By Strengthening Your Brain, Meditation Makes You More Conscious

03/19/2012

Dh-meditate-lgMeditators know that the practice has its benefits, namely making you more conscious and aware of your behavior. But you may wonder how this works. Does the brain actually change the more we meditate? The answer, according a new study, is yes. 

Eileen Lucas, an assistant professor at the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro-Imaging, and her colleagues have found that long term meditators have larger amounts of gyrification or “folding of the cortex." This is a good thing. Folding of the cerebral cortex allows for us to process information faster than people who do not meditate. 

"Rather than just comparing meditators and non-meditators, we wanted to see if there is a link between the amount of meditation practice and the extent of brain alteration," said Luders to Science Daily. "That is, correlating the number of years of meditation with the degree of folding."

The study found that the more years that you meditate, the better. The study, to be published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, didn’t just study meditators versus non-meditators but instead took into account the number of years of meditation to see if the amount of years meditators had done the practice made a difference. Specifically, if the brain could change as a result of its environment. 

Science Daily reports that the meditators used in the study had practiced for an average 20 years. Of 49 meditators, 23 MRI scans were taken and compared to 16 control subjects. The cerebral cortex is the outermost layer of the brain and it plays a role in consciousness as well as memory, and attention. 

Meditating photo

"The insula has been suggested to function as a hub for autonomic, affective and cognitive integration," said Luders. "Meditators are known to be masters in introspection and awareness as well as emotional control and self-regulation, so the findings make sense that the longer someone has meditated, the higher the degree of folding in the insula."

This is the scientific basis for what meditators have long believed--the more you meditate the more conscious you are of your life and your actions in general. The happiest and healthiest people are those that learn to live in the moment rather than stressing about what has happened in the past and what will happen in the future. By embracing the moment, good or bad, you learn to combat your own suffering.

Meditation teaches you to follow your breath or a mantra and stay focused on it rather than being absorbed in the distractions that surround you. That said, meditation is also a practice that takes a lifetime to master, but it seems the work is well worth it.

Photos: Thinkstock

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More on Meditation 
Don’t Fall Victim To Common Meditation Mistakes
6 Tips For Finding Success Without Killing Yourself at Work in 2012 
Meditation Can Cut Your Risk of Heart Attack Nearly in Half


Sara Novak writes about health and wellness for Discovery Health. Her work is also regularly featured in Breathe Magazine and on SereneKitchen.com. She has written extensively on food policy, food politics, and food safety.


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