Meditation Produces Brain Change in Just 8 Weeks
Implications for Trauma Treatment
Need more incentive to meditate? A recent study headed by Sara Lazar and colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital documented measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, empathy, and stress after just 8 weeks of daily meditation practice.
More specifically, the MR images showed increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and decreased grey-matter density in the amygdala, known for its role in fear conditioning and stress.
This has strong implications for utilizing mindfulness meditation in treating trauma, as people with PTSD have been shown to have reduced volume of the hippocampus and larger volume in the amygdala area of their brains, making them more prone to anxiety and memory problems. Could a trauma survivor reverse this through regular practice of mindfulness meditation?
In this study, the participants demonstrated brain changes after only 8 weeks of attending a weekly mindfulness meditation class and practicing meditation at home for an average of 27 minutes a day. Lazar and others had published previous studies that demonstrated experienced meditators appeared to have thicker areas of the middle pre-frontal cortex, an area associated with empathy, emotional regulation, and attunement to others. Yet those studies could not prove that these differences were actually produced by meditation. In contrast, the participants in this study had no prior meditation practice and therefore the researchers were able to surmise the measurable structural brain changes were associated with daily practice of meditation. Moreover, this study included a control group that did not meditate and did not show any changes in the study’s pre and post tests.
It appears that this study provides further evidence that integrating mindfulness practices into treatment for anxiety, PTSD, and other trauma related problems is a good idea. Traditionally, research has indicated practicing meditation at least 20 minutes per day produces measurable benefits within 2-3 months. To give people even more incentive, I am offering a free 20 minute Mindful Relaxation audio download on my website, get it by clicking here.
To read the full study, refer to: Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 2011; 191 (1): 36; authors: Britta K. Hölzel, James Carmody, Mark Vangel, Christina Congleton, Sita M. Yerramsetti, Tim Gard, Sara W. Lazar.
This article has been published with permission from Courtney Armstrong, LPC Courtney Armstrong is a Licensed Professional Counselor as well as a Master Practitioner and Associate Trainer in Rapid Resolution Therapy. She has a private counseling practice in Chattanooga, TN where she specializes in treating trauma, anxiety, and grief. To contact Courtney, visit www.courtneyarmstronglpc.com.