Running a massage practice might sound like a relaxing job—to anyone who hasn’t run a massage practice. But along with the care and healing that takes place in the session room comes scheduling clients, advertising, marketing, washing the linens and paying the bills.

According to new research, massage therapists and everyone else who meditates can find peace in the midst of the storm of life, and benefit from the calming effects of meditation even when not in the lotus position.

The study found that participating in an eight-week meditation training program can have measurable effects on how the brain functions even when someone is not actively meditating.

Investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Boston University (BU), and several other research centers also found differences in those effects based on the specific type of meditation practiced.

“This is the first time that meditation training has been shown to affect emotional processing in the brain outside of a meditative state,” said says Gaëlle Desbordes, Ph.D., a research fellow at the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at MGH and at the BU Center for Computational Neuroscience and Neural Technology.

The current study was designed to test the hypothesis that meditation training could also produce a generalized reduction in amygdala response to emotional stimuli, measurable by functional magnetic resonance imaging. The amygdala is a structure at the base of the brain that is known to have a role in processing memory and emotion.

The study also compare mindful-attention meditation, which focuses on the breath and thoughts; and compassion meditation, which focuses on cultivating feelings of compassion.

In the mindful attention group, the after-training brain scans showed a decrease in activation in the right amygdala in response to all images, supporting the hypothesis that meditation can improve emotional stability and response to stress.

In the compassion meditation group, right amygdala activity also decreased in response to positive or neutral images. But among those who reported practicing compassion meditation most frequently outside of the training sessions, right amygdala activity tended to increase in response to negative images—all of which depicted some form of human suffering.

No significant changes were seen in the non-meditating control group or in the left amygdala of any study participants.

The study was published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

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