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Last updated on April 26, 2011 at 12:00 am EDT by in5d Alternative News
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
"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.n
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
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.
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