The Mindfulness Meditation Brain Connection

Is it just me or is it true that recently more and more scientific studies have been published as to the positive effects meditation can have on your overall health and well being. From helping with physical symptoms like stress and high blood pressure, to mental ailments like anxiety and depression, meditation seems to be gaining in society’s good grace. Well, chalk another one up for mindfulness meditation.

In this latest Harvard Medical School post, Carolyn Schatz reports for Harvard Woman’s Health Watch on a new study to be published in the upcoming issue of Neuroimage. The mindfulness-based stress reduction training study out of UCLA found that this type of meditation practice increased brain connectivity. Specifically, in areas of the brain that control attention and auditory and visual processing.

At the moment, scientists can only speculate about the relationship between these brain changes and the health benefits associated with mindfulness meditation. But the research adds to growing evidence that meditative practices can alter the body at a fundamental level—even, it turns out, at the level of our genes. Meditation elicits the “relaxation response,” a state of deep relaxation first described more than 35 years ago by mind-body pioneer Dr. Herbert Benson, currently emeritus director of the Benson-Henry Institute of Mind-Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. Since then, Benson and his colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center have discovered that relaxation techniques (including meditation and yoga) turn certain sets of genes on and off in people who practice them regularly. Benson, who is the medical editor of Stress Management: Approaches for preventing and reducing stress (a Special Health Report from Harvard Health Publications, which also publishes Harvard Women’s Health Watch), says these genes are involved with controlling “how the body handles free radicals, inflammation processes, and cell death.”

Read more from Schatz on this meditation study here.

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