Regular meditation can boost brain health and results begin to show in just a few months,a new study Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston has found.
The researchers tracked 16 people who took a course on mindfulness-based stress reduction that includes guided relaxation exercises and easy stretching - and practiced for about 30 minutes a day.
Eight weeks later, MRI scans showed significant gray matter density growth in areas of the brain involved in learning and memory, empathy and compassion, sense of self and emotional regulation, when compared with a control group.
"This is really, clearly, where we can see, for the first time, that when people say, 'Oh, I feel better, I'm not as stressed when I meditate,' they're not just saying that - that there is a biological reason why they're feeling less stress," the Washington Post quoted senior author Sara Lazar, a psychology instructor at Harvard Medical School as saying.
"But this is proof that it's really meditation that's making the difference," she said.
"And it doesn't take long to get there."
Gary Kaplan, director of the Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine in McLean, reports that patients who follow this advice typically sleep better, have less pain, less anxiety and depression, and a better general sense of well-being.
Of course, the practice isn't easy because the mind is bound to wander.
"Allowing that chatter to quiet and becoming present in the moment, while being gentle with the thoughts that come in and out of the mind and any anxiety that's there, that can be difficult," Kaplan said.
Hugh Byrne, a senior teacher with the Insight Mediation Community of Washington, says, "Meditation isn't just about bringing awareness to your experience while you're sitting cross-legged with eyes closed.
"It's also a practice that you can bring into the rest of your life: when you're eating, sitting in a traffic jam, or relating to a partner, spouse, kids or colleagues at work," he added.
Don't be discouraged by a wandering mind. It's totally normal.
"The important thing is just to notice when you move into planning the future or ruminating on the past or daydreaming, just notice that and gently bring attention back to the present," Bryne said.
"And come back into the body, without judgment or criticism."