Mindfulness: Changing my brain

Last week, I was excited to see a link to a study which found that mindfulness practice (specifically the 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program) actually changes the brain.  Turns out that the study is old news (from 2011), but it was the first I had read about these specific findings, which used before and after MRIs to look for changes in specific regions of the brain.

The analysis of MR images, which focused on areas where meditation-associated differences were seen in earlier studies, found increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection. Participant-reported reductions in stress also were correlated with decreased grey-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress.

The use of imaging just adds to the already large body of evidence that supports mindfulness practice for both mental and physical health.

My Practice
I can’t believe it’s been over a month since my last mindfulness class!  At that class, the instructor invited us to set short- and long-term goals related to our practice.  My short term goal was to make/find a journal to record my ongoing practice, since I suspected the accountability of recording my practice would be important.  I went with functional over fancy: a two-pocket folder with prongs and some lined notebook paper.

With my short-term goal accomplished, it was time to tackle my long-term goal:

For the next three months, I will engage in formal mindfulness practice for at least 25 minutes per day, 5 days per week.

I finished the class having logged six weeks of regular mindfulness practice.  It was important for me to set a goal that would keep that momentum going and increase the chances that this would be a lifestyle change and not simply a phase.

Five weeks into that three month goal-period, I am happy to report that I’ve been sticking sticking with it, which included maintaining the practice over the holiday weekend (so important!).   I am averaging 25-30 minutes per day, six days per week (I almost used six days per week as my goal, but in the interest of making sure the goal was realistic and achievable, and increasing my chances at feeling successful, I stuck with five days).

I rotate between simple seated meditations (just focusing on the breath), with or without guidance; the body scan; and mindful [guided] yoga.  I’ve also branched out a bit, incorporating some of Tara Brach’s guided meditations in some of my sitting practices.

Even on the days when making time to practice is a challenge, it is always worth it.  Some days, I feel fairly calm and centered throughout the practice.  Other days, those 25-minutes feel like a constant effort of bringing my mind “to heel.”  Such is mindfulness practice.

While not one of my official, written goals, I would very much like to build on my half-day mindfulness retreat experience (and my practice, overall) by participating in a longer retreat.  To that end, I am investigating nearby weekend-long mindfulness retreat options.

While a bit belated, I would like to give thanks [again] for discovering mindfulness, for my mom’s gentle encouragement, for Matthew’s support, and for the resources (money, time, transportation) to participate in Masterpeace Studios’ Mind-Body Stress Reduction Program.




  1. bribikes says:

    I find it quite odd that many people don’t seem realize how moldable and adaptable our brains really are.
    When I was a teenager I found out myself kinda by accident. I was memorizing heaps of stuff for competitions and the more I memorized the more I could memorize, and memorize even faster. Then I trained my brain to think that memorizing stuff was the “best thing ever”. I ended up spending hours and hours holed up in my room stuffing information into my brain and loving every second of it.

    Our brain is like the rest of our bodies if you train it, you will see results.

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