Meditation Found To Increase Brain Size

People who meditate grow bigger brains than those who don’t. Researchers at Harvard, Yale, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found the first evidence that meditation can alter the physical structure of our brains. Brain scans they conducted reveal that experienced meditators boasted increased thickness in parts of the brain that deal with attention and processing sensory input.

In one area of gray matter, the thickening turns out to be more pronounced in older than in younger people. That’s intriguing because those sections of the human cortex, or thinking cap, normally get thinner as we age.

 Our data suggest that meditation practice can promote cortical plasticity in adults in areas important for cognitive and emotional processing and well-being,” says Sara Lazar, leader of the study and a psychologist at Harvard Medical School. “These findings are consistent with other studies that demonstrated increased thickness of music areas in the brains of musicians, and visual and motor areas in the brains of jugglers. In other words, the structure of an adult brain can change in response to repeated practice.”

The researchers compared brain scans of 20 experienced meditators with those of 15 nonmeditators. Four of the former taught meditation or yoga, but they were not monks living in seclusion. The rest worked in careers such as law, health care, and journalism. All the participants were white. During scanning, the meditators meditated; the others just relaxed and thought about whatever they wanted.

Meditators did Buddhist “insight meditation,” which focuses on whatever is there, like noise or body sensations. It doesn’t involve “om,” other mantras, or chanting.

“The goal is to pay attention to sensory experience, rather than to your thoughts about the sensory experience,” Lazar explains. “For example, if you suddenly hear a noise, you just listen to it rather than thinking about it. If your leg falls asleep, you just notice the physical sensations. If nothing is there, you pay attention to your breathing.” Successful meditators get used to not thinking or elaborating things in their mind.

Study participants meditated an average of about 40 minutes a day. Some had been doing it for only a year, others for decades. Depth of the meditation was measured by the slowing of breathing rates. Those most deeply involved in the meditation showed the greatest changes in brain structure. “This strongly suggests,” Lazar concludes, “that the differences in brain structure were caused by the meditation, rather than that differences in brain thickness got them into meditation in the first place.”

Lazar took up meditation about 10 years ago and now practices insight meditation about three times a week. At first she was not sure it would work. But “I have definitely experienced beneficial changes,” she says. “It reduces stress [and] increases my clarity of thought and my tolerance for staying focused in difficult situations.”

Controlling random thoughts

Insight meditation can be practiced anytime, anywhere. “People who do it quickly realize that much of what goes on in their heads involves random thoughts that often have little substance,” Lazar comments. “The goal is not so much to ’empty’ your head, but to not get caught up in random thoughts that pop into consciousness.”

She uses this example: Facing an important deadline, people tend to worry about what will happen if they miss it, or if the end product will be good enough to suit the boss. You can drive yourself crazy with unproductive “what if” worry. “If, instead, you focus on the present moment, on what needs to be done and what is happening right now, then much of the feeling of stress goes away,” Lazar says. “Feelings become less obstructive and more motivational.”

The increased thickness of gray matter is not very much, 4 to 8 thousandths of an inch. “These increases are proportional to the time a person has been meditating during their lives,” Lazar notes. “This suggests that the thickness differences are acquired through extensive practice and not simply due to differences between meditators and nonmeditators.”

As small as they are, you can bet those differences are going to lead to lots more studies to find out just what is going on and how meditation might better be used to improve health and well-being, and even slow aging.

More basic questions need to be answered. What causes the increased thickness? Does meditation produce more connections between brain cells, or more blood vessels? How does increased brain thickness influence daily behavior? Does it promote increased communication between intellectual and emotional areas of the brain?

To get answers, larger studies are planned at Massachusetts General Hospital, the Harvard-affiliated facility where Lazar is a research scientist and where these first studies were done. That work included only 20 meditators and their brains were scanned only once.

“The results were very encouraging,” Lazar remarks. “But further research needs to be done using a larger number of people and testing them multiple times. We also need to examine their brains both before and after learning to meditate. Our group is currently planning to do this. Eventually, such research should reveal more about the function of the thickening; that is, how it affects emotions and knowing in terms of both awareness and judgment.”

Slowing aging?

Since this type of meditation counteracts the natural thinning of the thinking surface of the brain, could it play a role in slowing – even reversing – aging? That could really be mind-boggling in the most positive sense.

Lazar is cautious in her answer. “Our data suggest that one small bit of brain appears to have a slower rate of cortical thinning, so meditation may help slow some aspects of cognitive aging,” she agrees. “But it’s important to remember that monks and yogis suffer from the same ailments as the rest of us. They get old and die, too. However, they do claim to enjoy an increased capacity for attention and memory.”

Source: Harvard University (By William J. Cromie)

Link:http://www.sciencenewsden.com

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19 Responses to “Meditation Found To Increase Brain Size”

  1. nina Says:

    I need some meditation CD.s

  2. Benjamin Pesqueda Says:

    You guys should try this study on cats. There’s no doubt that cats do their own form of “insight meditation”. From kitten to adult. My cat’s just sitting right in front of me with his eyes closed right now. Ears fully alert. That’s definitely insight meditation.

