Harvard Medicine

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Help Yourself

While advanced technologies are helping people get the most out of their brains, sometimes the best medicine doesn’t involve technology at all. According to research at Massachusetts General Hospital, Pixhook/istockphoto.commeditation is a fast and technology–free way to make positive brain changes. One study followed 16 people enrolled in a meditation course in which participants practiced “mindfulness,” paying attention to the present moment with acceptance and curiosity rather than ruminating about the past or agonizing about the future.

After an eight–week session that included 30 minutes of daily meditation, participants showed significant brain changes. MRI scans revealed gray matter density growth in the left hippocampus, the posterior cingulate cortex, the temporoparietal junction, and the cerebellum, brain regions that are involved in learning, memory, emotional regulation, and perspective taking. A similar earlier study showed decreases in amygdala gray matter density that correlated with reduced feelings of stress.

“When people report feeling better after they meditate, it’s not just a subjective account,” says the research team leader Sara Lazar, an HMS instructor in psychology. “The data show that there’s a biological reason why they’re feeling less stress.”


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