Does meditation really improve the brain?

Several studies have linked this activity with better brain functioning.


Thousands of people from the so-called first world countries go to gyms several times a week to strengthen their abdominal muscles, lift weights, ride a static bicycle or spin. There are many strategies aimed at strengthening our muscles, but can we improve the quality and quantity of gray matter in our brain? Yes, one of the most studied practices is meditation.

Defining what meditation is – from the Latin meditatio, a type of intellectual exercise – is not an easy task, since this term encompasses different methods of mental concentration, control of breathing or mental visualization exercises, among others.

Regardless of the type of mental exercise that is done to meditate, it has been proven that this practice involves important changes in the functioning of our brain. One of the most important studies was carried out by a team of neurologists from the Waisman Center (University of Wisconsin, United States) in collaboration with the Scheche Monastery in Kathmandu (Nepal).

American researchers analyzed the brains of Buddhist monks who had received mental instruction in the Nyingmapa and Kagyupa Tibetan traditions for more than ten thousand, over a period ranging from fifteen to forty years.

The scientists compared the brains of these monks to the brains of a group of American students who had not been previously trained in any meditation practice.

The team of scientists found that there were notable differences between the brains of the monks and the brains of the students, and that the most striking difference was in a greater neuronal coordination in the brain of the monks.

More gray substance

In another study carried out by specialists from the Yale and Harvard universities, together with the General Hospital of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, it was evident that the practice of meditation on a regular basis can increase the amount of gray substance in our brain.

On this occasion the researchers analyzed, through nuclear magnetic resonance, the gray matter of twenty people experienced in Buddhist meditation, who performed meditation exercises an average of forty minutes a day.

The images showed that when meditated on a regular basis , the thickness of certain areas of the cerebral cortex – those related to sensory, auditory and visual perception – is increased and the process of thinning of the cerebral cortex associated with aging slows down.

Unfortunately these benefits do not occur in all brain regions, they are located mainly in the area related to the concentration of the right cerebral hemisphere.

Maybe it’s time for our “gyms of neurons” to start proliferating in our cities, that is, specialized centers to keep our cerebral cortex in shape.

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