The benefits of regular meditation are well known - the relaxation response it engenders can result in lower blood pressure, decreased heart and respiratory rates and can even level out mood swings. New research from UCLA suggests that the long-term practice of meditation leads to beneficial brain changes called gyrification, a "folding" of the cerebral cortex, that are believed to promote and enhance the speed at which the brain processes information. The cerebral cortex is the outer layer of brain tissue that is key to memory, attention, thought and consciousness. The UCLA team compared MRIs of the brains of 23 long-time meditators to 16 controls matched for age, sex and whether they were left or right handed. The meditators had used various meditation modalities for an average of 20 years. The investigators reported that the MRIs showed higher levels of gyrification in the brains of the meditators than were seen in the controls’ brains; they also found a correlation between the number of meditation years and the amount of gyrification. The study was published online on February 29, 2012 by the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
My take? It's interesting that this study reflects the supposition of many traditional teachers of meditation. According to masters of meditation, the aim of the practice is not merely relaxation, but rather they promise that it can calm an agitated consciousness, creating optimal physical and mental health and that ultimately it can help restructure the mind. I usually begin my day with some sitting meditation. I sit and just observe my breath and what is going on in my body. I don't try to stop thoughts, I try to note them, and just witness them.