Evidence out of UCLA suggested in the past that meditating for years thickens the brain and strengthens the connections between brain cells. Now a further report by UCLA researchers suggests yet another benefit.
Eileen Luders, an assistant professor at the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, and colleagues, have found that long-term meditators have larger amounts of gyrification (“folding” of the cortex, which may allow the brain to process information faster) than people who do not meditate. Also, a direct correlation was found between the amount of gyrification and the number of meditation years, possibly providing further proof of the brain’s neuroplasticity, or ability to adapt to environmental changes.
“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 Luders. “That is, correlating the number of years of meditation with the degree of folding.”
Of the 49 recruited subjects, the researchers took MRI scans of 23 meditators and compared them to 16 control subjects matched for age, handedness and sex. The meditators had practiced their craft on average for 20 years using a variety of meditation types — Samatha, Vipassana, Zen and more. The researchers found pronounced group differences (heightened levels of gyrification in active meditation practitioners) and a 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. The positive correlation between gyrification and the number of practice years supports the idea that meditation enhances regional gyrification.”