A study recently published by researchers at UCLA deduced that meditation increases the amount of gray matter in certain areas of the brain, mainly emotional control centers. In essence, your brain can get pumped up on meditation and increase its volume. That is pretty darn cool, if you ask me. But maybe the coolest part is that the space that is growing is the one that we humans often struggle with the most, the space of emotion.
Researchers used high-resolution MRIs (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) to scan the brains of meditators. What they discovered was that the hippocampus, portions of the orbito-frontal cortex, the thalamus and inferior temporal gyrus all showed significantly larger volumes in the brains of long-term meditators. So, that what do those portions of the brain control and what does it mean that they are larger in meditators than non-meditators?
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The above mentioned areas of the brain are responsible for regulating emotions on some level. The hippocampus plays a major role in memory and stress, and is noted as one of the major regions of damage in Alzheimer’s Disease. It also contains a great deal of our adrenal steroid receptors which make this area vulnerable to long term stress and over-production of cortisol (the hormone of stress). The orbito-frontal cortex functions in decision making, sensory integration, behavior related to expectation of reward or punishment and other experiences of emotion. The thalamus is responsible for sleep and wakefulness, sensory translation and consciousness and awareness. It is meditation’s effect on this area of the brain that most fascinates me as a yogi.
In the yogic tradition, as well as many others, meditation raises our level of awareness and consciousness. That is the goal, the purpose, and the work. Now science is validating these ancient understandings with physical, anatomical evidence. As we meditate, the areas of our brains that control awareness and consciousness grow. As our awareness grows, we are less susceptible to the turbulence of emotion, and therefore these areas of the brain also respond in kind. So cool.
"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 UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging. "The observed differences in brain anatomy might give us a clue why meditators have these exceptional abilities.”
If you sit, you already know the ways that meditating can support your life. When you meditate regularly you aren’t as susceptible to the waves of emotion that are constantly rising in falling in your ocean of consciousness. You experience more balance and equilibrium in even the most trying situations. Regular meditation also allows us to filter our day to day stresses more effectively so that we are less prone to the negative side effects of today’s world. Meditators have a clarity and positivity that resonates through their lives. With this “proof” of the physiological effects of meditation, we aren’t exactly shocked or surprised, but instead, meditators across the world can be supported by the scientific knowledge behind what they have always known.