Can meditation change your brain longterm? Can anyone prove it?
A recent study found out what happens when you teach one group of people mindfulness practices and give the other group a totally fake program.
Published in Biological Psychiatry, the study involved 35 men and women who were unemployed and stressed out looking for jobs. Half underwent formal mindfulness training and the other half were given the placebo — relaxation lessons.
So what was the difference you ask? A few things.
Mindfulness meditation requires ‘‘an open and receptive, nonjudgmental awareness of your present-moment experience,’’ says J. David Creswell, who led the study and is an associate professor of psychology and the director of the Health and Human Performance Laboratory at Carnegie Mellon University.
Via the New York Times:
‘‘We had everyone do stretching exercises, for instance,’’ Dr. Creswell says. The mindfulness group paid close attention to bodily sensations, including unpleasant ones. The relaxation group was encouraged to chatter and ignore their bodies, while their leader cracked jokes. At the end of three days, the participants all told the researchers that they felt refreshed and better able to withstand the stress of unemployment. Yet follow-up brain scans showed differences in only those who underwent mindfulness meditation. There was more activity, or communication, among the portions of their brains that process stress-related reactions and other areas related to focus and calm. Four months later, those who had practiced mindfulness showed much lower levels in their blood of a marker of unhealthy inflammation than the relaxation group, even though few were still meditating.
Could three days of mindfulness be enough to last that long and make a difference? This study sure breaks open an interesting case for it. However, there’s still no definitive “prescription” so to speak. “We still have no idea about the ideal dose,” says Dr. Creswell. So, no “take two mindful minutes and call me in the morning” scenario quite yet.
It’s been tough to categorically quantify the effects of meditation on our brain. We’ve seen some neat sciencey things on the power of meditation and there are so many ongoing yoga and meditation studies there going to need a study on yoga and meditation studies soon. But we’re not complaining. Scientific studies have become the hallmark of legitimacy in our culture, plus it’s always interesting to learn more about how it affects our brains in the short, and apparently, in the long term. Even if we already know the results of our self-study.