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A practice tied closely to Buddhism, Taoism, and yoga is proving itself to be a valuable tool for a surprising group of people: Veterans suffering from PTSD.

A new study found mindfulness training changed the brains of veterans suffering from PTSD. (The left image highlights changes in the brains of a control group, and the right image highlights changes in the brains of a group that received mindfulness training.)

I’m talking about mindfulness, or the art of paying attention to the present. A new studyfound mindfulness training actually changed the brains of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans afflicted with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

People with PTSD tend to replay traumatic memories in an endless loop. When you look at their brains at rest, you’ll see heightened activity in the parts of the brain that respond to danger. You’ll also see low levels of activity in the network involved in wandering thoughts.

But after going through a mindfulness course, the veterans’ brains were different. The wandering thought network had strengthened and developed better connections to the network involved in shifting and directing attention.

Here’s what that means, according to the study’s lead researcher:

“The brain findings suggest that mindfulness training may have helped the veterans develop more capacity to shift their attention and get themselves out of being ‘stuck’ in painful cycles of thoughts. We’re hopeful that this brain signature shows the potential of mindfulness to … provide emotional regulation skills to help bring [PTSD sufferers] to a place where they feel better able to process their traumas.”

Mindfulness can help people remember that traumatic memories are in the past, helping them to feel safer and more in control. It’s an amazing tool, and I’m excited to see such good results for people with PTSD.

To read more about mindfulness, go here or here.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.

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