April 27, 2014 1:00 pm JST

Study shows meditation's effects on brain structure, function

TOKYO -- If the brain changes, the body changes. Examples of this include paralysis caused by a stroke or encephalitis, or psychotherapeutic drugs helping to improve a patient's mood or reduce unhealthy behavior. Now a recent study is shedding light on how meditation affects blood flow in the brain and, over the long term, brain function.      

     Hiroaki Kumano, a professor at Waseda University, is studying a type of meditation called mindfulness, a cognitive therapy technique used to treat depression and anxiety disorders. Mindfulness meditation is based on teaching patients to face their thoughts and state of mind. "(This technique) will be more effective if we have a better understanding of how the brain changes in response to the way the training is conducted," Kumano said.

      In his study, Kumano used a device called an NIRS to measure blood flow in the brain, which is linked with neural activity. A cap equipped with numerous sensors is attached to the subject's head and measures blood flow by capturing the reflection from infrared light that passes through the skull.

Blood flow changes during meditation, and if a patient continues with the meditation therapy for several years, Kumano's study has shown, the thickness of the brain tissue changes. The next phase of research is already underway.