Long-term practice of Sahaja Yoga Meditation is associated with increased gray matter in the brain, according to a study published this March in PLOS ONE. The findings revealed that long-term practice resulted in growth in brain regions associated with sustained attention, self-control, compassion and bodily awareness.
Research on meditation has increased over the last two decades, especially due to growing evidence of its beneficial effect on mental and physical health. Brain imaging research has provided evidence that mediation is associated with short-term differences in brain activity and long-term differences in brain structure.
Some important areas that have been consistently shown to be different following long-term meditation include the: insular cortex, ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, somatomotor cortices, inferior temporal gyrus, fusiform gyrus, rostrolateral prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex and hippocampus. Most of these areas are involved with mediating top-down control or processing of attention or emotions – a central target of most meditation techniques.
One way of measuring brain-change is looking at the distribution of Gray Matter Volume, which plays an important role in mental health, behavior and cognitive functions.
The study, led by Sergio Hernández of the Universidad de La Laguna, tested whether there were gray matter differences in the brain structure of long-term Sahaja Yoga Meditation (a form of yoga meditation that begins with Self Realization) practitioners compared to non-meditators. This was based on short-term activation differences that had been observed using functional MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). 23 experienced practitioners and 23 non-meditators matched on age, gender and education level were scanned using structural MRI and their gray matter volumes were compared using Voxel-Based Morphometry.
The results revealed that gray matter volume was larger in meditators relative to non-meditators across the whole brain. In addition, gray matter volume was larger in many right regions of the brain (insula, ventromedial orbitofrontal cortex, inferior temporal and parietal cortices) and some left regions (ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and insula). Furthermore, no areas with larger gray matter volume were found in non-meditators.
The study shows that long-term practice of Sahaja Yoga Meditation is associated with significant brain changes, with there being growth in many regions of the brain – these areas are associated with sustained attention, self-control, compassion and bodily awareness.
The authors concluded, “Long-term SYM practice may potentially enhance the functions mediated by these regions and consequently lead to neuroplastic enlargements.”