RESEARCH LINKS MEDITATION TO BRAIN CHANGES, SERENITY Tom Catton, author, THE MINDFUL ADDICT

http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-01-mindfulness-meditation-brain-weeks.html

Twelve-step programs have long suggested meditation as a means to improve one’s “conscious contact” with one’s God or higher power. Although scientific research stops short of “proving” that that’s exactly what it does, a recent study at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), concludes that mindfulness meditation has the “godlike” ability to make positive changes to the physical structure of the human brain in as little as eight weeks. My book, The Mindful Addict: A Memoir of the Awakening of a Spirit (Central Recovery Press, 2010), illuminates the crucial role meditation has played in my recovery —and so these research findings don’t surprise me a bit. Meditation changed my life—it doesn’t surprise me that it might have started by changing my brain. Participants in the MGH study were monitored to document the effects of mindfulness meditation on stress reduction. Sara Lazar, Ph.D., the study’s senior author, says “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.” Magnetic resonance images (MRI) were taken of the brain structure of study participants two weeks before and then after they took part in the eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness. Over a similar time interval, a set of MRI brain images were also taken of a control group of participants who didn’t meditate. The analysis of the MRI found increased gray-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with selfawareness, compassion, and introspection. Participant-reported reductions in stress also were correlated with decreased gray-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress. As I explain in the book, the Practice (mindfulness meditation) itself doesn’t care why you meditate; whether for a scientific research study, for stress reduction, or to recover from addiction as part of a twelve-step program—the results are the same. In practicing mindfulness meditation, we learn to observe what is and accept what is going on, finding ourselves embracing equanimity, a principle that most likely eluded us during our active addiction. Mindfulness keeps us in the moment—The Now. We come to see that our stress arises mainly from thinking of what might happen tomorrow, next week, or even within the hour. These stories we produce in our minds are always worse then any actual outcome; however, the practice of mindfulness keeps inviting us back to the moment we are presently in, where all is well. Scientific research is now proving what practitioners have known for centuries: meditation works. Perhaps the changes to the physical structure of the brain that researchers are now verifying have their parallel in the psychic changes necessary for

ongoing growth and connectedness provided by working the Twelve Steps.