Meditation improves the brain19th March 2012
Recent US research has indicated that people who practice meditation for years show improved brain functioning.
A research team at the University of California in Los Angeles had already found thickening in the brains of meditators, which strengthened connections between brain cells.
A second study from the same university now suggests that there is another benefit to meditation; that of greater "folding" in the brain, which may possibly allow the brain to process information more quickly.
Long-term meditators have more gyrification in their brains, according to a team led by Eileen Luders, assistant professor at the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging.
Folding of the cortex is believed to allow the brain to process information faster.
The team also found a direct link between the amount of folding and the number of years a person had been meditating for.
The study is further evidence of the brain's neuroplasticity, or ability to change its structure over the entire course of a person's life.
Writing in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Luders' team said they had set out to measure the effects on cortical folding of long-term, as opposed to short-term meditators, rather than simply comparing people who meditate with those who did not.
The cerebral cortex has a role in memory, thinking, consciousness and attention.
The formation of furrows and folds in the brain, which are known as sulci and gyri, is thought to promote and enhance neural processing.
Luders said the study had correlated the number of years of meditation with the degree of folding.
The team measured the brains of 50 meditators, 28 men and 22 women, using magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI.
They also looked a non-meditating control group which was matched for age, handedness and sex from image scans in an existing MRI database.
The meditators were selected and recruited from various sorts of community centers which offer meditation classes, including Samatha, Vipassana, Zen and other meditative activities.
Their brains were measured using the "whole-brain" approach to cortical gyrification, which takes data from thousands of points across the brain's surface.
The active meditation practitioners had pronounced differences in many areas of the brain, including the left precentral gyrus, the left and right anterior dorsal insula, the right fusiform gyrus and the right cuneus, all of which showed more folding.
However, the biggest difference was found in the insula, which is thought to help regulate autonomic, affective and cognitive integration, or the processes of instinct, emotion and thought.
Luders said that meditators were often able to regulate their emotional responses, so that the longer someone had meditated, the higher the degree of folding in the insula.
While genetic and environmental factors may also have played a role, Luders said the link between more folding and the number of years of meditation practice supported the idea that meditation enhances gyrification.
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