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More evidence emerges that meditation strengthens the brain

Earlier evidence out of UCLA suggested that meditating for years thickens the brain (in a good way) and strengthens the connections between brain cells.

Now a further report by UCLA researchers suggests yet another benefit.

Eileen Luders, an assistant professor at the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, and colleagues, have found that long-term meditators have larger amounts of gyrification (“folding” of the cortex, which may allow the brain to process information faster) than people who do not meditate.

Further, a direct correlation was found between the amount of gyrification and the number of meditation years, possibly providing further proof of the brain’s neuroplasticity, or ability to adapt to environmental changes.

The article appears in the online edition of the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

The cerebral cortex is the outermost layer of neural tissue. Among other functions, it plays a key role in memory, attention, thought and consciousness. Gyrification or cortical folding is the process by which the surface of the brain undergoes changes to create narrow furrows and folds called sulci and gyri. Their formation may promote and enhance neural processing. Presumably then, the more folding that occurs, the better the brain is at processing information, making decisions, forming memories and so forth.

“Rather than just comparing meditators and non-meditators, we wanted to see if there is a link between the amount of meditation practice and the extent of brain alteration,” said Luders. “That is, correlating the number of years of meditation with the degree of folding.”

Of the 49 recruited subjects, the researchers took MRI scans of 23 meditators and compared them to 16 control subjects matched for age, handedness and sex. (Ten participants dropped out.) The scans for the controls were obtained from an existing MRI database, while the meditators were recruited from various meditation venues. The meditators had practiced their craft on average for 20 years using a variety of meditation types — Samatha, Vipassana, Zen and more. The researchers applied a well-established and automated whole-brain approach to measure cortical gyrification at thousands of points across the surface of the brain.

They found pronounced group differences (heightened levels of gyrification in active meditation practitioners) across a wide swatch of the cortex, including the left precentral gyrus, the left and right anterior dorsal insula, the right fusiform gyrus and the right cuneus.

Perhaps most interesting, though, was the positive correlation between the number of meditation years and the amount of insular gyrification.

“The insula has been suggested to function as a hub for autonomic, affective and cognitive integration,” said Luders. “Meditators are known to be masters in introspection and awareness as well as emotional control and self-regulation, so the findings make sense that the longer someone has meditated, the higher the degree of folding in the insula.”

While Luders cautions that genetic and other environmental factors could have contributed to the effects the researchers observed, still, “The positive correlation between gyrification and the number of practice years supports the idea that meditation enhances regional gyrification.”

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We comb the internet, looking for news stories related to all forms of meditation, whether Buddhist or not. To date we have posted thousands of news stories that cover everything from meditation and health to meditating celebrities. When we publish a story that's favorable to or critical of one form of meditation, this does not imply that we agree with the stance of the original news story. Read more articles by .

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Pingback from Living In The Moment « Meanderings
Time: March 19, 2012, 12:00 pm

[…] articles on medical research that suggest meditation is beneficial in other ways, as in this example. Some people seem to find mindfulness easier than transcendental meditation because focusing […]

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Comment from Luna Kadampa
Time: April 2, 2012, 3:33 pm

I just stumbled on your site through Twitter, and I’m glad I did. Such a useful resource, thank you.

(I write a meditation blog called Kadampa Life http://kadampalife.org.)

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Comment from Luna Kadampa
Time: April 2, 2012, 3:34 pm

Sorry, me again, how do you subscribe to this blog, i couldn’t find the email link?

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Comment from Carroll Edward Young
Time: April 7, 2012, 9:06 am

For people like me who are in the senior bracket at 69, this is encouraging news! I’m just now developing a workshop called Aging Wisely (AW), and meditating over the long run certainly is a way to age wisely. Thanks!

Carroll

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