or head towards this rehabilitation hospital.

I decide to visit the hospital and when I got there the manager I met at the seminar earlier had left.   So I am walking back to the car and then noticed a sign “The Wellness Centre”.  Ah, so this is THE place …  so I walk in but there is no one around but some voices came from the rooms.  I wait hoping to introduce myself to one of the physio staff.

Then someone comes out from the room and walks up to where I am standing and says to me “I am Doctor xxx, have you been waiting for me?”  You could have knocked me over with a feather!  It was the very Doctor that I had been trying to contact by phone the previous days and now he is right in front of me bright and handsome asking me this question!!!

Synchronicity event #2: During my last retreat to the Brahma Kumaris (BK) retreat centre, (refer to On Cloud Nine blog entry) Louise mentions about Dr Roger Cole, a palliative care Oncologist and his work.  So I purchased his international best seller book “Mission of Love” and one evening two weeks later  I decide to pick up the book and started to read the first couple of chapters.  It is very beautiful and his writing moved me.  I got somewhat teary and probably in my heart asked how would I be able to do offer my services and meet with someone like Dr Cole.

Well, what’s the chance to meet up with a well-respected busy doctor, and an author?  Very slim chance ?? !

The phone rings and it’s my friend BK Pam.  We chat for a while and then she asks “There is a talk on by Dr Roger Cole this Friday, would you like to attend?”   I turn and look at the cover of the book in my hands and it IS the very same Doctor that I just said minutes ago I wanted to meet!!!

So we all went to the talk and thoroughly enjoyed hearing about his work with terminally ill patients and how through his own spiritual journey and growth has been able to help so many be peaceful and complete in their last days.  I introduce myself and had Dr Cole sign my book.  He says it would be good to have me do some Qigong when he holds some of his presentation.  I said if he felt it was appropriate,  I would be delighted to and asked when he would be doing the next one.  As we talked it turns out that he is the very person who will be facilitating the one-day retreat on “The Power of Spiritual Love” that I had already booked in to, weeks before!