The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) issued the following news release:

Meditation May Increase Gray Matter

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.

The researchers used a high-resolution, three-dimensional form of MRI
and two different approaches to measure differences in brain structure.
One approach automatically divides the brain into several regions of
interest, allowing researchers to compare the size of certain brain
structures.

The other segments the brain into different tissue types, allowing
researchers to compare the amount of gray matter within specific regions
of the brain.

The researchers found significantly larger cerebral measurements in
meditators compared with controls, including larger volumes of the right
hippocampus and increased gray matter in the right orbito-frontal
cortex, the right thalamus and the left inferior temporal lobe. There
were no regions where controls had significantly larger volumes or more
gray matter than meditators.

Because these areas of the brain are closely linked to emotion, Luders
said, “these might be the neuronal underpinnings that give meditators’
the outstanding ability to regulate their emotions and allow for well-
adjusted responses to whatever life throws their way.”

What’s not known, she said, and will require further study, are what the
specific correlates are on a microscopic level — that is, whether it’s
an increased number of neurons, the larger size of the neurons or a
particular “wiring” pattern meditators may develop that other people don’t.

Because this was not a longitudinal study — which would have tracked
meditators from the time they began meditating onward — it’s possible
that the meditators already had more regional gray matter and volume in
specific areas; that may have attracted them to meditation in the first
place, Luders said.

However, she also noted that numerous previous studies have pointed to
the brain’s remarkable plasticity and how environmental enrichment has
been shown to change brain structure.

Other authors of the study included Arthur Toga, director of UCLA
Laboratory of Neuro Imaging; Natasha Lepore of UCLA; and Christian Gaser
of the University of Jena in Germany.

Funding for the study was provided by the National Institutes of Health.

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