What eight weeks of mindfulness training do to your brain

Posted on October 21, 2016

Practising mindfulness – spending time paying attention to your current mental experiences in a non-judgmental way – has been associated with many beneficial outcomes, including reduced anxiety and improved decision making (although note, there could be some adverse effects for some people). What are the neural correlates of these effects?

A new systematic review in Brain and Cognition has looked at all studies published prior to July this year that investigated brain changes associated with eight weeks of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction or Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy. The combined results suggest that a short course of secular mindfulness training leads to multiple brain changes similar in nature to those seen in people who have practised religious or spiritual meditation for a lifetime.

Most of these brain changes linked with brief mindfulness training are similar to the brain changes associated with long-term spiritual or religious meditation, although the finding for the amygdala (reduced activity and volume after mindfulness) has not usually been observed in long-term meditators. The researchers speculated this may be because meditating monks and nuns, who have featured in much of the meditation research, started out with little stress – their amygdalae were “calm” already. In contrast, students of mindfulness are more likely to start out stressed and to reap a calming benefit from the training, which is perhaps what is reflected in the changes to their amygdalae structure and function.

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Source material from British Psychological Society

Mental Health News