A new study has proved beyond doubt what many people have always believed: meditation helps increase gray matter.
A research team from University of California, Los Angeles scanned the brains of people who meditate and found that certain regions in the brains of long-term meditators were larger than in a similar control group.
Meditators showed significantly larger volumes of the hippocampus and areas within the orbito-frontal cortex, the thalamus and the inferior temporal gyrus - all known for regulating emotions.
"We know that people who consistently meditate have a singular ability to cultivate positive emotions, retain emotional stability and engage in mindful behaviour," 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," Luders added.
During the study, the research team looked at 44 people. Half were asked to practice various forms of meditation such as Zazen, Samatha and Vipassana and the other half acted as the control group.
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.
The brains of the meditators showed 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.
Because these areas of the brain are closely linked to emotion, Luders said, "these might be the neuronal underpinnings that give meditators' the outstanding ability to regulate their emotions and allow for well-adjusted responses to whatever life throws their way."
The study is published in the journal NeuroImage.