This New York Times article reports on new research findings about the effects of long-term meditation on the brain.
The role that meditation plays in brain development has been the subject of several theories and a number of studies. One of them, conducted at the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that long-term meditators like Ms. Splain had greater gyrification — a term that describes the folding of the cerebral cortex, the outermost part of the brain.
No one knows exactly what that means. “You could argue that more folds mean more neurons,” said Dr. Eileen Luders, the recent study’s lead author, who practices meditation herself. “These are the processing units of the brain, and so having more might mean that you have greater cognitive capacities.”
Previous studies found that the brains of long-term meditators had increased amounts of so-called gray and white matter (the former is believed to be involved in processing information; the latter is thought of as the “wiring” of the brain’s communication system.)
So basically, meditation, over time, creates more folds and creases in the brain, and your brain functions better through more gray and white matter for processing and communication with other parts of the brain.
What I really liked about this article is what one long-term meditator was able to accomplish.
Ms. Splain’s practice of meditation has, over the years, deepened into something far more than a way to flex her cognitive muscles…
In 2005, at age 57, she embarked on a rigorous graduate program in the interdisciplinary approach to schooling known as Waldorf education. Working full time and taking classes at night, she finished the program at Sunbridge Institute in Spring Valley, N.Y., in three years. She retired from her United Nations job in 2008 and teaches in the early childhood program at the Waldorf School of Garden City on Long Island. She credits the discipline developed through four decades of meditation for her ability to handle the intellectual workload of graduate school — and begin a second career at age 60.
“The mentor of our master’s program acknowledged the challenge of doing this while working full time,” she said. “But when I was able to hand in an 80-page thesis well ahead of the class, he attributed it to the fact that, quote, ‘She’s a meditator.’ ”
So…if you want to do something extraordinary, or even if you just want to live your “normal” life but to experience better brain functioning (and who wouldn’t want that?), it’s like planting a tree.
The best time to do it was 20 years ago. The second best time to start is now.