If you've ever tried meditation you'll know how great you feel afterwards. But practising mindfulness meditation - described as meditation that focuses on awareness of sensations, feelings and your state of mind - for just eight weeks can produce actual changes in your brain, say researchers writing in the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging.
By scanning the brains of 16 volunteers before and after they took part in an eight-week course in mindfulness meditation, the researchers discovered there's more to the wellbeing feelings you experience after meditating than just being chilled out.
"Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day," says the study's lead author, Sara Lazar.
"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."
After analysing the second set of brain scans the scientists found increased grey-matter density in part of the brain called the hippocampus - which is important for memory and learning - as well as in other brain structures associated with self-awareness and compassion. There was also a decrease in grey-matter density in the amygdala, part of the brain that's involved in feelings of anxiety and stress.
According to the researchers that means an increase in memory and sense of self, as well as the ability to empathise and deal with stress. And going by this study, it only takes eight weeks to see results.
Have you tried meditation? How does it make you feel?