  3. Bandula De Silva Says:

    This is a very good explanation on what will happen to our physical body but when practicing the meditation for a long period your mind will be organized well and and stable actually most of the functions of body controlled by mind there for stable mind will help to control you and understand the realty of our life and control beyond our body, according to the Buddhism you, yourself can control the nature of our next birth.
    keep on meditating but under the supervision of real teacher(specially in”anapanasathi” ).

  4. Anirudh Kumar Satsangi Says:

    Yoga of Knowledge is the path of spiritual realization (acquiring transcendental knowledge through a philosophical search of truth), and Yoga of Action is the path of God realization through dedicating fruits of one’s work to God. The path of meditation (Raja Yoga) and path of love and devotional service (Bhakti Yoga) also lead to control of mind and self-realization. For people of different constitution and affinities, different paths are appropriate.

    Romila Thapar writes in A History of India, volume one :

    Yoga (Application) which was based on the control of the body physically and implied that
    a perfect control over the body and the senses led to knowledge of the ultimate reality. A detailed anatomical knowledge of the human body was necessary to the advancement of yoga and therefore those practicing yoga had to keep in touch with medical knowledge.

    Now I have described Practice of Meditation and Yoga using scientific terminology: Mind and brain are two distinct things. Brain is anatomical entity whereas mind is functional entity. Mind can be defined as the function of autonomic nervous system (ANS). It is claimed that mind can be brought under conscious control through the practice of meditation. But how? ANS is largely under hypothalamic control which is situated very close to optic chiasma (sixth chakra or ajna chakra). Protracted practice of concentration to meditate at this region brings functions of ANS say mind under one’s conscious control.

    ANS is further divided into parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) and sympathetic nervous system (SNS). On the basis of these facts I have discovered a mathematical relationship for spiritual quotient (S.Q.). Spiritual Quotient can be expressed mathematically as the ratio of Parasympathetic dominance to Sympathetic dominance. PSNS dominates during meditative calm and SNS dominates during stress. In this formula we assign numerical values to the physiological parameters activated or suppressed during autonomic mobilization and put in the formula to describe the state of mind of an individual and also infer his/her level of consciousness.

    Meditation is the art of looking within and science of doing nothing. We don’t use anything in meditation. We just try to concentrate to meditate at some point in human anatomy known as ‘chakra’ in Indian System of Yoga. The current of mind is flowing outward through the senses and unconsciously. The mind comes at rest gradually through regular practice of meditation. Then comes self realization and enlightenment. Protracted practice of meditation under qualified guidance will help to manage all sort of psychological problems.

    Emotional Quotient can also be expressed mathematically as the product of I.Q. and Wisdom Factor. E.Q. stands for Emotional Quotient. An intelligent person may not be wise. But a wise man will always be intelligent. An intelligent person having certain level of positive emotions can be said as wise. An intelligent person lacking wisdom will turn autocrat. A wise man will always be a democrat who respects others existence.

    Some may raise doubt that how could be the Wisdom quantified? The answer is simple -if Mental Age of I.Q. can be quantified then Wisdom can also be quantified, of course, comparatively with more efforts. Wilhelm Stern had given the formula of I.Q.. It is, Mental Age/ Chronological Age x 100. Spiritual Quotient (S.Q.) leverages both E.Q. and I.Q.

  5. Anirudh Kumar Satsangi Says:

    Size of pineal gland, hypothalamus controlling parasympathetic nervous system increased/activated through protracted practice of meditation and yoga

  6. Anirudh Kumar Satsangi Says:

    Pyusa (Pineal) Yoga or Shiva Yoga

    By His Holiness Srikumarswamiji, The International Esoteric & Yoga Centre, Tapovan Dharwar

    Physiology has recognized the importance ot the middle brainand of the endocrine glands, it has therefore set a value upon the pituitary and pineal glands. A special relationship unites the pituitary gland with the roof of the third ventricle on the one hand, and on the other with the whole system of ductless glands throughout the body. The third ventricle is a narrow slit lying near the base of cerebral hemishphere and separating the two thalami from each other. At the posterior end of this slit a small nodule of grey matter projects backwards and overhangs corpora quadrigemina of the mid brain. This is the pineal gland of Piyusa granthi. It represents all that remains of a third eye which used to adorn the fore-head of some of the lizare ancestors in far-off times. This type of lizard is found only in New Zealand and it dates back to the end of Palaeozoic period in the Permian epoch. One of this lizard’s features is that it has a quite well developed third eye behind and between the usual two This is known as the pineal eye and is represented in man by the pineal gland.

