Meditation has been correlated to with a number of phenomenological benefits. One phenomenon not covered yet is that of meditation and the brain. A study and a medical review, done by the laboratory of Imaging in UCLA, attempted to correlate meditation to reduced age-related brain degeneration and increased gyrification. (Gyrification relates to folds on the brain’s surface which are said to increase processing speed.)
If it held true, then the brain, which decreases in volume 5% every decade after age 40, would benefit greatly from any technique that could extend its longevity.
Mediation on the Mechanics of the Brain
The brain has two tissues: gray matter (synapses, dendrites, neuronal cell bodies) and white matter (synapses). White matter is typically associated with enhanced brain connectivity while grey matter is typically associated with more processing units.
For these studies: brain scans ,using MRI-based measures, attempted to approximate gray and white matter tissues. As for gray matter – thicker cortices were interpreted as having more grey matter.
The UCLA Meditation Review Findings
In Regards to Cortical Thickness
The Medical review saw significant age related degeneration to the right insula and right frontal cortex in the control group(r = -.76, P = .001) and almost no degeneration (r = -0.05, P = 0.83) in the meditation group. In fact, the meditation group had a cortical thickness more comparable to 20 and 30 year old meditators and controls.
In regards to Grey Matter Volume
Using voxel-based morphometry (VBM) there was an estimated change of -4.7 mL/year for the control and +1.8 ml/year growth for the meditation group.
In regards to White Matter
Fractional anisotropy(FA), a characteristic of white matter, was found to be negatively correlated with age and less affected for those that meditated.
The UCLA Gyration Findings
In regards to the UCLA Gyration study, large gyrations were correlated to those that meditated. Gyrations grew for each year that meditation was practiced. It is theorized that gyrations may increase in response to practicing introspection, emotional control, and awareness.
Future Meditation Research
The research is promising that meditation may be able to reduce, slow, or prevent brain degeneration. However, because research is sparse, further research will be needed to try to replicate results in larger and independent samples. It will also be beneficial if future studies could include more brain features, more meditation types, and also examine the frequency, and length of meditation practice needed to accomplish desirable effects.