Meditation trainer Julianna Raye of Hollywood is guiding a mindfulness exercise. She's been practicing for 17 years and says it's made her mind stronger.
"It's like training at the gym," said Raye. "You're training your mind. You're improving your concentration. And that's a skill that you need to develop."
Raye may be using building muscles at the gym as a metaphor, but new research from UCLA's Laboratory of Neuro Imaging (LONI) reveals people who meditate actually do appear to be building their brains. Researchers compared the MRI scans of 50 people who meditate regularly with those who didn't. They were impressed with what they saw.
"So that was a nice surprise. Yeah, actually these changes are not too subtle and we actually see these pronounced differences if you compare two groups," said neuroscientist Eileen Luders.
UCLA researchers found people who meditate long-term have more gyrification in the brain. Gyrification means more folding in the cortex. It's what gives the brain its ridge-like appearance. The theory is people with more ridges are able to process information better.
"Well one of the possibilities is that with an increase folding comes an increased number of neurons. And if we have an increased number of neurons, you might process certain information differently," said Luders.
Raye says it's a gratifying feeling.
"It does, yeah," said Raye. " And it also feels like, 'This work has paid off.' Not just internally, but also visibly. It's detectable. That's nice."
Whether gyrification leads to efficient thinking has yet to be proven, but the next step for researchers is to study the memory and learning skills of longtime meditators. Previous studies show mediation has a benefit and it couldn't hurt to give it a try.
"Just as long it's something that grabs your attention, that interests you, or that you feel some positive result from, that would be my advice," said Raye. "Start there."
And you may ask: How are you supposed to fit meditation into your busy life? Raye says that once you learn how to do it, it only takes 10 minutes a day to establish a practice.