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Study shows meditation may alter areas of the brain associated with psychiatric disorders

Previous research has shown that regular meditation can result in changes in parts of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. Now a new study offers additional insights into how meditation may alter the brain, which could advance researchers' understanding of how to treat psychiatric disorders.

In a small study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Yale researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging scans to analyze the brain functions of experienced and novice meditators while they practiced three different meditation techniques. The Atlantic reports that researchers found:

Experienced meditators had decreased activity in the brain's default mode network -- areas that have been linked to disorders such as anxiety, attention deficit, hyperactivity, and Alzheimer's disease. When this network was active, brain regions associated with self-monitoring and cognitive control were activated as well in experienced meditators but not in novices. This suggests that trained meditators may be able to simultaneously monitor and suppress the emergence of "me" thoughts and the urge to daydream. In pathological forms, these states are associated with diseases such as autism and schizophrenia.

The study's lead author, Judson A. Brewer, MD, PhD, explained in Yale release how the findings could have potential clinical applications:

Meditation's ability to help people stay in the moment has been part of philosophical and contemplative practices for thousands of years. Conversely, the hallmarks of many forms of mental illness is a preoccupation with one's own thoughts, a condition meditation seems to affect. This gives us some nice cues as to the neural mechanisms of how it might be working clinically.

Previously: Meditate and call me in the morning: Study looks at doctors' referrals for mind-body therapies, Neurotheology: Investigating the relationship between the brain and spirituality, Ommmmm... Mindfulness therapy helps prevent depression relapse and Study shows cell health linked to positive mood changes in meditation
Photo by katiemarinascott

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