Meditation Increases the Size of Your Brain and Alters Its Structure

In a small study of brain scans involving twenty people who had extensive training in Buddhist Insight meditation, researchers at Harvard, Yale, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found that people who meditate grow bigger brains than those who don't. The brain  imaging of regular   folks like you and I who meditate regularly – rather than monks who might do so as a living -- revealed increased thickness in the cortical regions of the brain related to auditory, visual,  sensory and  internal perception such as awareness of  one’s heart rate or breathing. The researchers found an increased thickness of the brain’s gray matter from around 4 to 8 thousandths of an inch with the amount of thickening being proportional to the amount of time a person had spent practicing meditation..

This is the first scientific evidence that meditation can alter the physical structure of their brains. The brain scans revealed conclusively that experienced meditators boasted increased thickness in parts of the brain that deal with attention and processing sensory input even if the individuals were not long term meditators. So this can happen for ordinary people like you and I who simply start to meditate a few times a  week.

In the past,  other studies have shown that musicians produced an increased thickness of music areas in the brain  while jugglers increased the size of the visual and motor brain areas   due to their juggling. The conclusion is that the structure of an adult brain can change in response to repeated practice and in this case, meditation increases the brain areas responsible for attention just as Eastern traditions claim.

Various Eastern meditation traditions have long cited meditation’s usefulness in increasing one’s concentration, focus and attention, but this is the first stuffy of its kind to show a boost in gray matter because of this practice. The Eastern traditions also claim that meditation can affect one’s health and longevity, and various studies have started to prove the truthfulness of these claims as well.

Eastern meditation schools also claim that meditation can help slow and even reverse aging. The fact that the surface of the brain typically starts thinning as an individual ages, whereas this study showed cortical thickening from a modest degree of meditation, lends some credence to the belief that learning how to meditate may help slow some aspects of cognitive aging.

Because of these results, larger studies are planned at Massachusetts General Hospital, the Harvard-affiliated facility   where these  studies were performed. The scientists hope to examine the brains of meditators both before and after they learn how to meditate so that they can see the direct results of meditation practice. 

The question also remains as to whether different types of meditation produce different results. In Buddhist Insight Meditation, a practitioner focuses on simply remaining aware or attentive to what is there in the present moment like breathing, body sensations or noise. The results of other types of meditative or spiritual practice, such as reciting prayers or mantras, yoga pranayama breathing exercises or   visualizations, have not yet been studied.


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