3 Ways Meditation Changes the Brain
For many of us, roughly 15% of our lives will be spent in the classroom, to learn, to widen our horizons, to get exposed to new idea & cultures, to deepen our knowledge, and fundamentally, to change our brains. Some athletes will train as much as 35 hours per week, to excel, to compete at world class levels, to master their craft, and fundamentally, to change their bodies (and this all starts in the brain).
Meditation can be as easy as 10 minutes per day. If you account for 16 hours spent awake everyday (now also another debatable topic), meditation will be roughly 1% of your day. That 1% is now been proven to be enough to literally change your brain.
Meditation is associated with increased grey matter density1 and with increased cortical thickness (Ref. 2)
Grey matter is where most of the neuronal cell bodies of the brain reside. Among other things, grey matter is responsible for sensory perception (seeing and hearing, memory, emotions, speech, decision making, and self-control). If you wish to picture what more grey matter feels like, think of Bradley Cooper’s character in the movie Limitless.
Studies linking long-term meditation with increased grey matter now abound. Initially, it was thought that this was perhaps the only area of the brain that changed with meditation, and that this was only possible over a long period of practice. Now, both these hypotheses have been proven to be false.
Meditation increases blood flow to the brain (Ref. 3)
Oftentimes, to study the impacts of a practice, whatever the field may be, it’s easier to study the elite in the field. That’s precisely what this study did. It brought together eight experienced Tibetan Buddhist meditators and simply scanned their brains before, and after a 1 hour meditation.
The result is mind-blowing. Nearly every single area of their brain saw significantly increased changes in cerebral blood flow. The cingulate gyrus, the inferior and orbital frontal cortex, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and thalamus. You name it, the blood flow increased there too.
Meditation increases brain connectivity and the size of the hippocampus (Ref. 4)
Scientists are unsure exactly how this area of the brain stores memory, but understand the hippocampus’s purpose. The hippocampus is involved in the storage of long-term memory, which includes all past knowledge and experiences. The hippocampus seems to play a major role in declarative memory, the type of memory involving things that can be purposely recalled, such as facts or events.
Meditation over the long run, builds increased connectivity between different parts of the brain, and will allow you to remember the great memories effortlessly, and the important facts without difficulty.
Initially, studies only focused on reporting the changes to the brain while comparing expert, long-term meditators to non-meditators. Recently, studies have found changes in attention, anxiety, stress-related cortisol, and increased immunoreactivity after as little as 5 days of meditation practice2. Still, it may sounds astounding that a daily meditation practice for 3 months is all you need for structural changes in the brain to become detectable2.
Like many things, the benefits are felt in the execution, so read no more, and get straight to meditating.
Vestergaard-Poulsen, Petera; van Beek, Martijnc; Skewes, Joshuaa c; Bjarkam, Carsten R.b; Stubberup, Michaeld; Bertelsen, Jesd; Roepstorff, Andreas, Long-term meditation is associated with increased gray matter density in the brain stem. Neuroreport, Volume 20, Issue 2, January 2009
Sara W. Lazar,a Catherine E. Kerr,b Rachel H. Wasserman,a,b Jeremy R. Gray,c Douglas N. Greve,d Michael T. Treadway,a Metta McGarvey,e Brian T. Quinn,d Jeffery A. Dusek,f,g Herbert Benson,f,g Scott L. Rauch,a Christopher I. Moore,h,i and Bruce Fischld,j, Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness, Neuroreport, November 2005
Andrew Newberga, , , Abass Alavia, Michael Baimeb, Michael Pourdehnada, Jill Santannac, Eugene d’Aquilid, The measurement of regional cerebral blood flow during the complex cognitive task of meditation: a preliminary SPECT study, Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, Volume 106, Issue 2, 10 April 2001
Eileen Ludersa, Arthur W. Togaa, , , Natasha Leporea, Christian Gaserb, The underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation: Larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of gray matter, NeuroImage, Volume 45, Issue 3, 15 April 2009