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Researchers have found evidence that mindfulness meditation can cause brain changes. Here is a description of their findings and a guide to getting started.

Advocates have long claimed that mindfulness meditation can improve the regular practitioner’s mental state. Now there is evidence that it may change the brain.

The study

A study included in the January 30 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging found changes in grey matter concentration in brain regions associated with learning and memory, regulating emotions, self-referential processing and perspective taking as a result of a mindfulness-based stress reduction program (MBSR). Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital based their findings on brain images of 16 healthy adults. The images were taken before and after the group underwent an eight-week meditation program.

What is mindfulness meditation?

According to the New York Insight Meditation Center, mindful awareness, also known as Insight or Vipassana Meditation, is the practice of living in the present moment without judgment, which over time can help the meditator cultivate a more peaceful mind and change relationships with stresses. It is developed through walking and sitting mindfulness practices where the meditator focuses on breathing, sounds from outside or inside the body or sensations. The Center said the practice dates back 2,500 years to the time of the Buddha and is mainly practised in Southeast Asia. Americans brought it to the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

How to do it yourself

While the evidence is building up about the benefits of a daily mindfulness meditation practice, incorporating it into your daily life may seem daunting. But plenty of resources are available on the web to help the beginner get started, including guided meditation podcasts, books, CDs and written directions.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, is known for pioneering the clinical application of mindfulness practice in medicine. He has authored several books on the subject, including “Wherever You Go, There You Are,” available for $9.05 on Amazon.com. His guided meditations can be viewed on YouTube.

Also known in the mindfulness community are Sharon Salsberg and Joseph Goldstein, co-founders of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Mass. Both spiritual teachers have authored audio and written books on the practice. Salzberg has podcasts available through her website.

Jack Kornfield, an American Buddist teacher whose website describes him as one of the founding directors of vipassana meditation in the west, also has audio, video and meditation instructions available. Find them on his site or zencast.org.

So explore these spiritual teachers, set up a calm environment, choose the best time of day for practice and get started living in the present moment, and maybe even changing the landscape of your brain.