Many people who meditate regularly have better focus and control over their emotions, reduced levels of stress, and bolstered immune systems, but does meditation do anything to the brain structure itself?
Eileen Luders and colleagues at UCLA used MRI to scan the brains of people who meditate to find out. They examined 44 people (22 control subjects and 22 who had practiced various forms of meditation) who had practiced an average of 24 years. Meditators showed significantly larger volumes in regions known for regulating emotions.
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.”