The brains of meditators

Unlike most other fitness blogs, brain fitness plays a very important part in Wild Juggling’s approach to fitness. Why just exercise your heart, and your muscles, when you can exercise your brain? This is what juggling is all about really. Improving your coordination by learning to juggle is as much a brain exercise as it is an arm exercise. It requires discipline, focus, and dexterity to maintain a juggling pattern while standing still; even more when joggling.

Juggling is sort of like meditation due to the focus it requires. This is why I often recommend people learn to meditate before they try to learn how to juggle. Meditation can help you relax, and may help improve focus. This will come in handy later when you learn to juggle.

We’ve already looked at the brains of jugglers many times, but now let’s have a look at the brains of meditators. According to the Department of Neurology, UCLA School of Medicine, Los Angeles, CA, in The underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation: larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of gray matter:

Although the systematic study of meditation is still in its infancy, research has provided evidence for meditation-induced improvements in psychological and physiological well-being. Moreover, meditation practice has been shown not only to benefit higher-order cognitive functions but also to alter brain activity. Nevertheless, little is known about possible links to brain structure. Using high-resolution MRI data of 44 subjects, we set out to examine the underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation with different regional specificity (i.e., global, regional, and local). For this purpose, we applied voxel-based morphometry in association with a recently validated automated parcellation approach. We detected significantly larger gray matter volumes in meditators in the right orbito-frontal cortex (as well as in the right thalamus and left inferior temporal gyrus when co-varying for age and/or lowering applied statistical thresholds). In addition, meditators showed significantly larger volumes of the right hippocampus. Both orbito-frontal and hippocampal regions have been implicated in emotional regulation and response control. Thus, larger volumes in these regions might account for meditators’ singular abilities and habits to cultivate positive emotions, retain emotional stability, and engage in mindful behavior. We further suggest that these regional alterations in brain structures constitute part of the underlying neurological correlate of long-term meditation independent of a specific style and practice. Future longitudinal analyses are necessary to establish the presence and direction of a causal link between meditation practice and brain anatomy.

This sounds impressive. Although premature, it does appear meditation can help improve the brain. It is no miracle cure, it’s not magic, and it won’t help you levitate(though some may disagree), but based on this and in my own personal experience as an occasional meditator, it does help improve focus, besides helping me relax.

That it may lead to permanent alterations in the brain’s anatomy isn’t that big of a surprise, since learning anything can lead to alterations. Meditation won’t turn you into a genius, but the brain changes it leads to seem to be positive.

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