Eight Weeks to a Better Brain

Meditation changes brain regions associated with memory and stress

Mindfulness meditation practitioners have long reported a greater sense of relaxation, peace, and wellbeing—that alone is reason to try it. But some people need reassurance that mindfulness is not simply a “mind over matter” placebo. We now have reason to believe that meditation produces changes over time in the brain’s gray matter to improve brain health.

Research findings in the Harvard Gazette report that an an eight-week mindfulness meditation program appears to make measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress.[1]

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. [2] —Sara Lazar, MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program

The researchers used magnetic resonance (MR) images of the brains of 16 study participants two weeks before and after they took part in the eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program. They compared those images to a set of MR brain images of a control group of non-meditators.Bottom of Form Analysis of the meditators’ images found increased gray-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection. They also observed decreased gray-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress. [3]

The importance of these findings is well stated by neuroscientist Amishi Jha:

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 eight-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. [4]




Dr. Pamm


[1] Sue McGreevey, “Eight Weeks to a Better Brain,” Harvard Gazette, January 21, 2011.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.