New research published this month suggests just a few hours of mindfulness meditation instruction can jump-start healthy changes in brain tissue. The small study, published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, gave a total of 68 university students in China training in either a type of mindfulness meditation called integrative body-mind training (IBMT), or muscle relaxation.
Previous research has indicated that meditation can alter the white matter of the brain, improving mood, the ability to learn, and its response to stress. After five hours of meditation or relaxation training in this trial, the subjects' brains were scanned using an MRI-based system called "diffusion tensor imaging". Measurable changes in the white matter in the anterior cingulate cortex -- the part of the brain that governs self-control -- were found in the mindfulness meditation group, but not the group trained in muscle relaxation. After another two weeks of training, there were greater measurable changes in this area of the brain.
The results reinforce past data indicating meditation can produce measurable physical changes in brain tissue. Other research has linked meditation with lower blood pressure, faster recovery from illness, lower relapse rates for depression, a loss of abdominal fat, and better overall longevity.
Yi-Yuan Tang, Qilin Lu, Ming Fan, Yihong Yang, and Michael I. Posner. "Mechanisms of white matter changes induced by meditation." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, ISSN 0027-8424, 06/2012