Push-ups, crunches, gyms, personal trainers –people have many strategies for building bigger muscles and stronger bones. But what can one do to build a bigger brain?
That’s the finding from a group of researchers at UCLA who used high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to scan the brains of people who meditate. In a study published in the journal NeuroImage and currently available online (by subscription), the researchers report that certain regions in the brains of long-term meditators were larger than in a similar control group.
Specifically, meditators showed significantly larger volumes of the hippocampus and areas within the orbito-frontal cortex, the thalamus and the inferior temporal gyrus — all regions known for regulating emotions.
“We know that people who consistently meditate have a singular ability to cultivate positive emotions, retain emotional stability and engage in mindful behavior,” said Eileen Luders, lead author and a postdoctoral research fellow at the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging. “The observed differences in brain anatomy might give us a clue why meditators have these exceptional abilities.”
Research has confirmed the beneficial aspects of meditation. In addition to having better focus and control over their emotions, many people who meditate regularly have reduced levels of stress and bolstered immune systems. But less is known about the link between meditation and brain structure.
In the study, Luders and her colleagues examined 44 people — 22 control subjects and 22 who had practiced various forms of meditation, including Zazen, Samatha and Vipassana, among others. The amount of time they had practiced ranged from five to 46 years, with an average of 24 years.
More than half of all the meditators said that deep concentration was an essential part of their practice, and most meditated between 10 and 90 minutes every day.
Dr. Andy Newberg has done similar research on Tibetan meditators. The brain of the meditators expanded in areas which regulate emotion and this could account for the increased adaptability of people who meditate to stress. And then there is the additional benefit of connecting more deeply with the Source that lies within us, and what better time to accomplish this than during the conjunction of Chiron and Neptune!