It’s official: Meditation improves brain function

Meditation increases the folding on the outer layer of the brain. It is presumed that the more the folding, the better the brain is at processing information, making decisions and forming memories

Man meditating on grass
Over the years, Meditation changes brain structure, improves function

Meditation is the best thing that a person can do for herself. There are library full of books talking about its spiritual and mental benefits. And now a research by University of California Los Angeles [UCLA] has found that the brains of long-term meditators have larger amounts of gyrification ["folding" of the cortex, which may allow the brain to process information faster] than those who do not meditate. Further, a direct correlation was found between the amount of gyrification and the number of meditation years.

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 promotes and enhance neural processing. It is presumed that the more the folding, the better the brain is at processing information, making decisions and forming memories.

"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 Eileen Luders, an assistant professor at the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging. "That is, correlating the number of years of meditation with the degree of folding."

The meditators who participated in the study had been meditating for about 20 years [on an average] using different types of meditation— Samatha, Vipassana and Zen being some of them. One of the interesting findings 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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