Friday, May 15, 2009

Mindful Thought Builds Brains

More evidence that mindfulness and meditation can rewire and grow the brain. More and more evidence is showing the plasticity of the brain and the benefits of meditation.

Mindful thought builds brains

By Melissa Evans, Staff Writer

A new UCLA study confirms what meditators say they have known for years: Sitting quietly and focusing the mind on a regular basis beefs up the brain's muscles.

In a study published today in the journal Neurolmage, researchers found that areas of the brain controlling emotion - the hippocampus, the orbito-frontal cortex, the thalamus and the inferior temporal gyrus - were larger among meditators than those in a control group.

Eileen Luders, lead author of the study, said looking at specific areas of the brain using an MRI gives researchers clues as to why meditators seem to cultivate positive emotions, maintain emotional stability and engage in more mindful behavior than others.

Because certain areas of the brain are closely linked to emotion, "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," Luders said.

Turiya Moore, founder and director of Ananda Meditation Center in Torrance, said he wasn't surprised by the results of the study.

"Modern science is validating things that we have already known in ancient traditions," he said. "It's not news to us at all."

The study examined 44 people. Half of the participants practiced various forms of meditation, including zazen, samatha and vipassana. The amount of time they had been meditating varied, but the average was 24 years.

Deep concentration was a central focus of their practice, and most meditated 10 to 90 minutes every day.

Using a high-resolution, three-dimensional form of MRI, researchers divided the brain into several regions of interest and tissue types as a basis for comparison. They found significantly larger measurements in the brains of meditators; there were no areas of the brain in which the control group participants had larger measurements.

There were some limitations to the study, researchers noted. It is not known whether the meditators had larger neurons, or whether the particular "wiring" pattern was different among meditators.

The study also was not longitudinal, meaning it didn't track brain size before the meditators began their daily practice. It is possible that they had larger brains to begin with, Luders said.

She noted, however, that previous studies have mapped the brain's plasticity, looking at how other environmental factors can improve its performance.

Moore said practitioners typically report feeling less moody, less attached to material things and less negative after meditating regularly.

"You can feel that happening," he said. "You're taking energy away from certain parts of the brain and redirecting it to other parts. It's like watering the good plants."


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