Massachusettes General Hospital

Meditation Improves Emotional Stability And Response To Stress by Anne Kreamer

Feeling stressed out during the holiday season?  I am, but have found meditation a helpful buffer.  A year and half ago, my husband and I began a meditation practice, based on the approach (mindfulness-based stress reduction) developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the Executive Director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.  Over the years, I'd read Kabat-Zinn's books, Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness (Delta, 1991); Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life(Hyperion, 1994); Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness(Hyperion, 2005), and was eager to put the concepts I'd read about into action.  593 sessions in, according the Insight Timer app I downloaded, I can testify that I've experienced the heightened emotional resiliency that new research conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital has codified.

"A new study has found that participating in an 8-week meditation training program can have measurable effects on how the brain functions even when someone is not actively meditating.  In their report in the November issue of Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Boston University (BU), and several other research centers also found differences in those effects based on the specific type of meditation practiced.

"The two different types of meditation training our study participants completed yielded some differences in the response of the amygdala – a part of the brain known for decades to be important for emotion – to images with emotional content," says Gaëlle Desbordes, PhD, a research fellow at the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at MGH and at the BU Center for Computational Neuroscience and Neural Technology, corresponding author of the report.  "This is the first time that meditation training has been shown to affect emotional processing in the brain outside of a meditative state."

Several previous studies have supported the hypothesis that meditation training improves practitioners' emotional regulation.  While neuroimaging studies have found that meditation training appeared to decrease activation of the amygdala – a structure at the base of the brain that is known to have a role in processing memory and emotion – those changes were only observed while study participants were meditating.  The current study was designed to test the hypothesis that meditation training could

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