HealthDay (1/25, Preidt, http://tinyurl.com/minful-change) reported that a mindfulness meditation training program can trigger measurable changes in brain areas associated with awareness, empathy and sense of self within eight weeks according to a new study . Mindfulness focuses on nonjudgmental awareness of one’s feelings, sensations and state of mind, which often results in greater peacefulness and relaxation, the researchers explained. They used MRI to assess the brain structure of 16 volunteers two weeks before and after they took the eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness. The program included weekly meetings to practice mindfulness meditation and audio recordings for guided meditation practice. The researchers also analyzed MRI scans of a control group of people who did not meditate for comparison. The meditation group participants spent an average of 27 minutes a day doing mindfulness meditation exercises. The MRI scans taken after the eight-week program revealed increased gray matter density in the hippocampus (important for learning and memory) and in structures associated with compassion and self-awareness. The investigators also found that participant-reported reductions in stress were associated with decreased gray matter density in the amygdala, which plays a role in anxiety and stress. None of these brain structure changes were seen in the control group. The study will be published in the Jan. 30 issue of the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging.