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24 janvier 2011 1 24 /01 /janvier /2011 18:22


ScienceDaily (Jan. 21, 2011) —


Participating in an 8-week mindfulness  meditation program appears to make measurable changes in brain regions
associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. In a study  that will appear in the January 30 issue of Psychiatry Research:  Neuroimaging, a team led by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)  researchers report the results of their study, the first to document  meditation-produced changes over time in the brain's grey matter. "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," says Sara Lazar, PhD, of the MGH  Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program, the study's senior author.


"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." Previous studies from Lazar's group and others found structural  differences between the brains of experienced mediation practitioners  and individuals with no history of meditation, observing thickening of  the cerebral cortex in areas associated with attention and emotional
integration. But those investigations could not document that those  differences were actually produced by meditation.  



For the current study, MR images were take of the brain structure of  16 study participants two weeks before and after they took part in the  8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program at the  University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness. In addition to  weekly meetings that included practice of mindfulness meditation --  which focuses on nonjudgmental awareness of sensations, feelings and  state of mind -- participants received audio  recordings for guided  meditation practice and were asked to keep track of how much time they  practiced each day. A set of MR brain images were also taken of a  control group of non-meditators over a similar time interval.



Meditation group participants reported spending an average of 27  minutes each day practicing mindfulness exercises, and their responses  to a mindfulness questionnaire indicated significant improvements  compared with  pre-participation responses. The analysis of MR images,  which focused on areas where meditation-associated differences were  seen in earlier studies, found increased grey-matter density in the  hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in  structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and  introspection.


Participant-reported reductions in stress also were  correlated with decreased grey-matter density in the amygdala, which  is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress. Although no  change was seen in a self-awareness-associated structure called the  insula, which had been identified in earlier studies, the authors  suggest that  longer-term meditation practice might be needed to  produce changes in that area. None of these changes were seen in the  control group, indicating that they had not resulted merely from the  passage of time.



"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." says  Britta Hölzel, PhD, first author of the paper and a research fellow at  MGH and Giessen University in Germany. "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."


Amishi Jha, PhD, a University of Miami neuroscientist who investigates  mindfulness-training's effects on individuals in high-stress  situations, says, "These results shed light on the mechanisms of  action of mindfulness-based training. They demonstrate that the  first-person experience of stress can not only be reduced with an  8-week mindfulness training program but that this experiential change  corresponds with structural changes in the amygdala, a finding that  opens doors to many possibilities for further research on MBSR's  potential to protect against stress-related disorders, such as  post-traumatic stress disorder." Jha was not one of the study  investigators.


James Carmody, PhD, of the Center for Mindfulness at University of  Massachusetts Medical School, is one of co-authors of the study, which  was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the British  Broadcasting Company, and the Mind and Life Institute.



Story Source:

    The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by  ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by  Massachusetts General  Hospital.



Journal Reference:

   1. Britta K. Hölzel, James Carmody, Mark Vangel, Christina  Congleton, Sita M. Yerramsetti, Tim Gard, Sara W. Lazar. Mindfulness  practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density.  Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 2011; 191 (1): 36 DOI:  10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.08.006

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