Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Meditation Gives You A Bigger Brain!

More and more research now confirms what the ancient yogis knew thousands of years ago: Meditation works.

Many studies have been done revealing the very measurable results that a meditation practice can have on everything from concentration and stress reduction, to relief from depression and healing of many diseases. A new study done by The UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, highlights some of the actual physical changes that occur in the structures of the brain.

A group of researchers at UCLA who used high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to scan the brains of people who meditate. In a study published in the journal NeuroImage and currently available online (by subscription)...the researchers found significantly larger cerebral measurements in meditators compared with controls, including larger volumes of the right hippocampus and increased gray matter in the right orbito-frontal cortex, the right thalamus and the left inferior temporal lobe. There were no regions where controls had significantly larger volumes or more gray matter than meditators.

"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."

In the study, Luders and her colleagues examined 44 people — 22 control subjects and 22 who had practiced various forms of meditation, including Zazen, Samatha and Vipassana, among others. The amount of time they had practiced ranged from five to 46 years, with an average of 24 years.

More than half of all the meditators said that deep concentration was an essential part of their practice, and most meditated between 10 and 90 minutes every day.
Research has confirmed the beneficial aspects of meditation. In addition to having better focus and control over their emotions, many people who meditate regularly have reduced levels of stress and bolstered immune systems.


I am asked by students all the time if it is difficult to get started in a meditation practice, and I have many people tell me they could "never meditate" because they are too hyper, stressed-out, etc. The truth is anyone can meditate and all of us have experienced "meditative states" at one time or another without necessarily knowing to name them that. If you have ever become completely absorbed in an activity, felt an sense of peace and clarity and lost track of time, you have entered one of the levels of meditative absorption.

Part of the problem, I believe, is the language we use to describe meditation. We tend to say, "I am going to meditate now," as if it is an activity we can just "make happen." In reality, what we do is create the right conditions for meditation to occur naturally (after all, it is our natural state of wholeness.) In yoga, we do this through asana practice, chanting, mantra and by focusing on an internal or external object. When we do these things with our full attention a chain reaction occurs in which sensory withdrawl (pratyahara) begins, then one-pointed concentration (dharana) develops, then meditative absorption (dhyana) occurs and finally experience (someday, we hope!) Oneness with All (Samadhi).

You can begin a simple meditation practice today. Choose a time of day and place where you can sit undesturbed for at least 5 minutes. Sit in a chair, or with your legs crossed, so that your spine is straight. Begin to follow your breath as it moves in an out through your body. As you inhale, say silently or aloud, "Breathing in." As you exhale, say "Breathing out." As thoughts and sensations arise simply stay focused on the breath and the repetition of this simple mantra. The key to meditation is consistency. Try doing this meditation every day at the same time for 5-10 minutes for 7 days. Please come back and leave a comment and let me know your observations. 

You can also try some of my Guided Meditations, available at

Give meditation a try. You'll feel happier, sleep better AND have a bigger brain!
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1 comment:

asmin said...

"ayurveda" is a Sanskrit word that means "to join." Yoga, then, is union and the way to union. What do we join through yoga?First, we join our awareness to our own essential being: spirit that is consciousness.In yoga philosophy this is known as the atman or self. Next we join our finiteconsciousness to the Infinite Consciousness: God, the Supreme Self (Paramatman).In essence they are eternally one, and according to yogic philosophy all spirits originally dwelt in consciousness of that oneness. But in the descent into the material world for the purpose of evolving and extending its scope of consciousness, the individual spirit has lost its awareness of that eternal union, and therefore los the capacity to live in and manifest the union on a practical level.Through yoga the lost consciousness can be regained and actualized in the individual's practical life sphere. So profound and so necessary is yoga to the evolving consciousness, there is no more important subject in the world.Regarding this, a yogi-adept of the twentieth century, Dr. I. K. Taimni, remarked in his book The Science of Yoga: "According to the yogic philosophy it is possible to rise completely above the illusions and miseries of life and to gain infinite knowledge, bliss, and power through enlightenment here and now while we are still living in the physical body. And if we do not attain this enlightenment while we are still alive we will have to come back again and again into this world until we have accomplished this appointed task. So it is not a question of choosing the path of yoga or rejecting it. It is a question of choosing it now or in some future life. It is a question of gaining enlightenment as soon as possible and avoiding the suffering in the future or postponing the effort and going through further suffering which is unnecessary and avoidable. This is the meaning of Yoga Sutra 2:16: 'The misery which is not yet come can and is to be avoided.' No vague promise of an uncertain postmortem happiness this, but a definite scientific assertion of a fact verified by the experience of innumerable yogis, saints, and sages who have trodden the path of yoga throughout the ages."