This Simple Practice Sparks ‘Positive Changes’ in the Brain

meditation
Mind & Body

I recently reported how 8 weeks of meditation can promote brain growth by fueling grey-matter in the hippocampus – boosting memory, sense of self, empathy, and reducing stress. But did you know that this practice can also positively affect ‘white matter’ in the brain? Research has now shown that those who meditate have better communication in their ‘white matter’ than those who do not meditate at all.

You’ve likely heard of ‘grey matter’ in the brain, but what about ‘white matter’? This is an important component of the central nervous system, brain, and spinal nerves that encompass numerous glial cells that help to transmit electrical signals from one part of the cerebrum to another as well as through other brain centers. You might say the ‘white matter’ is the brain’s super highway.

With findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists studied mindfulness meditation effects on participants in a 4-week study. Utilizing diffusion tensor imaging, they could determine the efficiency of the white matter of the brain via fractional anisotropy (FA).

Within just four weeks of relaxation training, improved functioning was found in areas surrounding the anterior cingulate cortex. They also observed reductions in radial diffusivity (RD) including improved myelin with reductions in axial diffusivity (AD) and involving other mechanisms, such as axonal density. This all translates to mean improved moods, better brain communication, and higher neuroplasticity in a very short time frame.

It also means that the better connections between brain nerve fibers could aid children with learning or behavioral problems, and even the reduction of ‘white matter disorders.”
The study abstract states:

“This dynamic pattern of white matter change involving the anterior cingulate cortex, a part of the brain network related to self-regulation, could provide a means for intervention to improve or prevent mental disorders…Our results demonstrate the time-course of white matter neuroplasticity in short-term meditation. This dynamic pattern of white matter change involving the anterior cingulate cortex, a part of the brain network related to self-regulation, could provide a means for intervention to improve or prevent mental disorders.”

The findings are even more exciting when accompanied with the research finding that meditators (who practiced a wide variety of traditions and had between five and 46 years of meditation experience) held more gray matter in regions of the brain that are important for attention, emotion regulation, and mental flexibility.

It looks like meditation is good for the brain in every possible regard.

Yoga citta vritti nirodhah. Yoga is the ending of disturbances of the mind. (Yoga Sutra, I.2)

Additional Sources:

Harvard.edu