Meditation Builds a Bigger Brain

We go to the gym to build up our body strength—but what can we do to increase our brain power? This week UCLA's Lab of Neuro Imaging released its findings on meditation's brain-building effects. Researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to scan the brains of meditators and non-meditators. Science Daily reported, "Meditators showed significantly larger volumes of the hippocampus and areas within the orbito-frontal cortex, the thalamus and the inferior temporal gyrus — all regions known for regulating emotions.

"We know that people who consistently meditate have a singular ability to cultivate positive emotions, retain emotional stability and engage in mindful behavior," said Eileen Luders, lead author and a postdoctoral research fellow at the Laboratory. "The observed differences in brain anatomy might give us a clue why meditators have these exceptional abilities."

In my experience, meditators frequently report how their responses to the challenges and demands of life become clearer, calmer, more confident and less reactive. They'll report that emotional state is steadier and more optimistic. Cognitive function increases--work gets done quicker and decisions made swifter--and productivity rises. Science is therefore confirming what anecdotal reporting has said for eons; that the brain's remarkable plasticity lets it reshape, reorganize, and upgrade itself throughout adulthood.

This study reminds me of a fascinating piece in National Geographic magazine four years ago, which explains brain plasticity in detail and ends up explaining how meditation increases activity in the prefrontal cortex, contributing to greater happiness. Researchers claim, rather wonderfully, that the noble, hooked-up Tibetan monk above has such heightened activity in that area, he may just "quantifiably" be the happiest person on earth.