It has long being credited as the way to a serene mind. But scientists have now discovered that meditation physically enhances the brain.
Even a brief course of meditation strengthens connections between the regions of the brain that regulate our emotional responses, they found. This could make it easier for us to keep calm, they said.
Chinese and U.S. researchers at the University of Oregon focused on effects of a meditation technique known as integrative bodymind training, or IBMT. Based on ancient Chinese medicine, IBMT combines posture, mental imagery and body relaxation and breathing techniques.
In the study, meditation novices took part in IBMT group sessions for half an hour on weekdays for a month. Another group received the same amount of tuition - 11 hours - in basic relaxation techniques.
Brain scans revealed the brain connections of those in the IBMT group - but not the other group - started to strengthen after six hours' practice. Differences were clear after 11 hours, the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports. These 'structural changes' were greatest in the fibres connecting the anterior cingulate, the part of the brain which helps regulate emotions and behaviour.