Mindfulness-based Therapeutic Programs Actually Change the Structure of the Brain

A literature review1 published in the journal Brain and Cognition analyzed studies evaluating the effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) programs. MBSR is a program that guides participants through sessions of meditation and yoga, with emphasis on integrating mindfulness and bodily awareness into everyday life.2 MBCT utilizes the methods employed in MBSR, with added elements of cognitive behavioral therapy.3 According to the authors of the review, MRI brain scans revealed that certain areas of the brains of people who participated in these therapeutic programs actually increased in size, activity, and neuronal connectivity. These changes were seen in the prefrontal cortex (involved in decision making and emotional adjustment process), amygdala (serves as protection against environmental dangers and modulates emotional reactions), cingulate cortex (involved in the regulation of heart rate and blood pressure, as well as decision-making and empathy), insula (involved in perception of emotions, feelings, and desires), and the hippocampus (plays a key role in learning and memory). These positive effects were observed in people with anxiety, people with chronic stress, and in healthy subjects.

SOURCES: 1) Gotink RA, Meijboom R, Vernooij MW, et al. 8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction induces brain changes similar to traditional long-term meditation practice—A systematic review. Brain Cogn. 2016 Oct;108:32–41; 2) University of Massachusetts Medical School. History of MBSR. Available at: https://www.umassmed.edu/cfm/mindfulness-based-programs/mbsr-courses/about-mbsr/history-of- mbsr/. Accessed Dec. 4, 2018; 3) Sipe WE, Eisendrath SJ. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy: theory and practice. Can J Psychiatry. 2012 Feb;57(2):63–69. NHR

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