  7. Anirudh Kumar Satsangi Says:

    According to His Holiness Srikumarswamiji, “the pineal gland is a rudimentary organ in most people but it is evolving though slowly. It is possible to quicken its evolution into a condition in which it can perform its function of apprehending events comprehensively and not piece meal. The full development of this organ helps the Yogi to transcend mathematical time, which is only an illusion produced by the succession of states of consciousness, as one travels through eternal duration. In Yoga Shastra this pineal gland is sometimes spoken of as third eye, the function of which takes place externally through the middle of the forehead. This third eye is now atrophied, simply because the tendency of man has grown downwards and it has got immersed in sexual pleasures. Only when man outgrows lust or libido and makes it as light as possible, that this third eye will reopen, that this pineal gland will flower out in brilliance.

    Scientist opine that the pineal gland is a relic of the third eye, hence it is vestigial. But the adepts affirm that it is embryonical and threrefore it is capable of being developed. The whole process of Piyusa (Pineal) Yoga is intended to bring about the development of this dormant pineal gland”.

  8. Anirudh Kumar Satsangi Says:

    Providence has located within the human body a special spiritual faculty, and it is the exclusive function of religion to teach man all about that faculty. When that faculty is developed in us like our physical and mental faculties, we shall be able to perceive Truth and realize Ultimate Reality in the same manner as we now perceive and realize the Sun with our physical eyes. And when this takes place, you will be both astonished and amused to find that Truth – the goal of science, Ultimate Reality – the goal of philosophy and God – the goal of religion, are but three names of the same Supreme Essence. (Excerpts from Convocation Address to Graduates of Agra University delivered by His Holiness Sir Anand Sarup on November 23, 1935)

  9. Anirudh Kumar Satsangi Says:

    His Holiness Srikumarswamiji writes, “Kundalini Yoga and Piyusa Yoga differ from each other in method and aim. Kundalini is dormant likewise Pineal is also dormant. The seat of the Kundalini is the basic plexus or Muladhara, while the seat of the Pineal is the third ventricle of the brain. The process of awakening Kundalini is attended with hardship , struggle and labour, but the process of awakening the pineal gland is easy, simple and effective. When awakened Kundalini ascends and meet the Olive body which has the form of a dot O or Binduroopa in Brahmarandhra. In Kundalini Yoga there is no descent. When the pineal gland is stirred into activity, the cosmic consciousness residing in it descends to meet the individual consciousness which is situated in the pituitary gland, through the nerve of the optic thalamus. The meeting takes place in the centre of the eyebrows. This meeting brings about the efflorescence of the intuitive faculty

  10. Anirudh Kumar Satsangi Says:

    Swami Sivananda writes (1950), “The Yogic student actually visualizes the serpentine power through his Divya Chakshu or eye of intuition. There are four routes to Sahasrara for Kundalini Shakti to pass. The longest route runs from Muladhara to Sahasrara along the back. The Yogi who takes the Kundalini along this path is very powerful. This is the most difficult route. In Sri Sankracharya the Kundalini passed along this route. The shortest route is from Ajna Chakra to Sahasrara. The third is from Heart to Sahasrara. The fourth route runs from Muladhara to Sahasrara in front.

    If the Yogi concentrates on Ajna Chakra, the lower Chakras are automatically opened and conquered”.

    I would like to mention here that there are some who believe that Ajna Chakra corresponds to Optic Chiasma and Sahasrara corresponds to Pineal Gland in human anatomy.

  11. Anirudh Kumar Satsangi Says:

    More from Swami Sivananda : “Yoga aims at controlling the mind and its modifications. The Western philosophers Plato, Emerson, Spinoza, Descartes, Prof. Max Muller have eulogised the study of the science of Yoga very highly. There are varous kinds of Yoga. It varies according to the temperament of the practitioner. Yoga in a generic sense refers to Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga, Gyan Yoga and Hatha Yoga.

    According to Yoga, man’s life is constitued of so many breaths. The number of respiration per minute is fifteen. If you can reduce the number of breaths by the practice of Kumbhak or retention of breath, or stop the breath through Khechri Mudra you can increase your span of life”.

  12. Meditation Does Increase Brain Size | FinerMinds Says:

    […] Meditation Found To Increase Brain Size 199014 commentshttp://daily.finerminds.com/meditation/meditation-increases-brain-size/Meditation+Does+Increase+Brain+Size2009-04-13+11%3A40%3A48Gabrielle+Lim · Leave a comment or question […]

  13. b.m shyam singh Says:

    i am retd engineer reiki grand master practising diff.types of meditations and therapies i agree changes taking place in body mind soul i do douwing measure before and after there is multi fold increase in the level

  14. Vishal Gupta Says:

    Mr. Anirudh Kumar Satsangi, is an Idiot. Internet is full of his copy-paste material in all blogs. He believes that he’s a real genius and debates around with people.

    He thinks he is wiser than Newton, Einstein and Stephen Hawkings, bigger than any religion. He keeps commenting even when no one is listening to him.

    May GOD show mercy on him and grant him Wisdom!

  15. Anirudh Kumar Satsangi Says:

    No doubt, my work reflects more wisdom than the work of Newton, Einstein and Hawkings.

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