As strength training is recommended to increase muscle mass, meditation training may one day be recommended to increase brain mass. A cross-sectional study published in the journal NeuroImage (2011; 57 , 1308–16) adds more evidence to the growing body of research suggesting that meditation can train the physical structures of the brain. This research shows that those who meditate have much more pronounced connectivity throughout brain regions.
“It is possible that actively meditating, especially over a long period of time, can induce changes [in the brain] on a micro-anatomical level,” said lead study author Eileen Luders, PhD, a visiting assistant professor at the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging at the UCLA School of Medicine, in Los Angeles.
UCLA researchers compared the brain’s structural connectivity (white-matter fiber) in 27 active meditation practitioners, who had practiced for 5–46 years, with that of 27 control subjects, who were matched by age and gender but had no meditation experience. Scientists used diffusion tensor imaging, a type of magnetic resonance imaging that is especially useful in showing connections between brain regions. Comparison of imagery showed that meditators had much more pronounced white-fiber tracts in the brain. For example, meditators had more white matter connecting parts of the limbic system, such as the hippocampus and amygdala, with the frontal cortex and had more connectivity within the corticospinal tract.
Scientists have still not identified the mechanisms by which meditators accrue more brain tissue. Luders said, “It’s possible [they] might have brains that are fundamentally different to begin with. For example, a particular brain anatomy may have drawn an individual to meditation or helped maintain an ongoing practice—meaning that the enhanced fiber connectivity in meditators constitutes a predisposition towards meditation, rather than being the consequence of the practice.” More research was recommended, especially longitudinal studies to distiguish the contribution of genetics from the impact of meditation practice and to explore causal mechanisms.