A study in Scientific Reports has helped reinforce our understanding of how meditation and mindfulness affect change in the structure and functioning of certain brain areas, and how these changes lead to increased wellness.
In the study, fourteen university students participated in a 40-day meditation training course. None of the students had any prior training in meditation, which allowed the researchers to evaluate changes in the function and structure of a number of brain regions. In addition, subjects were given self-assessment questionnaires before and after the meditation course to monitor any changes in mood and wellbeing.
After 40 days of mindfulness training, imaging techniques revealed alterations in the precuneus and posterior cingulate cortex. These two brain regions are thought to be involved at various levels in self-awareness and consciousness. They also play critical roles in the Default Mode Network, a vast network of interconnected structures that contributes to certain fundamental aspects of personhood, including the perception of one’s own emotional state, understanding others’ thoughts and emotions, and moral reasoning.
In addition to these neurological changes, participants also showed a marked decrease in both depressive and anxious tendencies, as evaluated by the self-assessment questionnaires. More significant reductions in depression and anxiety scores correlated with greater structural changes in the aforementioned brain regions, lending support to previous research in the same domain.
The study, as noted by researchers, should be considered in light of certain methodological limitations. First and foremost, a relatively small sample size of 14 participants limits the study’s generalizability. There was also no control group, which is unfortunate, as this makes it difficult to be sure that the observed changes were, in fact, a result of the meditation practice, and not some other, external factor.
Nonetheless, the study’s findings are both intriguing and promising: they contribute to our understanding of how brain structures are changed by meditation and mindfulness, and provides a number of opportunities for future research. The most striking finding of the study is that a mere 40 days of meditation was needed to both alter the structure and function of participant’s brains, and improve the participants’ quality of life as measured by depression symptomatology and anxiety.
The study, “Alterations in Brain Structure and Amplitude of Low-frequency after 8 weeks of Mindfulness Meditation Training in Meditation-Naïve Subjects“, was authored by Chuan-Chih Yang, Alfonso Barrós-Loscertales, Meng Li, Daniel Pinazo, Viola Borchardt, César Ávila, and Martin Walter.