(UR) Ann Arbor, MI — Type “mindfulness” into Google and you’ll find a plethora of “new age,” Eastern-style websites, all hoping to add some calm to your life. There might, finally, be some scientific evidence for these claims. By studying the brains of a small group of combat veterans, scientists at the University of Michigan have been working to understand the interaction mindfulness exercises play on altering brain patterns and treating PTSD.
For veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the world is a hostile place. Their brains, despite being long-removed from the cause of their traumas, are still wired for reaction, forcing them to suffer endlessly repeating or circular thoughts. According to the study, mindfulness training has been shown to help center thoughts on the moment, taking the sufferer out of their mental loop and adding a therapeutic focus on the now.
More surprisingly, the study also indicates that the actual way the brain works is altered by this practice. Through the use of imaging technologies, researchers found that before undergoing mindfulness training the brains of most participants “had extra activity in regions involved in responding to threats or other outside problems,” leading to endless periods of hypervigilance.
Although the study is admittedly an introduction, the results of adding mindfulness training to an ongoing PTSD treatment regimen produced tangible results. Not only did vets find that they were better able to cope with their thoughts by placing themselves in the present and breaking free of their circular thinking, follow-up brain scans showed that the brain itself was reacting to the practice.
Two areas of the brain showed increased connectivity, specifically “the one involved in our inner, sometimes meandering, thoughts, and the one involved in shifting and directing attention.”
This study represents an increasing trend in trying to understand how we deal with PTSD. While some researchers seek to understand the roles a person’s culture can play in how they experience PTSD and how they heal from it, exploring the role of mindfulness extends therapeutic techniques into the holistic. Scientists suggest mindfulness routines augment psychotherapeutic treatments.
Through the implementation of what is often seen as aspects of “new age” medicine or downright “quackery,” researchers have confirmed what any yogi would tell you: Mindfulness leads to a more focused life. By removing a veteran from a cycle of reflection and placing them in the moment, mindfulness-based treatment can potentially offer a new solution to a long-term problem and help PTSD sufferers find some balance.
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