Meditation may influence the way the brain processes emotions -- even when you're not actually practicing it, a new study in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience suggests.

Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital, the University of Arizona, Boston University, the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies and Emory University found that meditation changes the way the amygdala brain region responds to emotional stimuli -- but that this effect on emotional processing takes place even when a person is not in a state of meditation. The amygdala is a brain region involved in emotion and memory processing.

"This is the first time that meditation training has been shown to affect emotional processing in the brain outside of a meditative state," study researcher Gaëlle Desbordes, of Massachusetts General Hospital and Boston University's Center for Computation Neuroscience and Neural Technology, said in a statement.

Researchers had study participants undergo one of three eight-week courses: one course was on mindful attention meditation, where they were trained to be more attentive and aware of their thinking, feeling and breathing; one course was on compassion meditation, where they were trained to feel compassion and kindness to other people and themselves; and one course just provided general health information.

Then, 12 people from each group underwent fMRI brain scans as they looked at 216 images that were meant to provoke positive, neutral or negative emotions. There was no mention or instruction of meditation while the study participants were undergoing the brain scans, and they were followed up with after to make sure they were not meditating while undergoing the fMRI scans.

The researchers found that the people who took either of the meditation courses experienced decreased activity in the amygdala in response to images that provoked negative emotions -- a sign that they were coping well with stress and were experiencing stability of their emotions. But people who only went through the health education class experienced an increase in the amygdala in response to images that provoked negative emotions.

Previously, Massachusetts General Hospital researchers found that eight weeks of meditation training was linked with more density of grey matter in the hippocampus brain region (which plays a role in memory and learning), as well as parts of the brain linked with compassion and self-awareness. That research was published last year in the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging.

For more benefits of meditation, click through the slideshow:

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  • Doctors

    <a href="" target="_hplink">Mindfulness meditation</a> could help doctors provide better care to their patients, University of Rochester Medical Center researchers found. When doctors underwent mindfulness meditation training, they <a href="" target="_hplink">listened better</a> and were less judgmental at home and at work, according to the <em>Academic Medicine</em> study.

  • People With Rheumatoid Arthritis

    Practicing mindfulness meditation exercises could help people with the painful condition to <a href="" target="_hplink">decrease their stress</a> and fatigue levels, according to a study from Oslo's Diakonhjemmet Hospital. In that study, published in the journal <em>Annals of Rheumatic Diseases</em>, the <a href="" target="_hplink">goal of the mindfulness meditation</a> exercises was to help people concentrate on their own thoughts, experiences and pain in the moment, without actively trying to avoid them or judge them. The researchers found that people who did the exercises had lower stress and fatigue measurements than people who didn't partake in the meditation.

  • The Elderly

    Practicing mindfulness meditation could help decrease feelings of <a href="" target="_hplink">loneliness in the elderly</a>. The small study, published in the journal <em>Brain, Behavior & Immunity</em>, showed that undergoing an eight-week mindfulness meditation training program, as well as doing meditation exercises at home, was linked with lower feelings of loneliness <em>and</em> a reduction in the expression of genes known to be linked with inflammation. This finding is important because, among the elderly, loneliness is known to increase the risk for a <a href="" target="_hplink">number of other health problems</a> -- including heart risks and even a premature death.

  • Stroke Survivors

    Practicing yoga for eight weeks helped stroke survivors to <a href="" target="_hplink">improve their balance</a> in a study published in the journal <em>Stroke</em>. Improving balance among stroke patients is important for reducing the risk of falls. People who had balance problems, or feelings of dizziness and/or spinning, were five times more likely to fall than those without balance issues, according to an earlier 2003 study in <em>Stroke</em>. And in other research, presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine this year and conducted by the same researchers as the balance study, they found that yoga helped stroke survivors to <a href="" target="_hplink">be more flexible</a>, be stronger, and have more endurance and strength.

  • Caregivers

    It's not just people with an ailment who can benefit from yoga -- people <em>caring</em> for the sick can be helped, too. A study in the <em>International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry</em> found that caregivers who participate in meditation have <a href="" target="_hplink">decreased symptoms of depression</a> and even a decrease in cellular aging from stress.

  • Inmates

    The Washoe County Sheriff's Office in Reno, Nevada, is offering <a href="" target="_hplink">yoga to female prisoners</a> to help them with anger and stress issues, Fox Reno reported. The twice-a-month classes are taught by volunteers, and are part of the Alternatives to Incarceration Unit's Women's Empowerment Program, according to Fox Reno.

  • Teachers

    Meditation could be the key to <a href="" target="_hplink">minimizing stress for busy teachers</a>, according to a study from researchers at the University of California, San Francisco. The findings, published in the journal <em>Emotion</em>, showed that undergoing eight weeks of meditation helped to lower anxiety and depression, also, in the teachers, Everyday Health reported.